Strieter Autobiography: The Brimstone Boys

[Continued from Part 30. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Translator’s Note

The first time through this section, I would suggest completely ignoring the endnotes as you read. Simply enjoy the good, clean, Lutheran shenanigans.

Hardships and Happenings (continued)

I attended the conventions and conferences. One time I didn’t go to the local conference because I was sick. I also was not at the 1854 convention in St. Louis because I was very poor and had no money for traveling. I also was not at one delegate convention and had my alternate go, because I was deaf and wouldn’t have been able to hear anything anyways. Otherwise, to my knowledge, I was at all the conventions and conferences from 1853 up to my retirement from the ministry. More than once I baptized my newborn baby and then departed, or it was born to me while I was gone. Never did I submit the excuse: “domestic circumstances.”50

Johannes Strieter with full beard, c. 1860s. Photo courtesy of Susan Hawkins.

Johannes Strieter with full beard, c. 1860s. Photo courtesy of Susan Hawkins.

At the beginning of the 60s I came to the convention in St. Louis with a full beard and had to put up with a lot of teasing.51 This is how it happened: I was shaving at a farmer’s place in Big Bull. He didn’t have a mirror; there was only a small triangular piece of a mirror in the house. It had been stuck into a crack in one of the beams in the log house. That was okay, but the razor was like a saw and the heavy, bitter tears ran down my cheeks.

Then I asked myself, “Did our dear God really cause the beard to grow so that we could torture ourselves with it so shamefully?” and I answered, “No.” And from then on I let everything grow as it pleased. To this day I never again had a razor put to my face.

Professor Crämer with full beard (source)

Professor Crämer with full beard (source)

In St. Louis Missionary Clöter took a liking to my beard. Later we had convention in Monroe, Michigan, and Clöter came with the full beard too.52 In the evening there was supposed to be conference, but there wasn’t a lot going on. My Jox right away nominated Strieter to conduct the meeting; I had to take the chair and Clöter was made secretary. Jox wanted to have the two bearded men up in front. Soon many people were following my example with the full beard, even my dear Prof. Crämer.

One time we had convention in Watertown and I drove there with Fanny, 75 miles.53 One time conference was in Lebanon and I also drove the 80 miles there to Babylon.54 One time conference was in Woodland, and I also drove there.55 One time it was in Freistadt, and I also drove there.56 There we camped in the late Fürbringer’s study.57 Beds were positioned on the floor on both sides. Our feet were touching in the middle. Outside58 stood a bed for two. Ruhland lingered downstairs a bit long. Stecher and Steinbach slipped into the bed, to Ruhland’s chagrin. Whether he liked it or not, he would have to join us in the camp. Strasen was lying up by the door and says, “You guys leave the last spot open for Ruhland and when he comes marching through, each of you give him a kick.” He had to get undressed outside.59 Once he’s in by us, Strasen gives him one. He turns around and starts griping. In the meantime he gets one from the other side. Then he sees the game we’re playing and strikes out for his bed, but he gets his kick from both sides all the way down. Having reached the end, he starts in: “You despicable people.” But we are laughing hysterically and he starts laughing too. Oh, Ruhland was just terrific!60

One time conference was in Mayville, where Dicke was.61 I drove there. As I was unhitching, my horse was nibbling around at the dung. Everyone was standing outside when I came. Then the dear Synod President Wyneken exclaimed, “Look! Strieter’s horse is so hungry, it’s feeding on dung, and so shamefully lean. We should take up a collection so that Strieter can buy oats.”

But my Dicke came to my aid: “That horse is not lean. It is thin and empty right now because it has run 40 miles.62 No horse looks round after doing that.”

Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken in his older years

Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken

One time conference was at Jox’s place in Kirchhain.63 Dr. Sihler was also there. In the evening someone called in through the window, “Is there still room in the camp?” It was our old, dear President Wyneken.64 The joy was great. During the midday break we went under the green trees and played Plumpsack.65 Link set it up.66 The old gentlemen had to play too. Link especially had it in for Wyneken. He often had to get out of the ring and received some terrific whackings from Link. W[yneken] would laugh his head off and run. Even the old Dr. had to take his turns.

