11 September 2017

Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor,

Once upon a time, a wise man told me I would enjoy your book Lake Wobegon Days. I wish I had listened to him sooner. I can't believe I spent so many of my literate years missing out on such a voice -- one that is, as The New York Times said, "equal parts alarming, heartbreaking, and funny.” So true on all three counts, and especially the last two. Some writers will make you laugh and some will break your heart; few can do both at the same time. What did it for me was the rather unflattering yet poignantly humorous account of your time spent among the Plymouth Brethren. "When kids asked what I was, I just said Protestant. It was too much to explain, like having six toes. You would rather keep your shoes on."

Sigh. For us PB refugees, there's no truth that hurts quite like this one does. I have been in that exact situation more often than you'd care to know.

I am intimately acquainted with the Brethren idiosyncrasies, having been part of the group myself. The un-upholstered chairs, the "mournful dirges", the doctrinal quarrels. I have sat through all the meetings, and I know all the language. (Yes, the word "vouchsafe" does just slip out of some people's mouths.) You said once that if the Pharisees were to come back, they would come back as Brethren. This, I'm afraid, is not quite true -- the Brethren would probably find the Pharisees a bit too "loose" for their liking.

Even more saddening than this unfortunate state of affairs is the picture of God that it painted in your mind at an early age -- God as stingy and harsh, who placed the same value on your talents that your parents did (none at all) and, most of all was dead set against having any fun.

As if that weren't bad enough, then there was the Washington Post op-ed earlier this year in which you declared that you were in the market for a new religion, and all because some Christians voted for Donald Trump. (Never mind that Donald Trump and religion have as much to do with one another as pickles and ice cream.) I'm a bit puzzled by how you got from Point A to Point B in this line of reasoning. You wouldn't stop using money just because you disagree with how some people spend theirs, right? Why would you give up on your own faith because you find unsettling what someone else's faith (or lack thereof) led them to do?

I wonder if it's possible that you could be confusing the ways of God with the ways of humans -- in particular, those ways that reveal themselves as legalistic fundamentalism or certain political persuasions. This is a point that seems to have tripped you up time and time again.

The truth has been right in front of your face your whole life; how have you missed it? Christ as He truly is, and Christ as He is made out to be by His followers -- both real and imaginary -- are often two completely different people. It seems you have yet to get to know the real One. I wouldn't waste any more time on that if I were you. Not just because every minute brings us closer to the day when all social, political, and cultural stand-ins for true faith will be exposed as such. But because you're missing out on the chance of a lifetime, the chance to walk hand in hand with the Person who gave you your life and every good thing you have.

He's been a good friend of mine for some time now, and I can tell you for a fact that He is actually quite delightful and not at all like any group makes Him out to be. He is more righteous and more gracious than you ever dared to imagine. He's not the least bit interested in your ideas, or mine, about what the ideal American social order looks like; in fact, He's notorious for not taking sides in such debates. His kingdom is not of this world. This point will come as either a tremendous relief or a tremendous disappointment, depending on how dearly you cherish your political views.

Either way, you do certainly seem to have taken in the broad spectrum of ideas about Him, from the Brethren to the anti-Trumpers and everybody in between. Yet when it comes down to it, even the noblest notions about God and what it means to live by faith are merely shadows. I suspect you know this, because you've made a living -- and a life -- poking fun at those shadows. But they will melt away and leave you empty handed, and then what? What separates shadow from substance is a point that is literally of eternal consequence. I suggest you learn to distinguish between them while you still have the wits about you to tell the difference.

Stop chasing after shadows, and take hold of the Real Thing.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautifully written letter that paints a portrait of God that allows us to see the right perspective of the Real Thing.

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