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True – False – Maybe Sometimes

July 13, 2016


Garrison Keeler signed off Saturday after reporting 42 years from “A Prairie Home Companion” and a fictional Lake Wobegon— where the children were all above average, the women strong and the men good looking.  He has been known to poke fun at many people and religions.  I am United Methodist.  Because of the ending of his show, I found a number of things that he said about us.  Are they True, False, or Maybe Sometime?

Keeler: We make fun of Methodist for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offence, their lack of speed, and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese.

True: Our church went to a Chicago Bulls game where there were the greats: Jordan. Pippen. Kukoc. Rodman. Longley. Kerr. Harper. The list goes on. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were so good, they set the NBA record for regular season wins, finishing the year 72-10.  Our church was in the last row of seats and there were people standing behind us with shirts off and all sort of paint on for the Bulls.  They were jumping up and down and screaming.  We were yelling but sitting politely.  One leaned over the railing and asked “How can you just sit there?”  I replied “We are United Methodist.”

In 2001 there was talk at our annual conference about boycotting Kraft Macaroni and cheese.  Kraft was marketing baby formula overseas by giving samples to new mothers and the women distributing the formula were dressed in nurse’s outfits.  The directions weren’t in their language; the new moms couldn’t afford the formula for the whole time an infant needed milk and they didn’t have the clean water to mix it.  By the time they figured all this out the mother’s milk had dried up and many babies died.  Kraft wouldn’t stop these practices.  Well our son lived on Kraft macaroni and cheese and that time.  I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and vote for a boycott knowing we were going to buy it.  My husband voted yes and I voted no and our new lay delegate from the church looked at us and sure wondered what kind of pastors they were getting.

Keeler: Nobody sings like Methodist.  If you were to ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Methodist-less place, to sing along on the chorus of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”, they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear.  But if you do this among Methodist, they’d smile, row the boat ashore and up on the beach!  And down the road! Many Methodist are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’ rib cage.  It’s natural for Methodists to sing in harmony.  They are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all 200 of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment.  By joining in Harmony , they somehow promise that they will not forsake each other.

True:  I love annual conference where there are over 1,000 people singing in harmony.  It is thrilling to be in the middle of all those notes vibrating notes that go deep within one’s soul.  I believe the harmony is in part how we know that we can agree to disagree and yet still sing together.

Keeler: I do believe this: People, these Methodists, who love to sing in 4 part harmony are the sort of people you can call upon when you’re in deep distress.  If you’re dying, they will comfort you.  If you are lonely, they’ll talk to you.  And if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad.

True: Methodist study the Bible and pray but they live their faith in social witness in the world.  Caring for people is as important as prayer and Bible study.  Faith is in motion and action and not stagnant in pews.

Keeler: Methodist believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.  Methodist like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than 4 stanzas.  Methodist believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they didn’t notify them that they are there.  Methodist usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.  Methodist believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

True: I missed mind reading 101 and ESP 101 in seminary but if you listen in the wind, it will whisper “So and so is in room #44 go check it out”.  I grew up in a church that had a “new” monthly hymn.  I sang in choir from 3rd grade on , was the organist in high school for 2 services and played as well in college.  I heard and sang many hymns.  I know most of the old hymnal by heart down to the 4 – 5 stanza.  In my last church I only picked the “old” ones I knew by heart and by the silence during many hymns I learned they only know about 10 hymns.  We soon expanded their repertoire.  The Lectionary goes for 3 years  over the main themes in the Bible and then starts over.  You have a choice of 4 scriptures so there the lectionary is capable of variety.   In my 35 years of preaching, I followed it for 9 cycles and felt guilty all the last years so much so that every once and awhile I would go back to it.

Keeler: Methodist drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.  Methodist feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding receptions in the Fellowship Hall.  Methodists believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

Maybe sometimes on the coffee – Yes the United Methodist church runs on coffee.  Here in Baraboo First the youth even sell Fair Trade Coffee.  I never drank coffee.  In seminary they said that I would never make it because I didn’t know how to make or drink coffee.  When I taught school I lobbied for hot water for tea and for 35 years of preaching I was a tea drinker.  Even in retirement coffee of any kind hasn’t touched my lips.  Sorry Starbucks.

True: My husband and I helped with the family and church people clean up Fellowship hall after our wedding and we were some of the last ones to leave.

Keeler: And finally, you know you are a Methodist when: it’s 100 degrees, with 90% humidity and you still have coffee after the service. You hear something funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can.  Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.  When you watch a Star Wards movie and they say , “May the Force be with you” you respond with the communion liturgy “and also with you.”  And lastly, it take 10 minutes to say good-bye.

True:  Many churches I was a part of had not only great cooks but restaurant people and chefs.  We had homemade donuts!!  White folks are quiet and you can really hear people smiling loudly and well as frowning loudly.  However, Our African American brothers and sisters do not just smile loudly but they clap and AMEN and much more.

My children loved it when they could walk home after church because it wasn’t just 10 minutes to say good bye but more like 60 minutes to get all the people talked to.

One of the Keeler’s comments was the slowness of the church.  True and False.  In Ecumenical circles there were quicker processes in other churches but in the social justice issue they would start with everyone together.  By the time we got around to passing legislation, the others were off on something else.  We are the workhorses of following through and keeping on keeping on.  That is true with environmental issues.  It is true with social justice issues.

Racism, sexism, classism, issues of gender equality are issue that many church and people work on at many levels.  In the news with Black Lives Matter – we will speak and move on racism and equality.  This issue had to do with inequality of choices, chances and getting ahead and even just getting a job.  United Methodist’s don’t think alike or act alike but on many issues we will work together for the good of the planet, the good of all people – ALL meaning all! Hopefully our slowness isn’t perceived as dragging one’s feet.  The process of getting people to come together and work together takes time.  Consensus and trust come as we get to know each other and work with each other.   Passion of United Methodists may not always be readily seen but it is deep and wide and a great place for Michael to row the boat.




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