Garrison Keillor: speaker of truth or Grinch who stole Kitschmas? 10

UPDATE: Fred Small who is the pastor of the Unitarian church that invited Garrison Keillor to speak has posted a rebuttal.

John is not happy with Garrison’s slam on secular Christmas songs in his oped piece “Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone.”

Perhaps it’s just satire when he whales on Jewish songwriters who “trash up the malls with Rudolph” “and the rest of that dreck,” but if so, he mixed in too many value judgments that do not seem satirical at all. Besides, what’s wrong with Rudolph? Jeez Louise, what a Grinch

Keillor of course runs the risk that all satirists, comedians, and public pundits face of being offensive and/or being misunderstood. I agree with John that I am not too bothered with Rudolph, Dr. Suess, or even Macaulay Culkin occasionally being left home alone
(well, just the once). But I have to agree with GK that those songs that do speak to the sacred story should be left alone.

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice [espoused by Ralph Waldo Emerson] 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.

The sentence that follows is the one that offended John and I will not repeat it but perhaps express the sentiment in a slightly less offensive manner. You don’t find people who are not Jewish or Muslim writing songs for Rosh Hashanah or the Hajj. And to take John’s side against GK, Irving Berlin was not rewriting Silent Night or O Holy Night. He gave us White Christmas. I don’t mind that in the least (but I am bummed that Comcast On Demand does not seem to have Holiday Inn on this year).

On the other hand, and this goes to theology as well, I do take umbrage to those who would remove the birth of Christ from Christmas songs. This is the same as those who remove the doctrine of atonement from Good Friday and Easter. If one does not believe in the creeds and affirm basic Christian tenets that is fine (and a Unitarian Church is likely to be just the place for you), but don’t rewrite Christianity or its hymnody to meet your changing views.

If you are not a Christian but still celebrate the festivities, welcome! I hope and pray that you also learn and understand the “reason for the season,” as they say. But do not, as one colleague urged me this week, require that those of us who are Christians remove “that whole religion thing” from what is, in fact, a Christian festival.

In the meantime, I will shovel my driveway for a second time today and belt out another chorus of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.


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10 thoughts on “Garrison Keillor: speaker of truth or Grinch who stole Kitschmas?

  • John A Arkansawyer

    You don’t find people who are not Jewish or Muslim writing songs for Rosh Hashanah or the Hajj.

    Others have pointed out that Keillor (about whom I’ve long had mixed feelings) did a Hanukkah song on his show last week.

    (I’ve read differing accounts of whether it was a parody, a straight performance, or what.)

  • Sally

    I’m bypassing the point of this post, but you can catch Holiday Inn on AMC this week on Monday night and/or Tuesday afternoon. (I have it on DVD, but luckily AMC is there for those less fortunate than I.)

  • Lee McCardle

    Thanks for the great snow shovel job, Chris and son!

    Apart from that, the lesson seems to be that if we Christians want to preserve the sacred nature of our faith, we should keep it secret. For once it is written down, taken into, and profaned by the secular/social enterprise we call everyday life, it will be chewed up until all the money is wrung from it, and spit out like every new fad. The trick is to practice faith, not get caught up in the money-making fun of manipulating the words and symbols of faith.

    Shoveling the snow from this old man’s driveway is much appreciated. And it’s a perfect example of practicing the faith!

  • Tim Bartik

    I don’t understand why you would object to Unitarian Universalists, in our own churches, modifying hymns to be more consistent with our theological views. No one is forcing anyone else to make such modifications.

    Hymns are modified all the time and have been so modified throughout history.

    As has been pointed out by various UU ministers on their blogs, the hymn “Silent Night”, which was the object of Keillor’s reaction, was originally written in German.The English translation that is customarily used in many Christian churches is hardly an exact translation, and is just one of many translations. Furthermore, the version in the UU hymnal is only tweaked in a few places. Finally, as you might expect, in UU churches, you will get people singing however they please. Some people might sing Silent Night with the words they grew up with in a Christian church, and others will sing the words in the UU hymnal.

    A Unitarian minister, the Rev. Cynthia Landrum, has some further discussion of this matter:

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Tim thank you for your comments. I actually meant to add, and clearly forgot, that if GK is so concerned about the words of Silent Night in a UU church he simply should not attend their (apparently your) services.

      What was implied in my comments, but clearly not evident enough, is that I do not mind people within their own congregations and traditions doing as they see fit. What I object to is those who remain within a Christian church/denomination and insist that the theology and teachings of that church must change to fit their own often innovative understanding. In many cases, these are exactly the struggles that are going on in the mainline Christian denominations.

      • Scott F

        Are we talking about top-down, Episcopal-style schism here or just local congregations butting heads?

        Unless the issue is gay ministers, I don’t see a lot of re-writing of the bible or what have you. A much bigger problem from my experience is that congregations that mouth all the right doctrines have been spiritually dead for years, if not decades. And yet, hardly a peep from ol’ Garrison on that.

  • Steve Brady


    As you know I often say (and write) that all too often Christians want to be Christians, but prefer to be known simply as ‘-ians”

    They like all the trappings of the Church. The fellowship. The candles. The music (and in your church’s case–the robes and perhaps incense.)

    But they don’t like all that comes with it.

    * A call to holiness
    * A recognition of sin that separates Man from God
    * or worse, a denial of Sin as defined by God, and replaced by Sin as defined by Man
    * And, even worse, a rewriting of the Bible to keep all they like, but dispense with the pesky God

    So that brings us to the Christmas holiday. I have not been one to join in the rants that condemn those who replace Christ with an X. (Partly because I know the larger history, and partly because, well–it doesn’t seem very Christian.) I also don’t get all riled up about a Nativity Scene being banned from the public square.

    I do get concerned when, instead, Churches (perhaps I should use the lower case “c”) instead work to ban them from our hearts.

    The Nativity isn’t the miracle of a poor homeless child (ht to your previous entry) being visited by rich folk, or poor folk, or animals. It isn’t about any of that.

    It’s about God. Visiting us. Despite our Sin as GOD defines it.

    And alas, just as it was 2000 years ago, humanity chooses to ignore his real message, and turn him into our own definition of Messiah.