After the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, played host to Garrison Keillor this month, the Minnesota writer repaid the favor with a splenetic column
excoriating the congregation for varying the words of Silent Night
. Unitarians were not his only target.
Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.
Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.
Raised as a Plymouth Brethren
, at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from Unitarians, Keillor joined the Episcopal Church as an adult. Though he affects a charming, avuncular manner while spinning yarns from fictional Lake Woebegon on NPR's Prairie Home Companion
, he is said to be vain and disagreeable in person.
When the "Jewish guys trashing up the malls" column appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a friend of editorial page editor D. J. Tice wrote to ask why he decided to run it. Dice replied
We discussed the column and whether it crossed the line, aware that it had already stirred controversy. We decided it was not anti-Semitic, not least because Keillor spread his nastiness so widely, the way many Christians (and others) try to spread good will at this time of year. He is a regular presence on our Sunday page, with a substantial following, and our bar is very high for spiking a regular column.
In no case, however, does our publishing a column... imply any endorsement of its message. We publish pieces that we think are provocative and/or illuminating. Sometimes what is illuminated is not exactly what the writer intended, and the reaction to Keillor's piece suggests this may be one of those times. Wouldn't you agree that readers with eyes to see may have learned something from this piece?
For my part, Keillor is welcome to his narrow, misanthropic Christmas. I hope the real spirit of the season reaches him someday.
The pastor of the offending and offended First Church congregation responded
with what could be called Christian charity, were it not for the legions of Keillor-minded adherents to that faith.
The best response Contrarian
saw came from a fellow Minnesotan. For Adam Minter
, a Jewish writer now living in Shanghai, Keillor's column immediately called to mind
the Christmas party he attended at Shanghai Putuo Spare Time University
a few days ago. His description, and one other response, after the jump.
26 December, 2009