Cooper Zale

Cooper Zale
Los Angeles, California, USA
April 02
I have lived in Los Angeles, CA since 1978, after graduating with a degree in Communications from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I later graduated from California State University Los Angeles with a second degree in Computer Science. For the past 20 years I have worked as an information systems analyst and a technical writer. He has been married for 25 years to Sally and have two grown children, Emma (19) and Eric (22). I have been a longtime feminist and member of the National Organization for Women, serving on the Los Angeles NOW Chapter Board from 1982 to 1988, and working as a paid organizer for NOW during those years. I have been a member of the Sepulveda Unitarian-Universalist Society (aka “The Onion”) for the past 17 years, serving as Board President from 1994 to 1996, and currently co-chair of the Religious Education committee and a volunteer youth advisor for the past 6 years. I have also been a member of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) for the past 4 years as an advocate for educational alternatives and homeschooling in particular.


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Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 24, 2009 4:18PM

Thoughts on Keillor’s Christmas Rant

Rate: 32 Flag

So a UU Facebook friend alerted me and the rest of our circle yesterday that Garrison Keillor had published an editorial rant, "Don't Mess with Christmas", on directed at Unitarian-Universalists and their penchant for revisionist hymns and carols.  My friend’s few sentences were full of anger and denouncement of Keillor as unworthy of making such a criticism, and were very uncharacteristic for my fellow UU’s usual demeanor.  His words had definitely pushed her buttons somehow. 

When I finally was able to read Keillor’s piece, I was pretty shocked myself.  It was angry and denounced others with none of his signature understated and understanding humor about the human condition.  It seemed more like something you’d expect from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, but not this gentle giant from Minnesota.   

I am a big fan of Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion”, including his stories from Lake Woebegone and the funny and poignant but reassuringly human goings on of the residents. His monologues of the goings on in this bucolic Minnesota town often include lampoons of Lutherans and UUs, poking fun at (some) UU’s penchant to take God out of otherwise Christian religious rituals or couch spiritual wisdom with a disclaimer acknowledging God, “or whatever or whoever you believe in”. 

To be fully candid, as a member of a Unitarian-Universalist congregation for the past 18 years and having studied to some degree the thoughts and actions of historic Unitarians, we UUs can be guilty of a certain hubris when it comes to our religion relative to others.  At our best, we acknowledge that there are “many spiritual paths” and celebrate life-affirming elements of many of them across the spectrum – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Pagan, Humanist, Buddhist, Native American.  But at times we are guilty of thinking we have the most highly evolved faith, including (from what I have read) in early 19th century America when Horace Mann and other Unitarians put forward the argument that Unitarianism was the purest and most essential form of Christian thought.  In a more contemporary context, UUs who try to be open-minded and welcoming at times enforce essentially a Republican-free zone. 

So given all that, we UU’s, like all our fellow humans, are guilty of being imperfect, at times unknowing and still evolving.  And as such we are legitimate objects of criticism, preferably the gentle and loving kind that Keillor usually dishes out with a wink and a smile.  But certainly not in this case! 

If I had been sitting and having coffee with my buddy Garrison and he delivered his rant, I think my first reaction would be to acknowledge the emotion I am hearing and say, “Wow... this really pushed your buttons and made you angry!  Say more about that.”  Then I might go on to say that, if it were me (and if friends can’t tell you this sort of stuff who can), I would have couched my anger in terms of “I statements.”  Such as, “To hear someone changing the lyrics of a classic Christmas carol really makes me angry,” and then go on to say more about who I am and what my buttons are, rather than judge others as “wrong, wrong, wrong”.  I have found those kind of “I statements” as generally more effective because they don’t push the recipient of the criticism into such a defensive position, precluding any opportunity for them to grow from the feedback. 

