During the recent sabbatical that my wife and I enjoyed, we spent nearly three weeks in Germany. I was struck by the contrast of two well-remembered leaders in German history—a night and day juxtaposition. The significant dates are October 31, 1517 and January 30, 1933.
Martin Luther, priest, pastor, professor and theologian in Wittenberg, Germany started a reformation. With hammer strokes that echoed throughout all of Europe, Luther nailed a letter with his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg one October morning. He took a stand. Luther was no longer going to promote the sale of Indulgences to deceive people into buying salvation.
Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933. Thus began a 12-year reign of the Nazis, which ended with Europe in ruins and the loss of millions of lives. Hitler started a revolution of another kind—the Third Reich. He took a stand. Started World War II. Orchestrated the Holocaust. Six million Jews died.
Both are remembered in Germany. One with pride. One with shame. We saw the evidences of both. Our long-time German friends took us to Wittenberg, Weimar and Wartburg where Luther lived, debated, wrote, taught and inspired all of Europe and eventually the world-encompassing Protestant Reformation. We visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial near Weimar where more than 250,000 people from 50 nations were imprisoned. We saw the mass graves where tens of thousands were buried during Hitler’s reign of terror. Pride and shame — both evident in the voices of our hosts and on the faces of the people in those respective communities.
We stood at the city square in Wittenberg and saw the statue of Martin Luther. We walked through his home that is now a museum. We visited his grave inside the Castle Church. He left an incredible legacy. There was much evidence of pride and preparation as the 500th anniversary is nearing.
Our German hosts reluctantly took us to one of the symbols of Adolf Hitler’s influence—Buchenwald. There was no pride. Only shame. And there was no grave to visit. Hitler and his wife committed suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945, the day after their wedding. Their bodies were carried outside and burned in shame.
Legacy. Influence. Pride. Shame. What will I leave behind? What will you leave behind? Not much has changed since the 16th or the 20th centuries. Every individual still leaves a legacy. Everyone has some level of influence. Everyone leaves behind either pride or shame in those who remember you.
I read the blog of a friend the other day who described the endless shame she has lived with for many years into her adulthood because of abuse from her grandfather when she was young. Last week I attended a funeral where every grandchild got up and spoke with deep pride and meaning of the positive influence of their 92 year-old grandmother. Everyone is remembered for something. Shame, pride or something in between.
What do you want to be remembered for? Your character today will define your legacy tomorrow. Your actions now will establish what you will be remembered for later. We must not forget. Today’s choices affect tomorrow’s world.
QUESTION: What helps you stay focused on leaving a positive legacy? We’d all love to hear more in the comment section below. Thanks!
To see the photojournal of our six weeks in Europe… Click Here
For images from our ten week road trip across North America… Click Here