Monday, October 31, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther - Rebel and Reformer

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Thuringia.  In this proclamation, he denounced the sale of indulgences as ungodly and challenged the catholic clergy to review the path of salvation.  Luther could not agree with Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, who sold these papers promising the people salvation.  Luther was opposed to the ideas of the church that one could buy their salvation. 

Even though the theses were originally written in Latin, they spread fast, first among scholars, and just one year later, after they had been translated into German, the message spread quickly.  That was mainly the result of the printing press where pamphlet could be multiplied and distributed among all people.  Therefore, we could call this distribution the first social media.  When the time is right for an event or a message, the ideas can spread very fast.
You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”
~ Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French Romantic Writer

Where before, the people came to the priests for confession, they now had only to buy a piece of paper and were promised salvation.  Martin Luther had other disagreements with the pope’s authority and referred again and again to the scriptures of the bible.  Even though he created a big controversy with the church, his message traveled like a wild fire all throughout Europe.   As a monk, Luther had studied the bible extensively and believed and taught that salvation is a gift of God’s grace.  He taught that man’s salvation was given by faith and trust in God and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  This action started the Protestant Reformation.

By 1521, he was declared an out-law and was threatened to be killed.  On the way to the prison, he was kidnapped by friends who send him to the Wartburg instead.  This is where he studied the scriptures more deeply and decided to translate the words of the bible into German, so that all could read the words of God by themselves.
In the meantime, the Reformation which was initiated by Martin Luther spread throughout Europe.  Priests and scholars such as John Calvin in France, John Wycliffe, an English scholar, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, Jan Huss, a priest, in Czechoslovakia found a common agreement against the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the church, as well as the authority of the pope.  It split the Christian church and established the Lutheran denomination as well as the Roman Catholic Church.
"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." 
~ Martin Luther
 Who was Martin Luther?
He was born on November 10th, 1483 and died on February 18, 1546.  His parents were common peasants, but his father had great ambitions for his son.  Therefore, he was educated in the Latin language as well as the regular curriculum.  After his parents acquired a business of their own and could afford to send their son to the university, he went to Erfurt to study law.
It is said that he had a conversion experience during a violent thunderstorm on July 17, 1505 where he committed himself to serve God and entered thereafter in the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine in Erfurt.  Understandably, his father was angry but Luther stood by his decision and dedicated himself to the monastic lifestyle.  In 1507 he went back to the university in Erfurt and later on (in 1512) got his doctorate in theology from the university in Wittenberg.  With his new understanding and personal relationship with God he put together the 95 theses and on October 31, 1517 proclaimed them by nailing the letter on the door of the Wittenberg castle.
Part of Martin Luther’s disagreement with the pope was that priests were not allowed to marry.  There were some nuns who had studied Luther’s proclamation and wanted to leave their convent because of it.  Luther helped them escape and even find each of them a new livelihood.  For one of them, Katherina von Bora, he couldn’t find either a husband or a home.  He decided to marry her himself.  They started a family in 1525 and had 6 children and raised many other orphans.  Their family setup became an example for Christian living at that time.  Martin called his wife lovinglt 'Lord Katie.'  She was successfully running his household by being very resourceful.  She worked a garden, raised cattle and chickens and even brewed beer.
Katherina also studied the scriptures and was very supportive to her husband’s cause.  That’s why in 1534 the New Testament of the first German bible was published.   Dr. Luther worked on the Old Testament until his death in 1546.
Martin Luther had a very strong faith in God; that motivated him to use strong language against evil and unrighteousness.  He supposedly said: "Let the Devil kiss my ass... . " The content of his 95 theses was very much opposed by the Catholic church; it was a direct attack against their leadership and the direction of the church. 

Because of his legal situation, Martin Luther’s life was very seclusive.  He was teaching and writing during his later years.  He also composed the song “Ein’ Festburg is unser Gott (a Mighty Fortress is Our God)” which is based on the 46th psalm.
His “table talks” are a reflection of his home life and his relationship to his wife. 
"There is no bond on earth so sweet nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage."
~ Martin Luther

Dr. Luther said one day to Katie (playfully): You make me do what you want; you have full sovereignty here, and I give you, with all my heart, the full command in household matters, reserving my rights in other points. No good ever came from female domination. God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoiled it all when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and cunning, that lead men into error.