I think I would (and do) take particular issue with his statement, “Christmas is a Christian holiday – If you’re not in the club, then buzz off.”  Buzz off?  Buzz off?  That actually is his one statement that pushes my buttons! Yes, the celebration of Jesus’ birth as the “son of God” is a Christian tradition.  But in our country and much of the Western world the celebration of Christmas is much more than that, and includes that other iconic character in the red suit and all that he stands for. 

As I’ve said in another post, my mom, who believed in God but was not a Christian, believed in Santa Claus (at least the metaphor of Santa Claus) with all her being.  To my mom, Santa was all about celebrating and honoring children, and modeling that good behavior for all the rest of us in a society where being “childish” is an epithet and which is otherwise too often child and youth unfriendly.  Should my mom, who was not a Christian but loved the Santa Claus holiday, “buzz off”? 

Still smarting a bit from my own pushed button, I would like everyone to remember that Christmas is the one religious event that is sanctioned in our country (and elsewhere) by a secular holiday.  We don’t all get time off for Hanukah or Ramadan!  You could make the argument that Christmas has become bigger than Christ’s birth, despite what Fox News, Christian right-wingers, and Keillor say.  Santa Claus certainly embraces themes of Pagan Yule, Solstice and Saturnalia, along with acknowledging the wonder and possibilities of the birth of a child, and honoring that incarnate soul with gifts. 

And then there is the commercial consumerist behemoth, including the much anticipated “Black Friday”, that is built around the celebration of the holiday.  That certainly goes way beyond anything having to do with the principles of Jesus and the Christian faith that emerged from those principles.  Maybe it would be a good thing in the long run if our marketplace “buzzed off” in terms of commercializing this holiday. So buddy Garrison... I’m not a Christian, I’m an atheist.  But I am going to take the liberty to joyfully sing the songs about Santa or baby Jesus, even perhaps some watered down UU versions, if that’s what the assembly is singing.  And for your Christmas present, rather than coal in your stocking, I would like to wish you a return to your usual wonderful loving and knowing self, as soon as possible!

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Beautifully expressed. Rated.
Okay. I belonged to a UU congregation for a long time, until all the fighting we did on Sunday morning got to me. But you know the old joke.
How do you know a Unitarian has committed a hate crime against you?
You wake up and someone had burned a question mark in your lawn?
as a former uu (now a jew-u) i really respect what you've written, and as a minnesotan, i also had my buttons pushed by this piece--definitely feels like keillor went off the rails on this one...happy holidays--rated...
He's had a stroke, and, it's humor. Pick one.
I have read Keillor's piece and I think it's about where each individual's soft spots reside. A less-skilled person would wonder how a Jewish person would feel about non-believing foodies celebrating "Flan-nukah". He's saying if you don't like the holiday, do something else, he would prefer that folks don't pervert other people's religious beliefs.

I was the secretary for our CUUPs (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans for those not of the UU persuasion) chapter here in Jacksonville for two years. I left when I was told that there was no room for anyone who had any scrap of Christianity (or any other traditional religion) left in their heart.

I joined because I thought the UU faith would encompass my belief in all religion as having the same root of truth. Instead, it made me feel like an idiot for believing in anything other than the high altar of self-satisfied intellectualism. (And believe me, I'm all for self-satisfied intellectualism.)

Not all UU churches are like that, but I've been to several and they all looked the same - upper middle class professional white people congratulating themselves on not being duped by something so silly as religion. That's not just my take - the lack of economic and racial diversity in UU churches was a major focus of the 2008 UU conference.

I will always respect the way they embrace alternative lifestyles, women and pagan beliefs. I met a lot of great people at my UU church who will be lifelong friends, but it's just not for me.

Keillor was unusually inept in his method, but he's expressing the desire to have ALL our faiths left to us without ridicule. I agree with you totally that his method was out of character and flawed, but the sentiment was his personal feeling that the religions of others should be respected and I can get behind that. Too bad he wasn't more respectful about it.

