Thursday, March 29, 2007

Unitarian Universalists: America's Holy Fools

You know how Garrison Keillor is always giving UUs a hard time with his Unitarian jokes and left-handed compliments? It's hard to know whether to laugh or be offended sometimes.

I've decided that he really doesn't like us very much and likes to twit us. He's an Episcopalian, I understand, despite his much-vaunted Lake Woebegon upbringing in the fictitious Sanctified Brethren.

It used to bother me a bit, but I've realized that he has accidentally honored us by inadvertently designating us Unitarian Universalists as America's Holy Fools.

You know what the archetype Fool is, don't you? S/he's the one who's out there ahead of the pack, doing foolish things, supporting impossible causes, unafraid of looking weird, because the Fool sees things more clearly than others. The Fool expresses what s/he sees without fear and trepidation about what others will think.

Think Don Quijote. Think the little boy who said that the emperor has no clothes. Think Unitarian Bronson Alcott, who taught sex education in his school in the 19th century and endured ridicule and financial ruin. Think abolitionists and protectors of prisoners and the insane. Think public education for all. Think religious freedom. Think marriage equality and civil rights for sexual minorities.

The foolish idealist is our religious archetype. And when Garrison Keillor ridicules us, he underlines our value---that we are out there at the far edge of the curve, advocating for causes that few others consider worthwhile. Yet.

If the price of justice is ridicule, I'm okay with that.


Joel said...

The only difference I see these days between Episcopalians and UUs is that the Piskies have cooler vestments.

ms. kitty said...

Actually, that just proves my point. Cool is not the goal. (I almost got defensive but that's not the appropriate M.O. for the Fool.)

ms. kitty said...

Well, and we're not all torn up ecclesiastically about ordaining and marrying glbt folks.

Joel said...

Well, and we're not all torn up ecclesiastically about ordaining and marrying glbt folks.

No, because you're not trying to maintain two contradictory postures. You don't make any claim to Christian orthodoxy. The Episcopal Church (here in America, anyway) wants to be as theologically liberal as UUs, while still maintaining orthodox credentials. Sooner or later, they'll have to fish or cut bait.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, Kit. I don't think Keillor dislikes us at all. I suspect that, in spite of his fairly religious roots (Plymouth Bretheren - yikes!) he's more a social Episcopalian than an ardent Christian. The thing I appreciate about his poking at religion in general, and us, specifically, is that he reminds me that taking ourselves too seriously is a dangerous thing. I also love that subtle, snobby level of humor. There are SO many slapstick, Three Stooges types of comedy out there that his pieces really inspire me through their contrast.

Where else can I hear, "...and all the children are above average" just like Dubya's NoChildLeftBehind noises demand?


LinguistFriend said...

Keillor certainly irritates some UUs, but my impression is that he
teases what he sees as the religious extremes, both of them.
I don't usually find his comments very insightful, however. In terms of our local radio programming, when I turn on FM and hear Keillor, I know that soon there will be some enjoyable Celtic music. This expectation makes it worthwhile to keep my ear cocked.
On the other hand, I am not entirely comfortable with your fool idea. I grew up in an area and time where there was no way that a liberal could be accepted, and where I heard racist jokes from the local (low) Episcopal minister. My (gentile) family had much better acceptance at the Jewish Community Center. Even though my paternal grandmother had me baptized an Episcopalian as an infant, I feel little affinity to them, although the potential destructive split in the Anglican communion raises major concerns.

ms. kitty said...

Actually, LF and Anon, I have heard it on pretty good authority that GK really doesn't like UUs and UUism. I think he's right to tease us about our apparent wishywashyness but I don't see that he's any too committed to anything himself. This is, what, his third marriage; two wives he was unfaithful to and I understand that his third marriage may not last. Of course, I got this info off another blog, so who knows how accurate it is.

ms. kitty said...

The "attitude toward UUs" info I got from a minister who had apparently talked with GK. The marriage bit I got from a blog. Just to clarify who, what, and where.

Joel said...

I think he's right to tease us about our apparent wishywashyness but I don't see that he's any too committed to anything himself.

I don't know that you should take it personally. There aren't all that many people an Episcopalian can mock for wishy-washiness, so maybe the UUs are the only target he has available.

Ms. Theologian said...

I do think being a Holy Fool is only a good thing.

However, I strongly dislike GK and his obsession with nostalgia. I think it's misguided at best.

Mile High Pixie said...

I rather like the concept of the Fool. After all, in medieval courts, only the Jester was allowed to criticize the Crown and tell it like it is but was allowed to get away with it because he wore a funny hat and made it critique funny. If that is a UU's heritage, then so be it--it's excellent company!

Mama G said...

Hmmm, I have never looked at GK in this light before. We are regular listeners to Prairie Home Companion and actually get a kick out of every time GK mentions UU's. I mean, how many other comedians even mention UU's let alone assume their audience would "get" the joke. I always assumed that a big part of his audience is UU or else he wouldn't include that material. And I have to admit that his UU jokes often make me giggle because they are often right on the mark. I think it is healthy to be able to laugh at yourself. ;-)

ms. kitty said...

Actually, Mama G, I like PHC too and listen whenever I get a chance. I laugh at the UU jokes, but sometimes I have a hard time squaring GK's personal life (assuming what I've learned is true) with what he says on the radio. I like it when someone walks his talk. I probably shouldn't judge unless I know for sure what his actual life is.

ms. kitty said...

PS. I'm on Vashon this weekend and will be home later today. I want to post the sermon I preached yesterday here because it develops the idea of the Holy Fool a little more. But I have to wait till I get home to do it.

Robin Edgar said...
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