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Luther at Worms   “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” So spoke Martin Luther in 1521 at his fateful trial in Worms (pronounce that ‘Voorms’). His words during that formative period of the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church signaled an emphasis on individual conscience that has remained a part of our identity to this day.
We visited Worms in 1987. My family indulged my appetite for places and events that heretofore had meant little to them. We found a clean little pension house (cheap family rooms) underneath the great tower of the Dom of Worms (the cathedral). All night long the deep reverberating tones of the huge bells awakened us marking each hour. Allied bombs had demolished the immense cathedral during World War II. The painstaking reconstruction was displayed in many photographs along the walls of the nave, like stations of the cross.
The same thing happened to Luther Memorial Church two blocks away. It also was rebuilt in detail from the ruins. Significant words from Luther are inscribed on the walls of that church, and in the small chapel a crucifix depicts Jesus reaching down from the cross to embrace both a German civilian and a German soldier prostrate on the ground. The bulletin boards of both churches stressed Catholic-Protestant cooperative activities ongoing in their current lives.
A few blocks away on the Judenstrasse (Jewish Street) is the ancient synagogue of Worms, home of one of the first Hebrew congregations in Northern Europe, where Rashi, one of the greatest interpreters of the Hebrew scriptures of all time, studied as a child. Nazi thugs burned the synagogue on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. Members salvaged what they could and sent sacred articles as far away as California to preserve them against the Holocaust that was coming. Now the synagogue building is fully restored, although it serves mostly as a memorial to the hundreds of its members killed in the Holocaust.
Still a few more blocks away is the church of Martin of Tours, on the site where, according to local belief, the fourth century saint was imprisoned for a time after his conversion to Christianity and his leaving his youthful occupation as a Roman soldier.
We visited and meditated on these landmarks of human conscience. We sat in the town square by the fountain with its fanciful sculpture in honor of another local product—the smooth German wine called Liebfraumilch, “Mother’s Milk.” Indeed as we rested, a woman strolled past, nursing her baby.
The best and the worst of human behavior is represented there. Intolerance and steadfast conscience exist side by side. Can we tolerate the differences of opinion and attitude that make life difficult? Like mother’s milk, may the wine of tolerance, kindness, mutual acceptance, assent, and dissent flow.