a new appreciation for garrison keillor...

Let me step back from my observations on the current regime's political mayhem and vulgarity for a moment to share a surprising blast of beauty. For decades I have been ambivalent about Garrison Keillor. I have often been moved by his subtle combinations of self-deprecating humor and spirituality in the "News from Lake Wobegon" monologues on A Prairie
Home Companion. (The uninitiated may listen here: https://www. prairiehomeorg) To be sure, these seemingly stream of consciousness tales of quotidian angst and redemption are not everyone's cup of tea. They favor the geezer demographic of which I now inhabit and lack the tortured irony that so many hipsters crave. They flirt with the sentimental, too and are long-winded in an age of sound bytes and instant analysis. And yet, more often than not, Keillor is able to create a multi-layered story of the many ways grace breaks through our fears and stupidity to bring us a bit of hope and love. This is the part of Keillor I treasure.

His other public persona - the big-mouthed, blow hard who slams the small minds of his conservative opponents - leaves me cold. In this incarnation, Keillor is self-righteous and smug. He embodies all the elitist stereotypes of liberal "cosmopolitans" that America's heartland has come to detest. He is insulting, bitter and too often cruel in both sound and substance. And while I find myself agreeing with most of his conclusions, I have discovered a repugnance bubbling up inside me when I read this slop - and have made it part of my spiritual discipline to avoid his political diatribes for the sake of my soul. 

Curiously, I have both of these reactions at the same time whenever I hear him on NPR's The Writer's Almanac (check it out here: http:// writersalmanac.org) I value the information at the start of these broadcasts - the birth dates and mini-biographies of famous writers is insightful and fascinating - and I almost always take something away from his featured poem. I applaud his public commitment to reclaiming spoken poetry in America's shallow popular culture. Today, for example, he lifted up "First Snow" by Louise Glück:

Like a child, the earth’s going to sleep,
or so the story goes.

But I’m not tired, it says.
And the mother says, You may not be tired but I’m tired—

You can see it in her face, everyone can.
So the snow has to fall, sleep has to come.
Because the mother’s sick to death of her life
and needs silence.

Every time this program breaks through the din of a drive on my car radio I am nourished. And, at the same time, I secretly wish Keillor wouldn't try so hard to sound precious in the various set ups to the poetry. It is like the women and men clergy who work so hard at being theatrical in their reading of Scripture in public. If you've gone to worship in a Protestant church sometime in the last 40 years you may have heard them working so hard to sound earnest. Significant. Flirting with relevance. Ugh! "Lord, save me and take me home right now" I find myself praying silently when in the presence of such sounds. I'm not questioning anyone's faith commitment, just their inflated sense of self-referential aesthetics. Bible reading, like poetry, needs to be passionate but clear, honest and accessible, sincere and simple. After all, the wisdom doesn't come from the reader - repeat again and again, "it's NOT about me" - so why make the words sound otherwise?

All of which leads me to Brother Keillor's written reflection in yesterday's Washington Post:  "Driving into the Storm." When it appeared in our local paper, The Berkshire Eagle, I almost skipped over it. As noted earlier, it has become an act of self-care to avoid his hyperbolic rants. But, for some reason greater than myself, I didn't - and I was delighted. Keillor's prose is tender and sincere. His insights are humble and honest. Mixing personal narrative with The Beatles' "Abbey Road" and the sonnets of Shakespeare, Keillor offers a simple moral:  it takes a lifetime of practice to love deeply.

To love that well which you must leave ere long. The beauty of a long, slow drive through New England hills in a snowstorm. Because the world is white, it’s filled with light. The faces on the TV screen talked about politics, but none of it matters unless you love this world and the people you find in it. You drive into the storm and meet five friends you didn’t know before, you feel their mortality and your own, the snow is falling. Love is here, love is there, love is drifting through the air. And the people in these lovely little towns, how are they doing tonight? Do they have medical insurance? Can they afford to go to the movies? Do their kids learn poetry in school? (check out the full essay @ https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions /driving-into-the-storm/2017/02/14/f1bccbbc-f2e8-11e6-a9b0-ecee7ce475fc_ story.html?utm_term=.d520fb193f7b

Today my work at church is finished for the week. Twenty hours goes by damn fast, doesn't it? It was a good week even when I forgot important things (ah, the humility of my humanity!)  It was a good week because I was able to sit and listen - and then pray - with a few people aching with uncertainty. It was a good week for making beautiful music with our choir - and finding a way to work Eddie Vedder's "Society" into Sunday worship. It was a good week because the snows came and went and we were safe and warm. And it was a good week because now that my work is over (it is never complete) there is time for my lover and I to rest and talk and read together.


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