Post: Readers Respond

I like the treatment of the Wilberforce flick in the review “English Abolition: The Movie” by Adam Hochschild in the New York Review of Books June 14, 2007, very much. Because: it is far more accurate historically than the movie is; it is rooted in an understanding of history and politics that is Niebuhrean (or Lincolnean) rather than Billy Grahamean (or Wilsonean); it makes clear the insidious ways in which we are manipulated by technicolor and music; it is one more example of the unbelievably complex relationship between Righteousness and Right.

I am often seduced by the Heilsgeschichte view, not of Biblical history, but of American (and even Western) history, that view which sees in the political and cultural and intellectual history of the last centuries (especially since the Protestant Reformation) the working-out and continuation of the sacred events of the Old and New Testaments. I am convinced that such an application of Holy History to Modern History will inevitably lead to the kind of self-righteous bungling that has characterized our own American foray into the twenty-first century. The truth is always much more complicated and nuanced than those who claim to be acting for God suggest. And while it is undeniable that slavery is hideous, it is also clear that it was gotten rid of, both in Britain and here, by a coalition of decent people, some of whom were on a first name basis with God Himself and others of whom were simply good people who rarely heard directly from the Almighty. To give all the credit to any single person or group is not fair or accurate (or unbiased).

So there’s nothing wrong with a feel-good movie if it’s When Harry Met Sally. But watch out if it’s “When God met History.” Somebody’s trying to open a casino or get your vote. Rats! I wanna feel good, and the facts keep getting in the way! Kate Tredway, Galena and Santa Fe.

I liked Penrod’s piece even though I come from the opposite end. In the good, old days, Penrod would have been burnt at the stake for expressing such views; but I found them refreshing even when I disagreed.

Re Amazing Grace. I had a few problems with the film. I have rarely seen a film that successfully conveys deep emotion, especially of a religious, artistic, or creative nature. Dr. Zhivago comes to mind. Those scenes where he struggles to develop a poem were sheer boredom. Ditto Wilberforce’s attempt to come to grips with his inner struggle. It went on too long in that garden. Enough already! What was impressive were those scenes of debate on slavery, in the House of Commons. Wales covered the essential in magistral form. I would have preferred to see more of this side.

Wilberforce and Clarkson were in the forefront in this struggle; and Clarkson convinced the French left of the time to set up an Anti Slavery Committee in 1788. I have a French translation of Clarkson’s essay on the abolition of the slave trade, in pamphlet form, obviously designed to be widely distributed. Take your hat off to these and the others; this was dangerous business. The film did not convey this or the real political tension implied. When abolition of slavery occurred in 1833, the slave owners were reimbursed; the slaves received nothing. In this country, the Quakers early on led the way. Hats off to them. They raised the fundamental issues of the contradiction between the Declaration of Independence and slavery and the Constitution and the slavery clauses. They were a real thorn in the body politic. Unfortunately, too much money was being made at this time to effectively stir the American conscience. Robert Thompson, New York, New York

As always, I enjoy Pietisten, though I sometimes feel like an outsider looking in enviously at a very close community. This whole issue seemed so appropriate to me for funerals lately have played a big part in my life.

Those things inevitably lead one to ponder legacies people leave. Clearly, one who leaves behind memories of a loving life is more valuable than the one who just leaves behind a big estate, or vast fame. It’s too bad that takes so much time to learn at a “gut level.” I’ve had to come to terms with my decreasing energy levels and no longer have big plans to take advantage of all the interesting opportunities in this metropolitan area. Still, there are many good things to enjoy daily, and I’m thankful to still have my health. I continue to be grateful for the three CDs I got from Marlene and Bob Bach for they are a joy. Often they are my Sunday morning service, since I haven’t worked very hard to find a local church to attend. We do have Monday morning services here, presided over by our new chaplain, and I do enjoy the familiar hymns (even if I can’t sing), and he does well at brief sermons. The Lutheran orientation of the service probably is ideal for most of the folks who attend, but I must say, as a former Baptist, I find the habitual reading of the same old Creed downright irritating. Seems like it could be varied with some other creeds occasionally, but that’s my particular “hang-up” and it’s far from crucial. I find I lean more and more toward Quakers, and have enjoyed reading a classic history, titled Friends for 350 Years. I had NO idea that Quakers had almost as many splits in their history as I knew Baptists did.

I enjoy each issue and I’d love to write Glen Wiberg sometime about where to get a copy of The Covenant Hymnal of 1996, for I find myself drawn more and more to the old hymns, many of which are by Lina Sandell, which bring back fond memories from my childhood years when we lived for awhile with my grandparents and went with them sometimes to Broadway Covenant Church. The sermons in Swedish defeated me, of course, for while I could catch a word here and there, the quality of the language was far more sophisticated than the everyday Swedish I sometimes heard. And of course, I’m a big fan of anything David Hawkinson writes. Keep up the good work. Marilyn Ford, Spring Park, Minnesota.

Greetings from the sandy shores of Cape Cod! The Spring 2007 issue of Pietisten arrived with today’s mail and I of course sat down and read it through. Three of the articles especially grabbed my attention. Bobby Bach’s “On the Doorstep” about my old seminary classmate, Wes Swanson, my friend Alden Johnson’s article about his search for his aunt’s grave, and Tim Cole’s tribute to his mother, Adele.

I guess I knew Wes had been adopted but I had never heard the whole story. I found it most moving. Alden and I have talked almost every subject into the ground either here, up in Maine, or in Barbados, but he’s never shared this one. I’ll be chewing him out for withholding information. Tim Cole’s tribute brought back many, many memories from my internship at Bethlehem (and getting to know Adele’s parents, the Obergs) through the years of contacts with Adele, in Park Forest, Illinois, and in Covenant ministry.

Pietisten is a treasure. Thank you for your labor of love, you continue to enrich our fellowship across the years and across the miles. Each issue is like a brief retreat with old friends with whom we have shared our faith journey. Shalom, George Elia, Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.

Dear Pietisten people, Just a note with our subscription renewal to once again say thank you for the labor of love all of you expend with each issue. You write of people and events as does none other, and in so doing, help us of the dispersion stay connected with people and places that are very dear to us. You also help us to remember and hope, and for all of that we are very grateful. Jerry Johnson, Sedro-Woolley, Washington.