In honor of Reformation Day, I set aside Oct. 31 to meet in an upstairs dorm lounge with root beer, a pudding invention fondly called a “Diet of Worms Cake,” and several other college students high on the Reformation. And of all the root beer inebriates, I was the tipsiest. No one spiked my Dixie cup. I just have a crush on Martin Luther.
Two years ago I wrote in my diary to him. Or at least to the mixed ideas I had of who he was. Partly I wrote to the hazel-eyed actor Joseph Fiennes who played him in the movie, partly to the punch-packing Luther I knew from books, and partly to the face of the man in the sober illustration that spreads over the tactile pages of Modern Reformation magazine—which I picked up at the party. I nibbled my sauerkraut and said with a sigh that the most attractive kind of renegade is a godly one who loves the Bible.
Our rhetoric professor came in dressed as a monk, and shook his walking stick in the air while we sang, “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him.” As we sat down in front of the large TV screen, he slid his shiny feet from his slippers. We watched Luther. Another professor warned us that if content could be converted to hair, this film version of Luther’s life wouldn’t make enough to wig a grape. (I’ve been trying to make sense of that unique metaphor for about a year now.) The professor turned around in his leather chair to mention that in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther still counts as an excommunicate. I melted a little more.
I wrote to Martin Luther at night in my pink pajamas during my sophomore year, a season of many heart sprains. I particularly wanted to emulate his bravery. In that season I stayed up to the wee hours putting fresh paintings to bed, struggling to sleep because my heart was full of dreams. As I look back upon it I find it funny that of all possible pen pals, living or dead, I chose the courageous writer-man who split history with a hammer. I loved his wife, Katie Von Bora, with almost equivalent fervor. Her creaking herring-barrel entrance into his life brought with it the brave truth that it is not good for man to be alone. Her presence assuaged some of the doubts I expressed to Luther:
“The main thing I don’t understand about men is why they are so fond of women. Go ahead, Mr. Luther, and lay that quote on me, the one about there being no greater blessing from heaven than a cheerful wife.”
So heroism and hype and girl-diaries aside, why do I still love Martin Luther enough to celebrate dressing up in bed sheets on Reformation Day? I don’t know how to describe it, but as the thrill of knowing that God’s truth lives through all history. He advances His cause using all kinds of flawed faces—including Martin Luther’s, including Katie Von Bora’s, and including mine.