Saturday, December 19, 2009

It hurt my feelings more than anything...

when Garrison Keillor launched his Salon.com diatribe against Unitarians and our penchant for degenderizing, retheologizing our hymns, in this case our Christmas hymn Silent Night. It wasn't so much that he got a lot of things about our faith or our contributions to the Christmas season wrong; it was more that I had thought he was my friend---my faraway, fellow liberal, funny friend who told good stories, sang gospel harmonies on some of my favorite songs, and poked gentle fun at everyone, including himself.

And he was so mean about his criticism. If he intended to be satirical, it didn't work---at least for me. There's a not so fine line between sarcasm and satire, and he crossed it bigtime. He said hurtful things, not just about my faith but about others whose contributions to the Christmas season were good-hearted and creative. And he said it all right after the Unitarian Universalist church in Cambridge MA had hosted a book-signing and reading for him. Talk about gratitude!

That said, I am concerned for him. He had heart surgery a couple of years ago and recently had a mild stroke. I think it's possible that he has suffered an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury that has changed his perception of things, affected his disposition and judgment, and has contributed to a loss of good sense and good writing as revealed in his recent rant.

I have known people who have had similar health events and were changed by them, physically, emotionally and mentally. They began to hurt people with their criticisms, they insulted friends and family members in their frustration with their own limitations, and they narrowed their worlds even more because of the social isolation their behavior incurred.

I hope for his sake that he takes the outpouring of hurt and rebuttal seriously and reconsiders what he has written. (And maybe sees his doc for a change of meds. Or maybe a shrink.) As one of my colleagues has suggested, Christmas is a time of inclusion, not of exclusion of anyone who is not "in the club". Keillor's remark that "if you're not in the club, buzz off" shows a remarkably narrow interpretation of Jesus' message of inclusion.

So if I were his pastor, I'd suggest a little spiritual direction, a little prayer, a little humility, a little redemption and reconciliation. After all, it's Christmas.

22 comments:

Scott Wells said...

Except that he's been tracking this way -- making sport of the Unitarians -- for years. What's really odd is that we've taken it as some badge of honor for so long, until now.

Paul Oakley said...

Ms. Kitty, thanks for your compassionate noting of GK's very recent health issues and their possible play in the current drama. He is currently suing his nextdoor neighbor too. Perhaps it is unrelated to his health and the current issues, but it also may be part of the same overarching problem...

ms. kitty said...

I know he has, Scott, and up till now I've just kind of rolled with it, laughed a bit, wondered what it meant. Now it feels more personal and less in fun. I take a long time, often, to get upset about stuff.

Paul, his track record with relationships has been foundering, it sounds like. How sad.

Joel said...

I hope I would have been more polite than he was - he was pretty snide - but I agree with him in principle. Changing the words to traditional songs just seems to cheapen both the original and the product. And yes, I'd say that if the situation were reversed and TWeRPs were changing Unitarian standards. The traditional Christmas carols have a certain majesty to them, even in cases where I don't agree with the theological implications. (For that matter, most of the great Christian hymns were written by people who would despise my theology.) But to change them to something the writer never intended does seem like piracy.

As for mockery, welcome to the game! Unitarians may not be as numerous as other sects, but by gum, if we have to have Fr. Guido Sarducci and Sister Mary Elephant, then y'all deserve some kind of analog. Fair's fair. :P

Chalicechick said...

A couple of years ago, somebody made some parody t-shirts mocking "Prairie Home Companion" and Keillor wrote a big check and sued them under ridiculous legal theories until they couldn't afford to fight him anymore. He has always been like this as far as I can tell. Maybe the stroke has merely made itso that malicious spirit shows up in his work when he was previously able to hide it.

Robin Edgar said...
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ms. kitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Edgar said...

I tend to agree with much of what Joel said above. I have read Garrison Keillor's "rant" a couple of times now and don't *really* see it as being anything more than deliberately over-the-top satire. It seems that Unitarians can dish out harsh criticism and ridicule of other religions but can't take it, even if it seems largely in jest as would appear to be the case with GK's "rant". How many Christians and other God believing people have got the message "if you're not in the club, buzz off" loud and clear from "Humanist" dominated U*U "churches" when they have visited or even sought to become members? I read of one incident where a Christian woman was booed by a U*U congregation during a service when she mentioned that she was a Christian and I have little reason to doubt that story in light of my own personal experiences with U*Us.

Why is the quite outrageous insulting and defamatory, if not demonizing and marginalizing, online "persona" of a certain unmentionable U*U minister so acceptable to U*Us, including top level UUA administrators. . . but Garrison Keillor's considerably less obnoxious public "persona" now persona non grata in the U*U World? Quite frankly the "hurtful things" that Garrison Keillor said in his satirical "rant", are quite moderate compared to some of the deeply insulting and outright defamatory hurtful things that U*U ministers (please note the plural here) are quite happily allowed to say about other people, other religious groups, and of course Republicans. . . by the UUA and MFC etc. And *that* is assuming that GK was actually serious in what he said in his "rant", something that I am not yet convinced of.