I love Garrison Keillor. I think he's a genius. I recently joined a wonderful Unitarian Universalist church after 62 years of Roman Catholicism. I've had enough of U.S. Christianity. Over the last 10 years I've witnessed enough stupidity, prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, bad decision making, (you get the picture) from those who call themselves Christian to make me feel ashamed of Christians in general and Roman Catholics in particular. Once I got the message that I had to be a Republican to be a Christian or Catholic, I waved goodbye. See ya. Don't need ya. Don't want ya. If Keillor, with whom I share an identical political point of view, thinks that only UU's rewrite church hymns then he still has some things to learn. God bless us everyone.
I'm UU myself, and I thought Garrison's comments were hilarious. We have one person in my congregation who relentlessly excises the G-word from any hymn that contains it. He substitutes something like "Spirit", which doesn't scan, throwing the rest of us off when we sing. He's like the one completely tone-deaf person at a karaoke party.
Not the writer nor any of you seem to have noticed that Keillor's column is incredibly anti-Semitic. But that's okay, right? No Jew perverted Christmas by writing a song. What a bizarre concept. As for the rest.... Keillor's clearly lost it.
Um yeah, it was kinda crotchety, and the swipe at Jewish song writers struck a particularly sour note.

A lot of *humor* is dressed-up anger, and sometimes the anger leaks thru excessively and ruins the laughs ...
I also think the charming curmudgeon is losing his charm. He will be issuing an apology in short order. Or he will insist that it was just satire. Then we'll know.
It sounds to me like Keillor is a Christian, and, given that, and the crap that is being continuously dumped on Christianity these days, it's not too surprising that Keillor would go off. At the same time, we see any deviation from political correctness as somehow demented, unacceptable in polite society. I'm not a big fan of political correctness, so I say, bravo, GK.

Crap being dumped on Christianity? Want an example? How about this ... gotta find it ...on the Oct. 25 episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Larry David's characters urinates on a picture of Christ. That's good for a laugh or too ...... here's a quote ...

Only the Catholic League didn't find it so funny. In a statement titled "Urinating on Jesus," Catholic League president Bill Donahue says, "At one point in the show, David goes to the bathroom in a Catholic home and splatters urine on a picture of Jesus; he doesn't clean it off. Then a Catholic woman goes to the bathroom, sees the picture and concludes that Jesus is crying. She then summons her equally stupid mother and the two of them fall to their knees in prayer. Was Larry David always this crude? Would he think it comedic if someone urinated on a picture of his mother?" the statement continues. "
Congrats on the EP! Loved Keillor in the past - now I forget to turn my radio to PHC at home. I used to catch it in the car. I love UU also - would SO be a member if I didn't live in a UU-free zone in central VA!

Great post, I'm glad you exposed this aspect of Garrison. Didn't hear that part of him before...Rated.
Jodi, this is hardly the first time that Keillor has blundered in, ham-handed, and tried to tell other people how to celebrate the holiday. One year, for example, he (essentially) said that anyone who didn't celebrate it was a grumpy loser who needed to get a grip. Apparently feeling that (say) observant Jews should all just get in line and celebrate things his way.

I don't know what it is with Keillor and Christmas, but it seems to bring out his worst. This year, it's the Unitarians. Next year, he'll probably grouse at the Buddhists, or the Atheists, or something. He has a bug about Christmas, and it's really quite unpleasant.
Are you saying that the Keillor piece wasn't funny?

Then why was I laughing from start to finish?

Swing and a miss with this post, I'm afraid.

But Merry Christmas to you and yours.
This was a splendid write; thank you!
I'm Jewish, and the line about garbaging up the halls with lousy songs that Jews wrote really ticked me off. Usually known to be sensitively beautiful about the sweet failings of his Lake Woebegon tribe, this was angry, gratuitous, stupid, and completely unnecessary. But following a week where a bunch of guys carved into three parts the "Arbeit macht frei" sign at Auschwitz, nothing, and no anti-Semitic rants really surprise me anymore. But they do disgust and sometimes frighten me.
If Irving Berlin, who was suffering from excessive Los Angeles fever in December, wanted to write "White Christmas," who cares?! If Keillor doesn't like it, he can stay out of the malls, and not listen. And while we're at it, "The Christmas Song" (Mel Torme (Jewish!) and Bob Wells), is lovely, and was also written by two guys "trying to stay cool."
Seems like there is a lot of mis-placed anger related to Garrison's attempt to show that altering traditional Christmas celebratory items smacks of meddling into someone's carefully crafted and highly personal meaning of Christmas.