- The greatest blessing that God can confer on man is the possession of a good and pious wife with whom he may live in peace and tranquility; to whom he can confide his whole possessions, even his life and welfare, and who bears him children. Katie, thou hast a pious man who loves thee for a husband; thou art a very empress, thanks be to God!
Martinstag in Nordhausen
I grew up in Nordhausen at the southern edge of the Harz Mountains.  Every year on November 10, we would celebrate Martinstag with a parade of lanterns and music.  This is to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther.  Legend has it that Mr. Luther came to town to visit his friend Justus Jonas.  They met at the university in Erfurt and Jonas became a strong supporter of Luther.  While Luther was exiled at the Wartburg, he was continuously spreading the message of the reformation.  On one of the visits, Jonas’ family provided a big feast to celebrate Martin’s birthday.
Luther family wood carving by Eugen Richter
My family celebrated Martinstag by preparing a big dinner with roasted goose, red cabbage, dumplings, and other goodies.  In the center of the table we would burn three candles which depicted Martin Luther, his wife Katharina, and one with a picture of a goose.  This tradition is held to this day in my hometown, Nordhausen. 

When my family left East-Germany in June of 1961, we were not able to bring the wood carving of Martin Luther’s family with us.  He is pictured here playing the lute (4-string instrument) while his wife and children sang.  In the background is Phillipp Melanchthon who was also a strong supporter of the Luther's.  I cherish the memories we had in the apartment where the carving was hanging.  I wish I would know more about the woodcarver Eugen Richter.  I heard that my grandparents had commissioned him, to create Luther’s family as well as some other carvings.  At least I have a photograph of the work.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mental Fitness

We hear a lot about fitness these days, mostly relating to physical fitness.  From weight training to jogging and walking, there is a whole array available.  Still, according to statistics, Americans are more unhealthy and physical unfit than ever.  I believe that the reason is that we are too much focusing on the external, physical parts of our lifestyles.  Here, I want to focus more on the internal aspect of fitness, fitness of the mind.  The mind is not just the brain.  The mind has three aspects: intellect, emotion and will.  Mental (inner) fitness has to include all three areas – the brain (thinking), the heart (feeling) and (good) action.

Intellectual Fitness

In regards to the brain we are concerned about our memory, the ability to make good choices, keep focus and concentration, and improve reasoning and cognitive skills.

Some people are hung up on their IQ.  So, how do we keep our brain flexible and alert?

* Play games like puzzles, SudokuTrivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, etc.

* Read – Reading inspires the imagination, memory and is just plain fun.

* Learn a new skill.  Learn a new language, play a different sport, learn public speaking.
* Telling stories.  Reflect on your life and share stories that will help with your memory.

* Be curious.  Explore a new way to work, be adventurous, eat new foods, listen to different genres of music, etc.
Emotional Fitness

Emotions are feelings we feel in response to someone or something.  The basic emotions are: acceptance, anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, love, sadness, and surprise.  There are five basic aspects to emotional fitness:

* Awareness – accept your feelings and appreciate yourselves.  Being grateful for what is.  Keep a balance of all aspects of mental fitness and center them on a higher purpose.

* Behaviour (self regulation) – Practice patience and trusting in the process of life.  Practice good habits. Keep a sense of humour in your live.  Taking yourself too serious can be dangerous.

* Motivation – keep hope alive through a religious practice; make reasonable goals and fulfil them. Work hard and then let go of the goal. 

* Empathy – practice kindness and put yourself in other people’s shoes.  Sometimes a smile and a friendly word is all that’s needed.

* Relationship skills – The most important aspect of emotional fitness are relationships.  All relationships start in the family.  It is the school of love and the training ground for emotional wellbeing. Practice giving and receiving and forgiveness and life will become more pleasant.

Willpower Fitness:

What is willpower?  It is the discipline to control yourself.  It is the inner power to make good decisions and carry them out.   It gives you the strength and conviction to take action and perform tasks and plans, despite inner resistance, discomfort, laziness or other difficulties. It puts you in charge of yourself and leads you to self-mastery.

The action part of mental fitness is creating a balance between the intellectual and the emotional.  It takes us into the physical part of life.

