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I’m a new UU blogger!  Surely I must have something to say about That Article in Salon!  Actually, I do.  A few things, in fact.

Keillor has made fun of UUs for years.  I think we tend to dismiss his mockery–or misinterpret it as gentle joshing–because so many of us love his radio show and want to believe he’s really one of us.  Since I don’t love the show, or even like it anymore, I’ve never felt the inner conflict.  It seldom features music I like; when it does, it is too often ruined by Keillor’s self-indulgent habit of making himself the star singer (I guess no one in his inner circle wants to break it to him that his voice could charitably be called mediocre); the jokes are tepid, and I hate his habit of repeating a line if it didn’t get a laugh the first time.  The man can write when he’s a mind to, and I have sometimes been moved by the News from Lake Wobegon segment–the one in “the last show,” twenty years ago, was beautiful–but it too is swamped by unfunny attempts at humor.

JMHO.  But my point is not to criticize the show (I’m just enjoying doing that along the way).  Rather, I’d like to ask, does it really matter if Garrison Keillor turns out to have serious objections to our religion?  Sure, it hurts when someone one likes is critical.  Clearly, for many UUs, Keillor is someone they see as a kindred spirit, perhaps even an exemplar.  But Thomas Jefferson enslaved people, Albert Schweitzer was patronizing well past the point of racism, Martin Luther King was a compulsive philanderer–we all know all this, so I don’t need to list dozens more, but you know I could.  Even our heroes are complicated, which is a nice way of saying they’re far from heroic in every aspect of their lives.  So even if Keillor is your hero, why be shocked when he gets something wrong?

Whether he is wrong is a question for us to ponder, even if he doesn’t make a very good case for himself.  Keillor is off the rails here; you can see it, if nowhere else, in his sideswipe at “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.”  I’m sorry, are you saying Irving Berlin somehow tainted the sacred day with “White Christmas”?  The whine that follows about how Christians don’t mess with Judaism (uh . . . right) verges on anti-Semitism, and doing it in Yiddish makes it worse.  (Dear Garrison:  don’t like Jews influencing “your” culture?  Then please remove “dreck” from your vocabulary.)  And his writing is a mess, reeling from charges of spiritual piracy to Lawrence Summers’ bad investments to admonishments to eschew perfectionism, and throwing in a snarl at elitism for no apparent reason.  I guess it’s always a winner to accuse people of elitism.  But none of this answers the question that I think is really the reason this half-baked piece of writing is getting under our skin:  is he right about us?

We UUs do want to sing “Silent Night” without really embracing the theology.  We want to tell the Christmas story, own it as part of our tradition, without saying the words we don’t believe, that “Christ the Savior is born.”  To that extent he is correct, but the real question is whether it’s all right to do.

I think so . . . but this’ll have to be continued in another post.  I have to write my Christmas Eve homily.

The quote from which I take this blog’s title is from As You Like It, and I usually edit it to read like this:

And this our life . . .
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

The speaker is an exiled duke, and because he is wandering the forest instead of presiding over his dukedom, he actually says:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, etc.

I usually take out those words because I’m very much established in public haunt.  But I soon will be exempt, thanks to the generous and wise practice of granting Unitarian Universalist ministers a sabbatical, one month for each year of full-time service to the congregation.  My first sabbatical begins a week from today, and for several months I will be free to find sermons in stones without actually jotting them down to turn into Sunday sermons, in that devilish way of ministers.  I will be devoting my sabbatical time to making art.

I’m not going to commit to blogging during this time.  This may be a great art journal, but it’s also public, and many of my ideas may need time just to be my ideas, without having to turn into anything interesting to anyone else.  And I will keep comments shut off for the sabbatical period, so that I can tell the members of my congregation about this blog without our continuing to chat all through this time that is supposed to be Away.  They are very interesting people and it would be irresistible.

I have other blogs for keeping in touch with friends and for informing a network of my daughter’s fans what she’s up to.  This space is for theological, spiritual, philosophical, and artistic musings, and as I was musing this morning I knew it was time to wake up the blog and post my first post.

I was thinking that when I start drawing, next week, I want to draw leaves that are eaten away to a skeleton.

Vein skeleton of a leaf

And that got me thinking about the beauty in decay.  Leaves are beautiful that way.  So are cliffs eroded so that you can see the striation of the rock.  And human faces?  Sure.  The very word “decay” implies that the peak, even the normal, state is in the past and that this new state is inferior.  But is that true of the leaf?  Is it less beautiful this way than when it had all its skin?

Is it true of us, that our best time is when we are at our peak of health and strength?  Some elements of our selves grow, not only while other elements decay, but because they decay.  Certainly many of my strengths come directly from loss and the wearing-away of things that used to be essential to me.  I think a series of pieces on this might be one of the projects of the next few months.

The image came to my mind, and only then the idea.  And that, in a nutshell, is what I treasure about the activity my daughter calls “arting.”  What other revelations will my “sabbatical of art” bring?  I’m breathless with wondering.  The only way to find out is to get arting.

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