I am an athestist, with a Unitarian background. I loved his column.

I abhor the thought changing the words of Christmas carols. If you want to express you non-beliefs, create your own song and words.

I would however, love to see him do a column about Christians demanding that Christmas be about Christians and Christ. I love Christmas for the most part, but don't ask me to take part in any religious ceremony and for Christ's sake keep the nativity scenes out of public property.
Of all the religious sects, I would expect Unitarians to be the least touchy. But I guess not. (Is it ok to call Unitarians a religious sect?) Religious touchiness is a disease. I tend to think that Garrison was being ironic.
So many victims!
This article and most of the posts regarding it exemplify what I call our victim culture. We can all find ways to be hurt and offended. It makes us feel special, I suppose, as in "You don't know what it's like to be me." If we all got over ourselves, out hurt feelings and the perceived injustice being inflicted upon us, maybe we could make some progress in this world.
I can see criticizing the removal of key words from Silent Night - it's silly. But the remarks about Jewish songwriters were shocking and ugly. I have asked GK to give Easter back to the goddess Easter, in his quest for religious purity. All those bunnies and ducklings and eggs are fertility symbols meant to accompany joyous fertility rites, and have nothing to do with commemorating the death by torture of a dour middle eastern prophet. That road goes both ways.
Thank you for a very reasonable and intelligent piece. I, too, am a fan of Garrison Keillor's. I am also a believing Christian. The holiday we call Christmas was an early Christian attempt to Christianize a popular pagan celebration. In America in particular, it has become an excuse for a spending frenzy that I feel sure Jesus would at least frown on. I pity those who cannot celebrate Jesus Christ's birth while at the same time playing Santa Claus with children. I hope you and all who read this are having a wonderful Christmas and looking forward to a happy new year.
As a fellow UU, I found Keillor's piece over the top. Yes, he has a ha-ha running rant against UUs, which we take as pretty good sports. I mean, some gentle ribbing from other denominations comes with the territory. But this felt malicious and not funny.

At our annual Christmas Eve service last night, my UU congregation sang traditional carols, some of which were written by Unitarians (yeah, the 19th century Christian ones, but still). Our minister pointed out that Unitarian Charles Follen brought the first decorated Christmas tree to New England:

So you buzz off, Keillor. Merry Christmas to all!
Every thoughtful adult must occasionally uncover - and reassert - their core values. I saw Keillor as simply attempting to pare his religious beliefs of the cultural encrustations, the cynical marketing rewrites and the clinging maudlin effluvia that cyclically bury every spiritual insight that gains notoriety. It came off as a bit inimical and curmudgeonly, but hey - it's Keillor.
I completely agree. We need to live and let live, especially when it comes to Christmas. Keillor's rant is strange, but Mark Twain got pretty dark as well in later days.
Merry Christmas!

Everyone up to speed on their meds?

Today, we will celebrate the birth of a Jew who brought more peace, caring, generosity, and love to the world than mankind ever deserved.
People, People, People, If thse shoe fits wear it! And try to notice if it feels too tight ...These are all frameworks for belief....if yours can't stand up to a little exaggerating for humourous effec tyou need to stretch and grow a little bit.So much of humor is recognition so if you didn't recognze any of this n yourslef or others you are going to probbly be ofended or not find it funny or both. Forgive me I laughed.Out loud. We all need to vent/rant or blow our stacks and have a stroke. He name what he was doing...In the words of Lawrence Kasden;"sometimes you just have to let the art flow over you..."
Reminds me of the South Park episode where Jesus and Santa duke it out.