We were very brotherly together and were attentive during the sessions. Back then it never occurred to anyone to read the newspaper during that time or to tell something to the guy next to him. Our headmen were Strasen and Link, and they supplied most of the papers. Wyneken called us the Brimstone Boys [Schwefelbande].67

Endnotes

50 Leutner corrected Strieter’s “häusliche Umstände” to “Familienverhältnisse wegen.”

51 The Missouri Synod Convention was held in St. Louis on October 10ff., 1860.

52 The Northern District Convention took place in Monroe, Michigan, on May 29ff., 1861.

53 The Northern District Convention took place in Watertown on June 18ff, 1862.

54 The Wisconsin Pastoral Conference met in Lebanon from May 5-7, 1863.

55 The Milwaukee Pastoral Conference met in Woodland from April 26-28, 1864.

56 The Wisconsin Pastoral Conference met in Freistadt from September 9-11, 1862.

57 This may have been an honorary name for the study due to Ottomar Fuerbringer’s faithful service in Freistadt from 1851-1858. By the time this conference was held, Friedrich Boeling had been using this study since the beginning of 1861.

58 Leutner’s correction is probably more correct: “In the room next door…”

59 See previous endnote.

60 Something is amiss in this story, since Friedrich Carl Theodor Ruhland (1836-1879), one of the more vociferous opponents of the Wisconsin Synod at this time, had moved from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Wolcottsville, Niagara County, New York, and had been installed as pastor of St. Michael’s Church there on July 6, 1862, before the conference in Freistadt was held. (It also does not seem likely that the study in Freistadt would have been upstairs.) Since it does not seem likely that Strieter was mistaken about Ruhland, the main character in the story, perhaps he was mistaken about the location. Perhaps this occurred at the conference Ruhland himself hosted from May 11-14, 1860 (which would explain why he was irritated about not getting to sleep in the bigger bed), or at the one in MIlwaukee on May 3-4, 1861. Ruhland eventually became the first president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany, today in fellowship with the Wisconsin Synod.

61 I was unable to locate any announcement for a conference in Mayville during Strieter’s years of service in Wisconsin on the pages of Der Lutheraner. However, it may have been held in early May 1862, since the Wisconsin Pastoral Conference usually met around that time in other years.

62 The distance between Strieter’s homestead and Mayville is more like 70 miles, but Strieter most likely divided the journey between two days.

63 The Wisconsin Pastoral Conference met in Kirchhayn from September 3-5, 1861.

64 51 years old at the time

65 A German version of Duck-duck-goose played with a knotted handkerchief

66 That is, Pastor Georg Link of Immanuel, Lebanon

67 According to the Grimm Brothers’ Deutsches Wörterbuch, Schwefelbande, lit. “sulfur gang,” denotes “a sorry or slipshod gathering, a rabble, especially in more vulgar parlance and used colloquially.” It supposedly originated as a “nickname for Sulphuria, a students’ club in Jena that was notorious for not giving satisfaction,” and the Grimm Brothers also suggest that the label alludes to the devil or hell.

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Strieter Autobiography: Counseling and Instructing

[Continued from Part 22. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Wisconsin (continued)

One time a woman asked me to stop by her place sometime; she had something to tell me about. I stop by. There she relates this: Over in Germany she had been a rich farmer’s daughter, and her husband had been her father’s servant, and because he was such a good person, she had fallen in love with him and suggested that they get married. But he had said, “Get that idea out of your head. Your father will not agree to it, and if he did agree to it, our wealth would come from you. I have nothing, and it is not good when the wife makes her husband rich. You are a hothead; you’ll fly off the handle at some point and rub it in my face.”

“So I promise him, ‘I will say nothing about it all my life.’

“I approach my mother and she approaches my father. ‘Good,’ said my father, ‘I will give you such and such an amount, then the two of you can move to America.’

“We got married. My father gave me money and we came to America and bought ourselves the land here. Just think, sir, I got annoyed over something recently and say to my husband, ‘You didn’t have anything but your jacket!’

“He doesn’t say a word, but shoots me a look. Oh, that look went right through my heart! If only he weren’t so good! But I have such a good man. He can go anywhere and while this one or that one comes home and has too much, mine never does. And he is so good to me and the children. And now I had promised him I would never rub it in his face, and I did it anyway. So do you think that God can forgive me my sin?”

