Garrison Keillor: I talked to a friend last week whose Lutheran church in Minneapolis is trying to attract people of color.
Lutherans have been white for centuries, coming as they did from Scandinavia and Germany, countries that were never great colonial powers and didn’t grab big chunks of Africa and Lutheranize the indigenous people. Some Lutherans are more gray than white, but if you go to a Lutheran church you sense a monochromaticism due to the fact that people in the pews tend to be descendants of Lutherans, the faith was handed down, it’s like farming — most farmers grew up on a farm — not many Manhattanites develop a passion for soybeans and head for North Dakota to buy 400 acres and a John Deere.
“I know that,” he said, “but still.”
It’s a complicated subject.
I grew up in Minnesota, which is a Lutheran culture. Even Catholics are Lutheran, they tone down the glitzier aspects of Romanism and speak in flat tones and don’t make big sweeping hand gestures and the incense is simply Glade air freshener. Even the atheists are Lutheran. It’s a Lutheran god they don’t believe in. Of course, one shouldn’t generalize but Lutherans without exception are very polite and never say anything harsh about anyone — “I don’t get it” is as harsh as they get — and if you take them to a dreadful play, “It was interesting” is as negative as they’ll go.
They are dutiful people who, if you put on a party they stand off to the side and discuss public education and infrastructure needs and around 9:45 p.m. they start to clean up the kitchen and put things away, even while other people are opening a third beer and singing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Personal charm is not high on their list, they associate it with insurance salesmen.
They do not express personal preference, and when offered a choice of desserts, they say, “Either one is fine, whatever, makes no difference to me, I’m happy either way, whatever you have more of.” This refusal to make choices is responsible for the very high rate of Lutheran strangulations.
The low point of their year is the summer vacation. She wants to go to California and he prefers Washington, D.C., so they compromise by going to the Happy Bison Motel in Bismarck, a warehouse surrounded by forty acres of asphalt and semis going by all night, and the air conditioner sounds like a power lathe. They go because her cousin lives nearby whom neither of them likes. And they are good and glad to get back home.
The question I ask myself is, “Do people of color really and truly wish to enlist in this army?” It isn’t just a religious faith, it’s a culture.
I’m not putting down Lutherans. There are advantages to being one. I read a review last night of two books by ballet dancers, both women, about the cruelty of the Swan Lake world, the physical pain, the abusive ballet masters, the starvation required to attain impossible physical perfection, the endless mindless repetition, and it struck me that, growing up in Anoka, Minnesota, among Lutherans, we didn’t know a leg extension from a dining room table.
Had I grown up in the Hamptons or Boston I might be writing my own miserable memoir about suffering at the hands of choreographers, leaping around in black tights and hoisting skinny women up over my head while standing tippy-toe, and as you can see it didn’t happen. I am a comfortable guy with a good appetite and no back problems.
Growing up among Lutherans also helped to deter me from committing tax fraud, soliciting state officials to commit election fraud, fomenting an insurrection, and perpetrating big lies, which means I’m not waiting for the phone to ring, someone calling to tell me I’m under indictment in several different jurisdictions all at once, facing a long summer in courtrooms, dreading the thought of being led away in an orange prison outfit.
Instead I went to church Sunday and said the prayer of contrition for my sins, which include pride, envy, and sloth — I seem to have gluttony and lust under control for now though maybe that’s pride speaking — and afterward I shook hands with people in the pews around me. We’re Episcopalians and it’s New York so there’s a variety of people around, but people are people.
Some of them may be secretly Lutheran, I don’t know, we don’t ask. God loves them all.
HEY- MAYBE A VACAY IN FARGO WOULD BE COOL . . .