Desire of the Everlasting Hills, The World Before and After Jesus by Thomas Cahill (Winter 2001-2002)
Thomas Cahill has determined to do a seven volume series on the "Hinges of History." The first book in this effort was the best selling How the Irish Saved Civilization, and the second dealt with The Gifts of the Jews. In 1999 he published his treatment of Jesus, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and it is hard to imagine how any of the four remaining "Hinges" volumes will surpass it in grace, wit, insight, and, even, wisdom. For pietists it has, as they say, some good news and, alas, some bad, or at least sobering, news.
Sweden and Sarajevo (Fall 2004)
Sweden is mentioned but once in David Fromkin’s Europe’s Last Summer, (Knopf, 2004), the latest and one of the most readable treatments of the First World War to have appeared in the last decade. So why should readers of the Pietisten be concerned with the book?
Alexander, Jesus, and the Silver Screen (Winter 2004-2005)
By There was a time in the history of our civilization, maybe two centuries ago, when any educated person knew classical history and mythology thoroughly. But the days when classical or biblical people and events were part of the general culture are gone. There is enough gore, intrigue, and even romance in either place to warrant a screen epic every year or two, especially when the other choice for literary inspiration seems to be Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk.
Pious Colleges (Summer 2006)
For many Pietisten readers of a certain vintage (birth dates pre-Eisenhower presidency) the programmatic statement about the relationship between human civilization and the Christian Gospel was H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (1956). In his work Niebuhr delineated a range of possible Christian attitudes about that relationship, stretching from complete identification with human culture to total rejection of it.
Half of a New Navigation Editor (Christmas 2006)
It sometimes happens that decisions formed collectively are wiser than those made by a single individual, that a committee is smarter than a solitary person. That was the case with the recent move made by the mavens who guide Pietisten. They split the responsibilities held by the Poetry and Navigation Editor into two parts and assigned these parts to separate individuals.
Navigating with a Compass (in Stereo) (Spring 2007)
Many Pietisten readers could add some names of their own to the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews. The list with Enoch or Sara or Moses on it might be expanded with the names of Karl Olsson or Barbara Hawkinson or Bruce Carlson. Pastors and Sunday School teachers; parents, siblings, roommates—all could be added to the Old Testament names in Hebrews. Most of those we would add would be people we have known personally. But some might be writers, of hymns or theologies, or perhaps church leaders, lay or clergy, whose words or acts have guided our own lives. Each of us could say with the newer RSV translation that we are “surrounded” by people of faith who have sustained and developed our own lives.
Reading Platonic (and other) Text-Maps (Christmas 2007)
Most maps are mini-pictures of the landscape they represent, but written texts can also be “cartographic.” Pietists have, of course, been guided by one such text-map above all others. We are told that in confused or uncertain moments some of our forebears would simply open the Scriptures at random, point to a verse on the page, and seek to divine from it what the Spirit was seeking to tell them. One presumes that they were trying to avoid inflicting their own ideas on Holy Writ. They wanted the Bible to guide them, not the other way around. But one wonders what they did when a verse seemed, at least at first, to have little or nothing to say to the matter in question. What, for example, could Isaiah 44:24-25, I am the Lord, who made all things, who also stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth, who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners, mean to a Swede trying to decide whether to book passage on a steamer bound from Göteborg to New York in 1878? (I leave it to you, reader, to speculate on that.)
Navigating Realistically (in a Platonic Sense) (Spring 2008)
The Bible uses a number of metaphors for the relationship of the believer to God, for the Christian life. Marriage, child-parent, servant-lord, foot race, battle—these are a few of them. Certainly one of the most frequent is that of a journey or pilgrimage. From the author of Hebrews to John Bunyan to the hymns of the Scandinavian Pietists the idea that the Christian is on a journey has been a powerful one for understanding the inner life. If you accept that way of thinking about human existence in relation to the divine, you tend to see the everyday world in a different light and you are apt to find in ordinary things traces or even evidences of things greater and unseen.
Hunt to Warbler to the Carlson Cut-off (Christmas 2008)
John Bunyon notwithstanding, Pietists rarely make pilgrimages, save that life itself is one. To trek piously toward some holy spot containing the relics of some holy person may have a whiff of popery about it.
In Defense of Hybrids: in Installments (Summer 2009)
Part I My first year at North Park (when dinosaurs still roamed the banks of the North Branch) I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which was worse: not being from Minnesota or not being pure Swedish. In those days to be a mongrel was cause for self-doubt and maybe even a touch of shame. When I got to Augustana after two years at North Park (then a junior college) with my Associate of Arts degree in hand, I discovered it was OK not to come from the Land of Sky Blue Waters, but that it was still a shame not be 100% Swede. Never mind that the Swedish royal family was French (and peasant to boot) or that pushing blond blue-eyed purity had pretty much been discredited during the Second World War.
