The Calling of a Colporteur or What to Expect from “Pietisten 3.0”

by Mark Safstrom

As the incoming staff of Pietisten was busy at work publishing this current issue that you are now holding in your hands, we couldn’t help but chuckle about how quickly this change occurred, from Minneapolis to Seattle, from one generation to another. One year ago, none of us expected, nor had any aspirations of such a takeover. At the same time, once Phil started hinting that change was coming, and ambiguous conversations began about “who would pick up the reins next,” I think most of us were caught up in a great deal of anticipation. From the very beginning it seemed like a moment of serendipity…or maybe even Providence. For any of you Readers out there who at any point have had anxious thoughts about young whippersnappers tarnishing the good old name of Pietisten, you are invited here and now to put your minds at ease. We’ll answer your questions, one by one:

Will the new crew intend blessing? Yes. Will we seek no other authority? Yes. Will we engage in open conversation with friends, both the ones that we have now and friends that we have yet to meet? Yes. Will we keep alive traditions of spontaneous voices so crucial to our congregational and democratic heritages? Yes. Will we bless human endeavors of all kinds, the secular as well as the sacred? Yes. Will we seek thankful hearts, and the Gospel? Yes. Will we be as wise as serpents? In this economy, you better believe it! Will we be innocent as doves? Affirmative. Have we read Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”? Yes, we have. Will we embrace hybrids? Yes. Will “Yenta” and “Penrod” be asked to submit articles? Yes, as soon as they identify themselves and send us their email addresses. Will we enjoy the liberty to say and print anything we want and let it be subject to criticism by anyone with a subscription at the 10 dollar level or higher? Yes, and even by those who have yet to subscribe. Amen, and Amen. Dear Reader, is your mind now set at ease?

We are humbled to continue this endeavor that began back in 1986, perhaps as a joke, to revive an old publication from the 19th century. While my sources assure me that this name was only half serious at first, I think that in looking back over the content of all these 69 issues that streamed out of Pietisten’s world headquarters in Minneapolis, we can conclude that this journal has lived into its name in many ways. The mission was to awaken a journal that had been asleep since 1918, and, in the words of David Hawkinson, “to enliven a dynamic relationship with the past, not to be bound to it – to be in dialogue with it as a critical element of our common identity.” While purporting to never take themselves seriously, the founding editors and their associates have done a great service to the hundreds of subscribers who look to Pietisten for much the same inspiration as the original Readers did when they read George Scott and Carl Olof Rosenius’ very first year of issues in 1842. The contents of this modern version are more eclectic, perhaps, but have always been rooted in a sincere love of the neighbor and an infectious Christian joy, two hallmarks of Lutheran Pietism.

In the coming year and beyond, Pietisten will continue to see changes in society and in its content. But we do see an important role in providing continuity to our Readers. Pietisten, like many publications, has long since claimed its place in cyberspace, providing our material in digital format to anyone with a connection to the internet. Securing this presence on the internet was an essential step in developing of our community of Readers, and expanding this will continue to be a priority. But there is also something very comforting about a good old fashioned ink-on-paper publication, especially a heavy-weight, creamcolored copy of Pietisten prominently displayed on your coffee table. As the incoming Pietisten staff has discussed with one another what we value about this journal, one thing we all agree on is that despite the negative outlook for printed media these days, we are committed to continuing to produce a paper version of Pietisten. To be specific, two issues per year.

I have often heard people use the expression “digital is forever.” I couldn’t disagree more. As a historian reflecting on the frailty of the human condition, I see absolutely nothing permanent about digital media. It can be misplaced and destroyed just like any other records. Especially when there are mischievous people out there scheming up new computer viruses all the time, and others of us walk around with entire archives on a “memory stick” on our key chains. I have lost my keys before, and will certainly lose them again.

The fact is that no publication, digital or otherwise, is forever. Eventually, everything in this world will pass away, both books and digital media. This will likely be a depressing thought to colporteurs everywhere. Colporteurs, as you may remember, were the original newsboys of Pietisten, a special breed of pedestrian evangelists who peddled copies of Pietisten and other books of faith as they walked along the parish roads of Sweden, burning with the desire to see lost souls return to the Lord. Their efforts resulted in making our predecessor, “Pietisten 1.0,” a premier center of spiritual activity during the 19th century. Most of those books, tracts and newspapers have since been thrown out, used as kindling, and rotted away. One might think that the colporteurs who trekked all over the countryside would be very disappointed to hear that their aching feet and worn out shoes were for nothing. But of course, we know that it was not in vain.

What I would suggest is that our calling as colporteurs is not simply about collecting, documenting and saving our various spiritual and cultural heritages, although that is important. The record that we have in the past 68 issues is indeed immensely valuable. However, Pietisten is not a historical society. Its eternal value lies in the perpetual activity of telling and retelling our stories, which range from the mundane to the miraculous. It is an activity that needs to take place year after year, generation to generation. This generation is now ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work.

Finally, we have yet to meet most of you. Although Pietisten will mostly be operating out of its Seattle newsroom from now on, we expect that the Minneapolis newsroom will continue to hold regular hours and function as a hub in the Midwest, and there will be plenty of traffic in-between. There are also a couple of formal events where you can meet some of us (tentatively).

  • June 10-13, 2010, Rock Island, IL – “Gathering VII” of the Augustana Heritage Association, at Augustana College
  • November 5-6, 2010, Chicago, IL – A joint conference for the 150th Anniversary of the Augustana Lutheran Synod and 125th of the Evangelical Covenant Church, at North Park University.

Förresten, vill vi gärna höra ifrån våra läsare i Norden, och härmed uppmutra Er att fortsätta delta i Pietisten i framtiden. Redaktionen talar svenska och kan gärna översätta Era artiklar, predikningar, och nyheter mm, till engelska. Välkomna!

In English: All are encouraged to introduce yourselves at any time, in person if you come through Seattle, or simply through an encouraging letter or email. We welcome your submissions and covet your prayers.

Guds frid – God’s peace.

Mark Safstrom is Chief Editor of Pietisten, and an assistant professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

See all articles by Mark Safstrom