Your suggestion that,

"it's possible that he has suffered an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury that has changed his perception of things, affected his disposition and judgment, and has contributed to a loss of good sense and good writing as revealed in his recent rant."

is not unreasonable in light of GK's recent stroke, but it seems all too similar to the rather bad U*U habit of portraying someone as mentally ill if and when they dare to criticize U*Us or U*Uism. Even if GK was 100% serious in his satirical "rant" it is entirely possible that he knew very well what he was saying and meant what he said. No "traumatic brain injury" or other mental illness required to change his perception, or affect his disposition and judgment. What excuses do "less than excellent" U*U ministers have for their own intolerant and insulting over-the-top "rants" against various individual people aka persons of inherent worth and dignity or other groups which clearly are not humorous and satirical?

As someone who has been subjected to far worse intolerance and insults by U*U ministers, has observed these and other U*U ministers insult and defame and/or demonize and marginalize other people and groups, and has seen the UUA and MFC (and way to many other individual U*Us) turn a blind eye to their insulting and abusive "rants", I have a hard time taking the U*U backlash against GK's satirical "rant" seriously. I would suggest a lot of spiritual direction, a lot of prayer, a lot of humility, a lot of redemption and reconciliation for all those "less than excellent" U*U ministers who happily go around insulting and defaming people, or demonizing and marginalizing people, along with ALL those U*Us who do little or nothing to "rein in" these "rogue" U*U ministers. After all, there is *really* no special time of year to finally get around to doing the right thing. . .

Judith said...

A few years ago, GK did a riff on judging a poetry contest that was breath-takingly mean. Comics are sometimes very angry people and sometimes it shows. I like his work, but I am glad I didn't listen tonight! I owe you for a good warning.

Robin Edgar said...

I am being very Green here by recycling this comment that I just left on Rev. Cyn's blog -

Interestingly enough U*Us. . . A free and responsible search for the truth and meaning of Garrison Keillor's appparent anti-U*U "rant" reveals that Garrison Keillor himself told U*Us that he was not a "companion" to U*Us seberal years ago. Check out these quite "prophetic" words of Garrison Keillor that were posted to UU World magazine editor Chris Walton's now rather defU*Unct Philocrites blog on Thor's Day, October 2, 2003 -

"Beneath this cool tolerant exterior beats the heart of an old *reactionary* and *pulpit-pounder* and if you ever put me in front of Unitarians with a microphone, I'd be hollering about man's inherent sinfulness and unworthiness and singing "Are You Washed In the Blood". I'd be roaming the aisles, *poking* people, baying like a dog. It wouldn't be a pretty sight."

So maybe U*Us should have taken *those* words of Garrison Keillor seriously way back when. . .

Miss Kitty said...

Whoa! I know he's poked fun at UU's for a long time, but his rant is just...umm...OFF. Of course, I'm not a regular PHC listener nor reader of Keillor's work.

The thing with UU's pointing out mental illness, relationship issues, or other problems where few other people will is that UU's tend to try to consider all the factors that might make a person act in a cruel/hateful/irrational way. A lot of people *never* take those things into consideration. We could just say, "WTF? Ol' Garr sure has turned into an a**hole! F**k him! He oughta be taken off the air!" There's no room there for taking GK's *humanity* into consideration; the emphasis is on punishment and his behavior right in that instance. Few of us turn into a-holes overnight unless something's really wrong, and it's mindful to consider these other things when we look at someone's weird behavior. The conventional wisdom way of looking at the situation--the "F**k GK! He oughta be taken off the air!" is what I call the the Hardshell Fundamentalist view. Here in the Deep South, it's the view that's most widely held by the lay public on MANY issues. I find it sad and bizarre that this view emphasizes punishment and exclusion. (Sounds a little like the tone of GK's rant, come to think of it...)

PLEASE NOTE: Of course, I'm NOT at all saying a person should be let off the hook for cruel, hateful, or obnoxious behavior, so don't get me wrong there. We've ALL got to face the consequences of our actions, regardless of how big or small those actions may be.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts. It's Christmas---let's celebrate!

Robin Edgar said...

It's not Christmas just yet Ms. Kitty. I have pretty much decided to skip Christmas this year anyway. :-) I had my solstice celebration(s) over the last few days already.

Garrison Keillor's reactionary "rant", which I tend to not take *too* seriously, just...umm...inspired this parody "rewrite" of 'Silent Night', which I have posted as a comment to both the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun Op/Ed pieces... :-)

:The thing with UU's pointing out mental illness, relationship issues, or other problems where few other people will is that UU's tend to try to consider all the factors that might make a person act in a cruel/hateful/irrational way. A lot of people *never* take those things into consideration.