Anyhow, if one wants to criticize a group for messing with this season, he or she should start by looking at why the birthday of Jesus is celebrated on 12/25 and, and when and why that began.

But I'd rather take the opposite approach. 12/25 and the winter solstice is one of those parts of the seasonal rhythm that brings together persons of all spiritual, religious, ethical persuasions.

Still, I do think the charge of meddling, poaching, and vitiating might be in order if you appropriate someone else's songs. Why not write your own?
So uncharacteristically Keillor. Nonetheless, scholars seem to make a good case that Christianity actually hijacked the season and really doesn't have dibs on what and how people celebrate this time of year. Get a life.
Having read both Mr. Cooper's article and Mr. Keillor's, I have to say I agree with both of them to a point. But the most important thing to remember is that no one has the right not to be offended. Take out the double negative and it means you can be offended. Living in a free society means people are free to appropriate Mr. Keillor's sacred holiday and do with it what we wish. Mr. Keillor can use his freedom to complain bitterly about this, for all the good it will do him. From what I saw, it seems to have led to a lot of people speculating as to whether his stroke has incapacitated his good humor.

I try to be respectful of the fact that Christmas is a whole lot more meaningful to certain other people, but that's more a matter of common courtesy. I don't believe in any particular protections for any sort of religious or even perverted quasi-religious lore. Various personal hoodoos get far too much respect from society, imho. Anyone with a direct line to god should be able to take the pressure of civil society without special earthly assistance.

Anyway - Happy Holidays!
Keillor doing a turn as Andy Rooney? Whodathunkit?

As I told my son today, perhaps we should all be celebrating Happy Solstice Day, since it's obvious to anyone not locked into Christian orthodoxy that December 25th was "borrowed" from much older religious traditions that celebrated the rebirth of the Sun (Son) after the winter solstice.

So maybe it's the willfully blind who should buzz off.
Oh, gee whiz! So many thoughts come to mind. First off, as mentioned elsewhere, Christians established their 'holidays' close to pagan ones to give the pagans a shove. With their glorious PR, the Catholic Church robbed the pagans and, voila, Christmas took over (as did the seven major Catholic cathedrals in Europe take over pagan worship sites, Chartres, et al). Ok, so now we have Christmas well established as a terrific holiday. And I personally love it. The whole bit, nativity scenes, carols, Santa Claus, the Yule Log, ad inf. As well I moved from a Presbyterian to a UU and love that. The UU I attend in Milwaukee blends Christian talk into the normal discourse of the ritual but puts it among other faiths as being Very Important. The only 'suggestion' that UUs make to say we are together on at least one thing is that we tolerate all others, or, if you will, we practice unconditional love or regard for all.

Now. to the incredibly great G. Keillor, from a Scots background, which suits me right down to the ground, I adore him. I love him in all his phases, postures, humor, sarcasm and wonderful mind. In this 'rant' what I see is a man who has had a near brush with death - strokes are incredibly frightening. I just returned from a hospital yesterday where at first everyone thought I had had a stroke, but I didn't. Whoopee! I am lots older that Mr. Keillor, so I was a bit more scared. Give an older person a break! He is becoming a curmudgeon and he has every right to it. I appreciated the note previous to this that commented on how damned ready we are to feel bias against, how we wear our victimhood on our sleeves and how tediously boring that is! I have often mused that most of our contemporary Christmas ditties are penned by members of the Jewish faith, but I gotta tell you, I love most of them and they make this holiday even more fun, nostalgic and so on.

To all who have written to comment, I agree with some, disagree with others, but overall you have enriched my holiday fulsomely.
To the author of this article, you have my deep thanks. I have had to spend this holiday alone rather than with all the noise and hubbub of family. This article and comments thereto have brightened the day gloriously. Many thanks and Merrie Christmas
Dear Friends, I forgot two things, I've sung all my life and I will take any words to any song as long as you give me time to look 'em over.
I prefer carols as they seem to have originally been written.