* Good nutrition; eating a healthy, balanced diet it crucial.

* Physical exercise and athletic abilities

* Start out with being willing to make better choices

* Helps to exercise self-discipline

* Have a clear focus

* Choose fun things; enjoy your task, and it will be easier to stick to it.

* Use repetition to strengthen your willpower muscles.

* Helps to prevent procrastination

* Prevents negative habits and avoids addictions

* Helps to forgo immediate gratifications and pleasures for the sake of bigger goals.

What it comes down to is this: Take care of you; take control of your life; take care of your mind.  It helps to practice gratitude and keeping a balance between the brain, the heart and the action.

What we are really looking for is the unity of these different functions of the mind.  The real power lies in the synchronicity which can only come when we center ourselves on the heart.  Once we achieve that in our mind, we can translate it into our body, and from there it can transform all aspects of life: the family, society, nation, and the world.  
That’s what practicing mental fitness is all about.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do You Sudoku?

I have always loved numbers; and MATH was my favorite subject in school.  A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Sudoku puzzles.  I have been solving some here and there, but recently, I developed more interest in this past time.  Do you think I am hooked?
What is Sudoku?
Sudoku is a number puzzle.  Numbers from 1-9 are placed into a grid of 9x9 squares so that each number only appears one time in each row.  Additionally, each 3x3 grid also allows each number to appear once.  The challenge is that each given puzzle shows only a certain random amount of numbers.  There are three levels of difficulty where the more difficult puzzle has less numbers to start with.  The creator of the puzzle provides only a partially completed grid, which allows only one solution.
There are no special math skills required to solve the puzzle.  Only logic and persistence, if nothing else, you can spend hours with this intellectual entertainment.  Like everything else, practice brings better and faster results.
Some people like Jean-Paul Delahaye, call Sudoku a science.
“Solving a Sudoku puzzle requires no math, not even arithmetic. Even so, the game poses a number of intriguing mathematical problems.”
~ JEAN-PAUL DELAHAYE , French mathematician, born 1952.

There are several stories of the history of Sudoku.  It is an American invention but has a Japanese name.  The word Sudoku means "single number" in Japanese. It seems to be developed based on  the tradition of magic squares which first appeared in China during the 7th century BC.  From there the information traveled through India and the Arabic world.
In modern times, during the 18th century, a Swiss mathematician named Leonard Euler, put together number puzzles and transformed magic squares into Latin squares.
The prototype of modern Sudoku was the puzzle “Number Place” created by Howard Garns.  In 1979, Garns was an American architect who had retired from the Daggett architecture firm in Indianapolis.
A retired Hong Kong judge, Wayne Gould, was a fanatic Sudoku fan.  At the end of 2004, he developed a computer program which generates Sudoku puzzles of all different difficulty levels for which he didn’t asked any money.  The rest is history; you find them now in every newspaper, magazine and online.  There are even championships and international competitions.

Benefits of Sudoku

Sudoku has truly become an intercultural game.  It is the puzzle for everybody, old and young, men, women and children of all educational ranks.  It is a solitary game, and can be played on paper, online or just about anywhere.

* It helps with critical thinking and develops logic.
* It helps to develop patience because sometimes the solution is not as obvious.
* It helps with focus and organization; and also challenges creativity, if you want to develop faster and easier solutions. 
* Some researchers believe that it can slow the progression of brain disorder conditions such as Alzheimer's.
* It helps to develop both parts of the brain; the left side supports the logic, and the right side helps with the creative juices.
* It is called "the Rubik's cube of the 21st century" and is the "fastest growing puzzle in the world".
Have you played Sudoku today?
 My favorite sites for FREE Sudoku puzzles: down load for print and online.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Paradoxical Commandments

You may have heard of the poem “Anyway:” It is traditionally contributed to Mother Teresa, (1910-1997) the Roman Catholic nun who lived and served the poor in India.

Mother Teresa's Anyway Poem

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

[Reportedly inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta, and attributed to her. However, an article in the New York Times has since reported (March 8, 2002) that the original version of this poem was written by Kent M. Keith.]