I say, “First of all, you must apologize to your husband, ma’am, and he must first forgive you.”

She says, “Ah, I have already asked him for forgiveness many times, and he has said to me, ‘Just forget about it; everything is fine!’”

I say, “Good, now ask your dear God for forgiveness too.”

She says, “O how often I have done that!”

I say, “Okay, what more do you want? Now everything is just fine. Your husband has forgiven and God has forgiven, and you don’t need any forgiveness beyond that.”

She says, “Has God really forgiven me too?”

I say, “Why, in the Fifth Petition he says he has.”

Then she was happy. —

One time a man came to me with his wife and told me that his wife was going out of her mind. He had heard that such women should be given a good, sound beating, and should he try it once?

I say, “Of course not. How is that going to help? You must be kind, sir.”

I speak with the woman. She said that one child after another would die on her when it was born, and that was God’s punishment for her sins. I point her to her Savior and recite passages to her. She listens to it, but that’s it. I arrange to meet the man again and again. Finally have no idea what else to say. One day I had her in front of me again and asked her whether she really wanted to be saved.

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed.

I say, “Good, and God wants it too and affirms it with an oath [cf. Hebrews 6:13-20]. Now who’s going to prevent it?”

Suddenly she lifts up her head and looks at me beaming with joy and cries out, “That is true!” From then on she stayed happy.

Yes, when God’s hour has struck, he helps through a simple little word.

One time a man came and told me that his woman was a Jewess. They were not married yet and his girl, 12 years old, was also not baptized yet.

I say, “Come over and bring the woman along.”

He came. I start with Moses and the Prophets and prove to the woman that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by the prophets and ask her what is her position on that. But she gave me no answer. He says, “Come on, talk to the preacher.” She remains stock-still.

I arrange to meet her again. She comes and I take her alone and start again and ask what she thinks, but she remains stock-still. If I talk about something else, she is very talkative. If I start talking about Jesus, her head turns to the ground and not a word. I cannot start anything with the woman.

I tell the man, “So I cannot marry you, sir, for the woman does not believe in Jesus, so I also cannot marry her in the name of Jesus. Go to the justice of the peace. Your child, though, I will instruct and baptize.” The child is sent to me and I instruct and baptize it in the presence of witnesses. The mother, however, did not show her face.19

While I’m on the subject of the Jewess, I will also add this: One woman asked me, “Mr. Preacher, your wife is a Jewess, is she not? She has such large, black eyes and such heavy, black hair.” —

I also had to deal with the musicians. Especially at weddings they knew how to have a good time. If it was going to be a proper one, it lasted three days and three nights. During that time there would be music-playing, dancing, and boozing. The performers were my churchgoers. One of them, a teacher from abroad, knew better than to go to the Lord’s Supper, but always went to church; the others – there were 4 of them usually – also went to the Supper. I speak with the musicians, but accomplish nothing except that they become defiant towards me. I thought, “You must put up with this for the time being.” But it didn’t take long before I just couldn’t give the performers the Supper any more in good conscience, but they still went to church and their wives also went to the Supper. Not just at weddings, but also at get-togethers things often got out of hand. I had to rebuke and to instruct; had much opposition from the flesh and often unpleasant confrontations. Ah, many sighs were sent to heaven, many tears were shed. My short impromptu prayer was always: “Comfort me once again with your help and let your joyful Spirit uphold me!” [Psalm 51:12].20

I did most of my studying when I was riding, driving, or sitting. I had Luther, the Erlangen edition, the German volumes, which I picked up cheaply in Euclid from one of Kühn’s members through Kühn’s negotiation. Luther’s House Postil was my constant companion, as well as another extra volume.21 I read my Luther, and my manner and method of preparing my sermon in my mind, as already noted, now came in very handy. First I would go through my Gospel, then I would run through my Luther, then I would outline, then I would think and organize, then I would preach in front of the group in question in my mind all the way from the first word to the last, and would then step confidently in front of my people. I never preached long.

For confessional services I used the Catechism exclusively, simply covering part for part in order, but I didn’t just preach outright, but asked a lot of questions, doing more catechesis and taking answers so that I would also know whether they understood it. Especially a former teacher [Mr.] F. answered me very often.

I did not labor in vain. Quite often it was expressed: “We never heard such sermons abroad.” Quite a few tears were cried; quite often there was grieving over the fleshly condition.

