Chris­tian rock band retells story of Re­for­ma­tion in ‘Luther: The Rock Opera’

The Bradenton Herald - - Faith & Values - BY EMILY MCFARLAN MILLER

The Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion was a lit­tle bit like so­cial me­dia, fea­tur­ing charis­matic in­flu­encers, cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy and vi­ral con­tent, ac­cord­ing to Michael Bridges.

It started when a man de­cided to stay up late and up­date his sta­tus, post­ing 95 things on his wall. He hoped his friends would like, com­ment on or share them.

In­stead, as so of­ten hap­pens on Face­book and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, a lot of peo­ple started ar­gu­ing.

“Lit­tle did he know, the church would un­friend him,” Bridges said.

That man was Martin Luther. His post – the 95 th­e­ses the Ger­man monk-turned-re­former re­port­edly nailed to the Cas­tle Church door in Wit­ten­berg, Ger­many, on Oct. 31, 1517 – kicked off the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion.

Bridges’ retelling of the start of the Re­for­ma­tion kicked off “Luther: The Rock Opera,” an hour­long romp fea­tur­ing 24 up­beat songs per­formed by Bridges and band­mate Ge­orge Baum against the back­drop of about 300 il­lus­tra­tions from “Luther,” the graphic novel by Rich Mel­heim. Bridges and Baum re­tired from tour­ing three years ago af­ter per­form­ing to­gether as Lost and Found for 25 years. Then Mel­heim, a friend of the band, sug­gested they write a rock opera to ac­com­pany his graphic novel.

“Luther: The Rock Opera” de­buted to about 600 peo­ple last year at the Stadthaus The­ater in Wit­ten­berg. This fall, Lost and Found brought per­for­mances to five cities across the Mid­west.

On Re­for­ma­tion Sun­day (Oct. 28), Lost and Found ended its mini-tour at St. Paul Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Mis­souri Synod con­gre­ga­tion in the south sub­urbs of Chicago that stands across the street from its orig­i­nal build­ing, dat­ing back to the 1800s. Out front, a ban­ner ad­ver­tised its “Trunk or Treat” event on Hal­loween, also cel­e­brated as Re­for­ma­tion Day.

St. Paul mem­ber Paul Szy­man­ski, a life­long Lutheran who has seen Lost and Found 10 to 15 times in con­cert, said he jumped at the chance to bring the band’s rock opera to the church.

“They’re a re­ally dif­fer­ent style, and their lyrics are very the­o­log­i­cally Lutheran, which is cool, and they’re deep and they have a lot of mean­ing – they just re­late to the tra­di­tions I grew up with,” Szy­man­ski said.

The rock opera in­cluded an en­er­getic ren­di­tion of Luther’s most fa­mous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” rapped seg­ments cap­tur­ing Luther’s clashes with Ro­man Catholic lead­ers and an un­ex­pect­edly poignant song in­spired by a quote at­trib­uted to Luther:

“If I knew that the world would end to­mor­row

I would plant a tree to­day There is hope amid the sor­row And joy along the way There’s a world in ev­ery mo­ment

And a mo­ment when we find That the Tree of Life is grow­ing all the time.”

Bridges hopes oth­ers will re­pro­duce the rock opera on their own – maybe in a choir per­for­mance on Re­for­ma­tion Sun­day, he said, or a con­fir­ma­tion class project.

“We hope peo­ple will see it, and they'll say, we could do that. And they could,” he said.

The Re­for­ma­tion still res­onates to­day for both Chris­tians and non-Chris­tians, he said, be­cause Luther “spoke truth to power.”

“What, to me, is re­ally mean­ing­ful about this whole story, what’s mean­ing­ful about do­ing the rock opera, is that this soli­tary monk speaks three words – ‘Here I stand' – and helps the world – Western civ­i­liza­tion, at least – move from the me­dieval to the mod­ern age,” he said. “He brought into ex­is­tence some of the things that we value to­day by stand­ing up to the au­thor­i­ties.”

Last year, Luther­ans and many other Protes­tants the world over cel­e­brated the 500th an­niver­sary of the start of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion, mark­ing the date Luther posted his 95 th­e­ses.

But that was just the be­gin­ning of the cel­e­bra­tion, Bridges said.

Next year will be the 500th an­niver­sary of the Leipzig dis­pu­ta­tion, dur­ing which Luther de­bated Jo­hann Eck, who de­fended the Ro­man Catholic Church against Luther’s crit­i­cisms. In 2021, it will be the 500th an­niver­sary of the Diet of Worms, where Luther was charged with heresy and made his fa­mous (and dis­puted) pro­nounce­ment.

“I can­not and will not re­cant any­thing, for to go against con­science is nei­ther right nor safe,” Luther re­port­edly said. “Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.”

And, Bridges said, “The Re­for­ma­tion con­tin­ues.”

Some of the nearly 100 peo­ple who filled the pews at St. Paul were Lost and Found fans who owned ev­ery one of the duo’s al­bums and re­counted bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries of the farewell tour that had stopped sev­eral years be­fore in the Chicago sub­urbs.

Oth­ers, like Jean Hol­comb and her friends Lee Bur­nett and Nancy Stum­baugh, were drawn to church by the novel retelling of the story of the start of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion.

The trio are mem­bers of Trin­ity Lutheran Church in nearby Tin­ley Park. Dressed in Martin Luther fan gear – a sweat­shirt cel­e­brat­ing last year’s 500th an­niver­sary of the Re­for­ma­tion, a sou­venir T-shirt from Wit­ten­berg, a neck­lace en­graved with a Lutheran cross – they re­counted their own trav­els across Ger­many ahead of last year’s an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

The rock opera brought back all those mem­o­ries.

“We did the whole Luther­land tour, and all those cas­tles and the sights and ev­ery­thing are still fresh in my mind,” Hol­comb said.

She and her friends also thought the lyrics and il­lus­tra­tions cap­tured all the im­por­tant parts of the story of the Re­for­ma­tion.

“It told the whole story in such a hu­mor­ous, fun way,” she said.

EMILY MCFARLAN MILLER Reli­gion News Ser­vice

Michael Bridges, left, and Ge­orge Baum per­form their show “Luther: The Rock Opera” at St. Paul Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church on Oct. 28, near Chicago. The Re­for­ma­tion-themed show ac­com­pa­nies a graphic novel.

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