I also forgot to add that when people ask me my faith I tell them I am a 'born again Druid". As they will in hospital ask this question, of course I told the registering nurse that, and, bless her heart, she asked me how to spell Druid. Ain't that great?
I have been an atheist for decades, so Christmas has no religious meaning for me. It's just a reason to buy gifts for people I love and eat an additional turkey dinner.

However, I have never understood how Mr. Garrison Pleasebegone was able to parlay the Mayberry of Minnesota into a lucrative career. His brand of humor was never even remotely amusing t0 me and now he also infuses his writing with the creepy lechery of an aging celebrity. From bad to worse.
Excellent column. Here's my nickle: as writers we are ALL uneven. I excuse Garrison K for being so as well. Given his huge contribution to most of our lives, of course he's off at times. But I'm with you: Look at how much pleasure he gives and forgive the few times he's totally off kilter.

And yes, the stroke. I had a stroke too, a funny little one, but it took spelling completely away from me and no doubt other habits of mind and we just carry on. I'm very glad he is alive and sorry he has given offence. You are wonderfully forgiving and in proportion in the above. Thanks
The Keillor column struck me as a little off his usual stride, not that this is a bad thing. I didn't pay much attention to it until I ran across the thoughtful responses to Cooper Zale. I guess I would ask why "the inner voice" provokes so many people, at least people like Keillor. I recall a similar snear compliments of T.S. Eliot, if memory serves. He said something like, "The Inner Voice. Men ride ten in a carriage listening to the dictates of the Inner Voice." Not a nice, even a condescending thing, to say anyway. What's wrong with the Inner Voice?

Keillor's denunciation of "all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year" doesn't quite wash, either. Reminded me of the Aryan Nationalists convinced that Jews practice cultural subversion from their Hollywood fiefdoms.

On the other hand, his views on Larry Summers (but not Emerson) are right on. Go get him, Garrison.
For those of you who think we offended Jews are too sensitive, too uptight, part of a "victim culture," or whatever, just a few gentle words:

Christmas is a huge, all-enveloping, inescapable, non-Jewish holiday. You can't avoid it, ignore it, co-opt it, or (as some would have it) really "join in the spirit of the season." I know that many folks feel the "spirit of the season" is just peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Man, and giving gifts. I understand that.

But I ask you, gently, to try to understand what it's like to not want to be a part of a holiday that venerates a Jewish boy who is believed by billions of people to literally be God. To some Jews, it's idolatry. To others, it's bizarre. To most, it's awkward. And for more than a month every year we all are awash in it, like it or not. It's uncomfortable to say the least.

(And by the way, Channukah is not "the equivalent", unless by "equivalent" you mean a typical, solstice-based light festival. Channukah is a minor Jewish holiday, not anywhere up there with Rosh Hoshannah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, or hell, even Purim. So trying to substitute it because it comes at the same time actually adds to the awkwardness, rather than alleviating it.)

Try to imagine this: You are in Iran for the month of Ramadan. For a whole month, you can't eat during the day. For a whole month, you see everyone doing the same things, worshiping the same ways, engaging in many of the same activities (big family dinners to break the fast), but you're not included. Every year, for a month, you have a holiday that excludes you, not purposefully, but just because you're a tiny minority. It's awkward, wouldn't you say?

Yes, there are Jews who are part of the "victim culture." Yes, there are Jews who are quick to cry "antisemitism!" for things that are simply thoughtless stupidity or ignorance. But this one time of year, I promise you, is weird for a huge percentage of Jews; it's the time of year one feels least "assimilated." And further, one feels the pressure of the majority culture all the time, every day, from after Thanksgiving until after New Years. Year after year. Trust me: it gets old.

I don't have anything against Christmas. Have fun, drink egg nog, decorate your house, put up your trees, eat to apoplexy; it's all good. My only goal was to try to give folks a little perspective from the minority position.