The people were not to blame, for they must have had miserable preachers – rationalists, hirelings, belly-servers,22 and babblers. You could tell from some of the things that were said. One man, Administrator B., was once asked to tell me that I should preach more humbly. I say, “I am constantly striving to be humble and am not aware of anything particularly arrogant in my sermons.”

He says, “Oh, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is this: Our preachers would often have the whole church in tears when they preached.”

“Ah, so,” I replied, “you mean, sir, that I should preach more emotionally?” Their preachers had had it as their goal to elicit the emotions, so that they would be praised for what a fine sermon they had given.

Especially for funerals they must have had this practice, for one man even gave me two dollars before his mother’s burial. That was unheard of. He said, “Please give a nice address; my mother was a good woman.”

But I read as my text: “Death is the wages of sin” [Romans 6:23], and preached law and gospel.

One man told me, “What my pastor [Seelsorger] in Germany liked best was when he got to sit down with the musicians at weddings and play the Brumm” – the bass viol.

They also could be bribed. I noticed that too. There was a man who came from 12 miles away to bring us two beautiful, nicely dressed ducks, and soon he started in, telling me that he was living in conflict with his neighbor, and I should settle it. But he gave me to understand that I should take his side.

Another man asked if he could ride with me to the next congregation. I invited him up. Soon he pulled a small, folded-up paper parcel from his pocket and handed it to me saying, “Mr. Preacher, I would very much like to give you some pay, sir.”

I say, “You certainly don’t owe me any pay, sir. You’re just a servant on the prairie.”

He says, “Even so, I want to give you this just this once. Please take it; I give it gladly.”

I took it, stick it in my waistcoat pocket and say, “Thank you very much!”

Pretty soon he started in: “Mr. Preacher, you have a girl as your maid, sir, whom I would very much like to have as my wife. You will put in a good word for me, won’t you?”

I say, “Listen here, sir, I did not study for the matchmaking trade, but let me give you a good piece of advice: Ask L.’s parents” – he had none himself – “and if they say Yes, ask L., and if she also says Yes, then come to me and I will marry you.”

He was quiet. In front of my house he got down and went on his way. My L. saw us coming and I hardly get into the house before she asks, “Papa, what did he want from you, sir?”

I say, “He wanted you.”

L. says, “Just what I thought! How often have I already told that guy that I do not want him.”

I say, “Yeah, but he gave me money too,” and pull out my small parcel. It is 5 dollars. I say, “You poor guy, spending so much money for nothing!”

My L. laughs and claps her hands: “If only it were 10!”

Whenever anyone came with a gift, I was suspicious. But soon they learned to think differently.

Endnotes

19 The man in this story was Gottlieb Busse and “his woman” was Charlotte Jacobson. Their 12-year-old daughter was Julie Busse, born on February 15, 1851. (Thus most of the events in this story took place in 1863.) Strieter baptized her on March 27, 1864, in the presence of Julius and Rose Breitenfeld and his wife Elizabeth.

20 One of the evils of Pietism enumerated by Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749) in The Complete Timotheus Verinus (Milwaukee: NPH, 1998) is precisionism in matters of adiaphora, that is, unyielding strictness in matters neither explicitly commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture (p. 150-160). Pietists like Joachim Lange (1670-1744), Gottfried Vockerodt (1665-1727), August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), and Paul Anton (1661-1730) taught that producing or attending comedies, joking, and dancing were sinful. Pietists took activities that often lead to sin – e.g. dancing often leads to lust (cf. Matthew 5:28; Romans 13:14), and those who love to joke often end up being obscene or coarse (cf. Ephesians 5:4) – and wrongly labeled them sinful in themselves. The effects of the Pietistic movement can still be felt in the Lutheran Church today, and Strieter was not exempt from them in his day either, even though he certainly knew about Pietism and opposed it in principle. One can appreciate his concern: Lust, drunkenness, and self-abandonment are all sins, and certainly those sins abound in the kind of raucous scenes he is describing. However, while acknowledging that we do not know all the details and therefore must be cautious in judgment, it could be that Strieter went too far in refusing the Lord’s Supper to the musicians.

21 See previous chapter and endnote 12 there.

22 An expression taken from Romans 16:18

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