In Defense of Hybrids: Part II (Epiphany 2010)
In the last issue of this journal I sought to say a word for hybrids in general, hinting as well that I had one in particular in mind. To that particular hybrid I now turn. It is Christian Humanism.
Himmel på Prärien – Heaven on the Prairie (Spring/Summer 2010)
This year is the 150th birthday of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod and the 125th of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant, two of the Swedish-American denominations begun in North America by immigrants. However, the first religious band of Swedes to make its way into the American Midwest in the 19th century was made up of neither Lutherans nor Mission Friends. That distinction belongs to the followers of Erik Jansson, who with their leader/prophet sailed from Sweden to Denmark to New York, made their way by boat up the Hudson, across the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to Chicago, and finally by foot to the prairies of Henry County, Illinois. There in 1846 they founded a communal farming colony that they named Bishop Hill, after Biskopskulla, their founder’s home parish in Sweden, near Uppsala.
An Archbishop and the Pietists: A Delayed Rapprochement (Spring/Summer 2011)
Pietists and the archbishops of the Church of Sweden have not always gotten along.
Ecumenical Arches (Fall/Winter 2011)
There is hardly a McDonald’s in Christendom that lacks a group of elderly sages who gather every morning for senior coffee and a reprise of recent developments. You can try one of the stores just off Schwedenplatz in Vienna or hit the one in Uppsala on Fyrisparkvägen. There’ll be a table of regulars there almost any morning. In parts of New York City they’ll be speaking Spanish, and on Mercer Island, east of Seattle, they’ll nervously be looking at the calories listed beside all the menu items, posted by local ordinance. Whatever the language or the calories, the Golden Arches are world-wide.
Scientific uncertainty and faith (Spring/Summer 2012)
There have been plenty of people worrying about how to relate modern science and Christianity, and there are many ways to try to do it.
Listening along the Los Alamos Highway (Spring/Summer 2013)
If you are ever in New Mexico and driving across the Rio Grande on the steep highway from Santa Fe up to Los Alamos, you should look to your right, just as you cross the river. Sitting on a level spot on the west bank, near some shallow rapids, “where the river makes a noise,” there are three old abandoned adobe buildings, none of them much larger than fifteen or twenty feet square. At an earlier time, a narrow gauge railroad, “the Chili Line,” ran from Santa Fe up to the Colorado state line. In those now abandoned buildings at Otowi Crossing, next to a bridge that carried the tracks over the Rio Grande, once lived Edith Warner, an Angla who had come west for her health in the 1920s.
Covenant and Lutheran chapel goers (Fall/Winter 2013)
Every fall in the 1950s a number—maybe nine or ten or twelve—of North Parkers made their way down Illinois 92 or US 6 from Chicago (there were then no Interstates) to another Swedish-American outpost in Illinois, Rock Island. The late adolescents were headed for Augustana College, there to spend two years completing their BA degrees. NPC was at that time a junior college, and a few North Parkers weren’t from Minnesota and couldn’t get the in-state tuition at the “U” in Minneapolis. So for us the Lutheran college on the Mississippi, like North Park, started by Swedish immigrants, was a good place to finish college.
Covenanters, Lutherans, and creeds (Spring/Summer 2014)
Many Pietists have an aversion to formal creeds. For example, take this recent e-mail, sent to me by a sometime contributor to Pietisten, a Mission Friend, born and bred: “I have modified much from my youth but not the conviction that creeds if not simply bad, are problematic.”
The compliment of divergent worship (Fall/Winter 2014)
We occasionally read in the histories of Pietism that our forebears scrutinized themselves constantly, and worried when they found hints of frivolity or jocularity. But by mid-twentieth century, there must have been a shift; the North Park College I knew in the ‘50s and ‘60s did not suffer for want of wags and wits.
Report from Minnesota (Fall/Winter 2015)
A rump gathering that involved several Pietisten board members was held on Shirt Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota, this summer. In fact, it fell on August 8, 2015, the very day of the Pietisten Picnic and Annual Meeting on Vashon Island, Puget Sound, Washington. The rump gathering was part of the 2015 Summer “Conference on Despair,” whose solemn sessions raged on in Minnesota through the week of August 4 through 10.
‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’: Parties in the church (Spring/Summer 2016)
Over a half century ago, as the winter sun slanted through windows slightly opaque with Chicago grime, Professor Donald Frisk lectured in a Nyvall Hall classroom at North Park Seminary. The subject in his Systematic Theology course that day was less systematic than historical: the range and variety of Christian experience and thought over 2,000 years. One of the most important of the persistent distinctions among Christians, Frisk said, fell between those who usually tended to speak of “Jesus” and those who did so of “Christ.”
