Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Prairie Home Companion Prayer

Most Sundays at my church, there's a time set aside for sharing joys and concerns. Members who have something to share with the congregation come to the front, light a candle and place it in a bowl filled with sand, state their name, then say what's on their heart, concluding with "God in your love"" or "God in your mercy," to which the congregation responds "Hear our prayer."

It's one of my favorite parts of the service. Though many concerns center around health issues, either for self or a friend or family member, folks address a wide variety of of joys and concerns. One might share joy at a daughter's graduation or new job while another announces the birth of a grandson. One might relate grief at having to say goodbye to a beloved dog or cat while another mourns the loss of children caused by gun violence. Pretty much anything is fair game.

This past Sunday as I drove to church, I felt moved to share during joys and concerns time, but I wasn't sure the topic was appropriate. I'd been thinking about Garrison Keillor hosting the final performance of his long-running radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, on NPR, July 2, 2016, realizing I had probably listened to my first Lake Wobegon monologue over thirty-five years ago, and pondering how much pleasure the show had brought me over the years. That's a joy worth sharing, right?

As I turned into the church parking lot, I had pretty much convinced myself to do it. After all, I reasoned, though some people (likely the younger ones) will have no idea what I'm talking about, I know for sure we have a lot of NPR junkies in our congregation.  I was beginning to compose in my head the words I would say when I lit my candle for Garrison and his radio show.

But then I remembered today was communion Sunday, and we don't do joys and concerns on communion Sundays.

So since I couldn't share my prayer of joy in church, I'll light a figurative candle here at my blog and share it with any virtual congregants who care to join me.

I'm Gary Tandy, and I'm lighting a candle this morning for Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion radio show. I realize it may seem odd to pray about a radio show, but this one's given me lots of joy over the years, and it feels right to express my gratitude for it.

When I first heard Garrison Keillor tell stories of growing up in a fundamentalist religious family in the Midwest, I connected easily with the world he portrayed with words. As he talked about being a part of a small movement that saw itself as the "true Christians," as opposed to those liberal and heretical Lutherans and Catholics, I realized that his Sanctified Brethren experience in Minnesota was not far removed from my own, growing up in the Church of Christ in Kansas in the 1960s and 70s. Apparently, as children we heard many of the same warnings: it's a dangerous world out there, so be careful what you see and read and, of course, don't smoke or drink alcohol or play cards or, heaven forbid, dance.  Keillor said when he was a child he used to fantasize that instead of his own family, he had grown up with a modern family in New York where his parents encouraged him to smoke cigarettes and drink wine--and to call them by their first names.

Yes, Keillor poked fun at and looked satirically at the restrictive religious environment in which he grew up, but it was a gentle satire. Its tone was never hateful or dismissive. Though Keillor himself had changed, adopting radically different political and theological ideas than those of his family of origin, he was still able to speak of his family and the people of his town with genuine love and affection and to celebrate the many values they got right: hard work, loyalty, humility, compassion, common decency.

Above all, it was this tone that attracted me to Keillor and his storytelling because it was true to my own feelings and experience as I thought about my past, my family, my church. I admired this ability to look back and not to ignore the flaws or the damaging theology of his past but to continue to love and be grateful for the people who, as often as they made him feel guilty and shameful, made him feel loved and welcomed, valued and protected.

And it's precisely that tone, I think, that is missing in our current American society where we seem not to be able to disagree with people's politics or theology without demonizing them, where we seem not to be able to take an opposing position without denigrating those who hold a different position. Keillor has always provided a model of civility: he doesn't shy away from expressing his opinion, but he treats those who don't share it with respect. It's an approach that says we're still Americans, no matter how much we disagree. We still have much in common. We're in this together.

This is my prayer of joy for Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. My intellectual, emotional, and spiritual life would not have been the same without them, and for that I'll be forever grateful.

God in your love.

Hear our prayer.


  1. What you wrote resonates with me, as well, and it helps me to see why listening to Garrison has been so refreshing. Sometimes it is fun to imagine how it would be to write or tell stories of the people in my life in his style!

  2. Thanks, Brenda! I will really miss his weekly stories.