Well *that* is putting a positive spin on a "less than positive" U*U habit. I believe that it does actuallt apply to Ms. Kitty's thoughtful words here but I can assure you that too many other U*Us, including some "less than excellent" U*U ministers, love to demonize and marginalize people as being mentally ill when they do not "think alike".

:We could just say, "WTF? Ol' Garr sure has turned into an a**hole! F**k him! He oughta be taken off the air!"

Well you can't *really* say that because U*Us are supposed to be great champions of freedom of speech. . . I am sure I read it in some U*U tract somewhere once. Of course *some* U*Us have done pretty much what your hypothetical scenario suggests.

I agree that it is worth taking mental health into consideration when evaluating someone's behaviour. I usually cut people who genuinely are mentally ill, or intellectually challenged in various ways, a fair bit of slack but this is not true of those people U*Us who "less than lovingly" suggest that people are mentally ill when they don't "think alike". U*Us who like to pathologize people ALSO like to punish them. In fact the malicious pathologizing is part of the punishment. . .

As far as GK goes I still tend to see his Op/Ed as over-the-top satire that some U*Us took a bit too seriously. It is very hard for me to believe that Garrison Keillor did not have his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek when he said -

"And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't."

It's a bit of a stretch take that seriously, to say nothing of perceive it as being outright anti-Semetism. I doubt the Anti-Defamation League are likely to go after GK for that.

Robin Edgar said...

:The conventional wisdom way of looking at the situation--the "F**k GK! He oughta be taken off the air!" is what I call the the Hardshell Fundamentalist view.

Interestingly enough I know plenty of ever so "liberal" U*Us who hold to that Hardshell Fundamentalist view and not just the fundamentalist atheist U*U I know. Here in the The Great White North, it's the view that's most widely held by the U*U public on the Robin Edgar issue. :-) It is also held by the UUA in Boston and plenty of other U*Us who want to censor and suppress my critical comments rather than deal responsibly with the serious issues I raise in them. Thankfully fewer and fewer U*U bloggers are censoring me these days, inspite of the fact that some U*U ministers went on a crusade this yewar to try to persuade U*U bloggers to censor me.

Plenty of U*Us practice punishment and exclusion when people dare to question some of the rather questionable behaviour of some U*Us, especially if one criticizes U*U clergy or UUA officials. Unfortunately however U*U ministers are quite regularly let off the hook for cruel, hateful, or obnoxious behavior by the UUA and MFC as well as implicated U*U congregations when they really should face *some* accountability for their words and actions.

ms. kitty said...

Robin, I'm publishing these two comments reluctantly because they are rants that really belong on your blog, not mine. We've really beat this horse to death, I think. Can we move on? Thanks.

Robin Edgar said...

Sure Ms. Kitty.

BTW You posted them in reverse order but no worries.

Robin Edgar said...

BTW Do you know why Joel deleted his comment that I referenced? Did he change his mind about what he said?

ms. kitty said...

Sorry, I guess I read them out of order!

ms. kitty said...

I don't think he did delete it, Robin. It looks to me like it's still there---fourth from the top.

Robin Edgar said...

Sure enough. I somehow confU*Used your own deleted comment with his comment.

Miss Kitty said...

You've got some interesting points there, Robin. Per Ms. K's comment, it *would* be interesting to see a couple posts on your blog along the Keillor discussion lines.

I come to the discussion from a super-conservative Hardshell Baptist/Church of God background, so that's why I say what I do. Mental illness isn't even *discussed* in these traditions, just like in much of the Deep South. It's usually a matter of "God's punishing him/her for what he/she did," or "the Devil got ahold of him/her" (which completely absolves anyone involved of personal responsibility), and so on.

Good comments from Joel & Paul as well. After having a stroke at age 56, my uncle Joe--a lifelong alcoholic, and an insulin-dependent diabetic for 15 years--lost whatever remaining grip he had on reality, and on himself. Six months later, he shot and killed my father before turning the gun on himself. While my uncle's an extreme example of what can happen to a person's judgment after a stroke, there are plenty of folks out there who've noticed much smaller, yet still disturbing, changes in their loved ones after even a mini-stroke. Pixie, Mom, and I visited two old family friends last week, and while there we noticed that the husband's behavior has changed quite a bit since the last time we saw him. T___ used to be very quiet and reserved, but now he talks very loudly and profusely, and doesn't seem to take notice of the usual conversational markers that denote when to say what. Mom explained to us later that T___ had recently had what doctors call a "mini-stroke." Evidently, when it comes to the blood vessels in the human brain, nothing is "mini."

Hope everyone's Solstice, or Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa was/is filled with love, joy, and peace.

Robin Edgar said...

Your wish is my command* Miss Kitty. . .

I believe that there is a Chinese curse that says -

May U*Us live in interesting times. . .

or something like that. ;-)




* Well not really. I wrote that "interesting" TEA blog post before seeing your comment, but I expect that I will do one or two more soon enough.