Having faith, and keeping faith (Fall/Winter 2016)
My guess is that now and then even Pietists find their minds wandering during church services. Mine has anyway. A while back, during a particularly “doctrinal” sermon on the Trinity, I found myself wondering what the churchgoers in the pews were thinking.
No Abiding City (Spring/Summer 2017)
Years later, for want of a Covenant church in the town where I was then living, I attended an Augustana Lutheran congregation. There, when a member died, the pastor would announce the funeral using with unrelenting regularity this formula: “We are once again reminded that we are but pilgrims and strangers here on earth.”
Does a backroad in Minnesota lead to God? (Fall/Winter 2017)
The photo accompanying the text of this essay came to me via e-mail last summer. The picture arrived from the Editor Emeritus of Pietisten himself! It was meant to remind me that if I attended the “Summer 2017” gathering of Old Pietists in Crow Wing County, Minnesota, there would be a bonus: I could bike along some of the great backroads the county boasts. The photo is of one such North Woods by-way.
The Atonement and Optimism (Spring/Summer 2018)
Often religious experience, even Christian experience, is understood to be a transaction or negotiation between humans and the divine. P.P. Waldenström, the leading theological figure in nineteenth century Pietism in both Sweden and Swedish America, charged that heathen religion, and by implication much of Christianity, understood the gods—or God Himself—to be angry at human sin and failure; if a person were to hope to be restored to divine favor, some sacrifice, perhaps of a dead creature, would be necessary to appease the divinity, to overcome His wrath. The individual made the offering which satisfied the divine sense of justice, and the relationship between earth and heaven was set right.
How do Pietists vote? (Fall/Winter 2018)
We live right on the Mississippi about twelve miles north of Moline, Illinois. Next to our home is a Rock Island County park, with plug-ins and outdoor grills for motor campers. The campground is right along the water’s edge, and there are hiking trails running through the wood-covered bluffs above the river. Late one evening this summer a big, slick $175,000 motor camping rig rolled into the park. It had a huge Stars and Stripes painted on its sleek aluminum side. I saw “Old Glory” from where I was walking up in the woods, but curiosity brought me down to see what was written on the side of the camper, right below that flag. There were three lines, painted in big blue letters: “I love my Lord and my Country! / I’ve fought for both! / It’s government I fear!”
Democracy, Christianity, and other faiths (Spring/Summer 2019)
One of the conceits of the 20th century – and the early 21st as well – has been the belief that we have found the best political-social order in history, a way of setting up and organizing human life that optimizes each person’s potential, protecting and advancing the finest of which all people are capable. This order depends upon people themselves taking an active role in selecting their leaders and in monitoring their work. It is, of course, liberal democracy.
Free grace, sinners! Free grace! (Fall/Winter 2019)
The college where I studied and later taught is in a Mississippi River town. The immigrants who founded it built a big stone Old Main with a dome that towers over the Mississippi Valley. Once, in my junior year, long decades ago, I took a class that had some dull spells.
The Second Coming and one pietist (Spring/Summer 2020)
I was born again at Camp Mission Meadows in the summer of 1950. I had been sent to the camp on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in western New York by the Buffalo Evangelical Covenant Church. That congregation, which was then at mid-century erecting a new church building (since shuttered and sold), met temporarily in a firehouse down the block from our home
The Trinity, History and Pietism (Fall/Winter 2020)
There’s an old adage: “Be careful what you pray for!” It is certainly true that sometimes prayers are answered in a way we didn’t expect when we first prayed them. When in seminary, I got so confused about the Doctrine of the Trinity, that I prayed for months on end that God would show me the true doctrine. My prayer has, over the course of my life, been answered, though not in the way I originally expected. That answer is what this column is about.
Madrigal (Spring/Summer 2021)
Spirituality, churched and unchurched (Fall/Winter 2021)
Are the ancient Nordic pagans returning? American Christians with a Scandinavian heritage are sometimes troubled by reports about the growing secularization of the northern lands themselves. Whether these Yankees are consoled or upset by the fact that their own society is trending in the same direction isn’t clear. But that this secularization is happening is undeniable. So American heirs of Swedish Pietism must think about the situation in two lands they care about, Sweden and America.
Crucifixes (Spring/Summer 2022)
My summers during my teen years in the ‘fifties were highlighted by weeks at Mission Meadows Bible Camp on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in western New York State. There at camp pastors from the (then) Middle East Conference of the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church admonished us to persevere in the promises we had made to live by the gospel. They also warned us against false teaching and doctrine. In the Covenant Church, as in much of Protestantism in the mid-twentieth century, one important false kind of Christianity to avoid was Roman Catholicism.