When I went to a bookstore recently, I found a book called “TheParadoxical Commandments” by Dr. Kent M. Keith.  I learned that he originally composed the poem back in 1960’s as a Harvard student.  When he learned later that Mother Teresa  had posted the poem in the Calcutta children’s home, he was naturally very surprised and felt honored that a woman of her stature paid attention to his poem.  That’s when he wrote the book “Anyway – The Paradoxical Commandments.” 

Here is Dr. Kent Keith’s version of Anyway:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

By reading up on Dr. Keith, I also learned that he is the CEO of the GreenleafCenter.  The Greenleaf Center is the training group for Servant Leadership about which I wrote about in my last blog. Isn’t that a coincidence?  

For those who love Mother Teresa; she did write her own poem about LIFE:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.

Life is beauty, admire it.

Life is bliss, taste it.

Life is a dream, realize it.

Life is a challenge, meet it.

Life is a duty, complete it.

Life is a game, play it.

Life is costly, care for it.

Life is wealth, keep it.

Life is love, enjoy it.

Life is mystery, know it.

Life is a promise, fulfill it.

Life is sorrow, overcome it.

Life is a song, sing it.

Life is a struggle, accept it.

Life is tragedy, confront it.

Life is an adventure, dare it.

Life is luck, make it.

Life is too precious, do not destroy it.

Life is life, fight for it.

Life certainly takes many different turns.  It is our challenge to surrender to the journey and to accept rewards as a special blessing.  Rather than looking for the reward we want to do good for goodness sakes. It is wonderful that we have examples of leadership like that of Mother Teresa and Dr. Kent M. Keith.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Servant - book review

The Servant is an easy read because it introduces important principles by telling a story.  We meet with Simeon, the teacher, whose name was Len Hoffman in the business world.  Then there are:
John Daily, businessman from Michigan; Lee, Pastor from Wisconsin; Greg, a drill sergeant from the U.S. Army; Theresa, a Hispanic public school principal; Chris, an African-American woman’s basketball coach from Michigan State University; and Kim, a head nurse from the Providence Hospital Birthing Center.  They all meet at a Benedictine Monastery in Western Michigan to learn about the internal aspects of leadership.
In their daily meetings they discuss and come up with a leadership model which is sometimes called: Servant Leadership.

Rather than just dealing with management issues, the group compares spiritual virtues of love and service to the traditional format of management.  Each of the participants contributes to the model:
Love and Leadership
Patience -- showing self-control
Kindness  --  giving attention, appreciation and encouragement
Humility --  being authentic without pretence or arrogance
Respectfulness  -- treating others as important people
Selflessness  --  meeting the needs of others
Forgiveness  --  giving up resentment when wronged
Honesty  --  being free from deception
Commitment  --  sticking to your choices

Their conclusion is that service and sacrifice is a worth-while result where one sets aside their own wants and needs and seeks the greatest good for others.

"What we think or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence.  The only thing of consequence is what we do.”
~ John Ruskin – English writer

In the process of one week all six participant work together with their teacher to put together a leadership model based on service and love.  They discover that leadership is not based on power, rather an authority which is built on love, relationships, sacrifice and service.  Simeon, the teacher draws from his many life experiences as business and family man, challenges the others beyond religious beliefs with principles which we all can apply in our daily lives.  Servant leadership is deeply rooted in all religious faiths. Therefore, it is unifying and touches the lives of each person present in the seminar.  But it also challenges the reader that change can only come from changing ourselves.  We learn that the Golden Rule applies to all of us and that love is not a noun (making us feel fuzzy inside) but a verb.  Love means doing for others. 

"It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
~ Robert K. Greenleaf, creator of the lifestyle of Servant Leadership

Mr. Greenleaf doesn’t consider servant leadership a concept or a principle. It is an inner standard of living which requires a spiritual understanding of identity, mission, vision and environment.
Another important fact is that nobody is born a leader or with certain talents for leadership.  Leadership is based on choices which allow us to adapt skills.  Most of these skills don’t come easily, they have to be earned based on discipline and sacrifice.
None-the-less, there are companies who use the servant leadership model as their management style.
Servant leadership doesn’t need a position, it can be practiced anywhere where there are people.  We can build a culture of heart where people are willingly serving each other.  Doesn’t that sound like the Kingdom of Heaven?