I'll be quiet now.
GK's anti-UU prejudice isn't "this year" -- it has leaked into his columns for many years. I am so tired of it. I think the reason it upsets me every time is that I would like to like him more than I can now. He celebrates, whimsically and with great nostalgic charm, a very narrow and very conservative mythical village ... and he is truly provincial in his views of UUs (and Southerners, whom he has painted just as nastily at times). It's a theme for him, this deep contempt for UUs. I wish he would paint us with a more nuanced brush, but only Lutheran cowherds get the love. How delightful his affection for those folk is. (And for Episcopalians...his own denomination.) I really do get sick of his swipes and it's spoiled my affection for him. It's hard not to feel hurt when a beloved community that has meant so much in my life is so frequently belittled by him (and most readers assume, "Ha, ha, he didn't mean it." Sadly, I believe he does mean it. (In the religious sense, I will try not to meet spite with spite. I wish him a hale and happy new year, and a more inclusive soul.)
Hey, I'll see your Garrison and raise you one Al Franken, trading closet polemicist for a genuine comic who is now struggling to maintain his professional credentials in the midst of the largest clown convention in America.

I have never understood Keillor's bizarre and pointless sense of humor. More pointedly, I think that Keillor holds his own creations up to scorn and ridicule, the guise of being a humorist, in much the same way that Larry David makes fun of his coreligionists.
Sir, you are being far too generous to Garrison Keillor who has been putting down UUs and ranting about how the winter holidays should be celebrated for years. What is he doing in a UU church in the first place when he has nothing but distain for UUs? And, what business does he have to tell UUs or anyone else for that matter how they should celebrate the holidays? What is he, the thought police? Why should he object when UUs take songs and change lyrics to suit their needs when does this on his own show almost weekly. It is a shame that Garrison displays the same small-minded bigotry that he often decries in others.
Keillor jumped the shark with his obscene advice that torturers doing so under the colors of red, white, and blue should get off scot-free, and their crimes summarily ignored. He's an amoral crapsack who has no business telling anybody how to live their lives, let alone how to celebrate Christmas. I haven't read one column of his since that one, and I don't intend to start now. Let me say this: I'm not surprised he's gone all nutbag over the Unitarians.
Buncha hooey. Everyone know Keillor can get chronic gas bag-itis on occasion. He dearly loves the sound of his own Lutheran lips discerning all with a withering, midwestern sneer. A good, seasonal purgative to loosen the stick up his dorsal is all thats required. Happy mid-winter, forest spirit, lingonberry solstice!
Thank you for sharing your insights and approach to G's column in a respectful way. It helped me. I am a muslim. But i was raised a WASP,,,and i do like to find ways i can sing carols without being blasphemous to my own faith, which on the progressive side, shares much with the Jews, early unitarian Christians, and some present day UUs.
I left the UU fold when they started taking themselves too seriously. Lighten up, EVERYONE!!! Our thin skin is showing.
Good grief, people -- one word -- SATIRE. Now that the pre-Xmas/peri-Hanukah stress has passed, go back and read it again with that in mind. My only complaint is that I believe people who live in Cambridge are called "Cantabrigians", not "Cambridgeans."
Enh, we (UU's) love it when Keillor notices us...because I have terrible taste, I read the piece to my family as my contribution to our "Christmas eve story telling" session. Not his best work, but hey, he's just a "nice 67-y-o male, awake, alert and [not always] appropriate."
For the record, I'm with Jodi and the others who thought Keillor was making a joke. Most of which I thought was kinda funny. Personally, I think Terry Pratchett got the origins of Christmas vs. the modern celebration of it exactly right in "The Hogfather."

@Scott Abraham, re: "New agey woo-woo." BWAhahahahaha! Maybe it's a Pacific Northwest thing (I'm an Idaho-ian myself) but that little turn of phrase just totally cracked me up. I see that you have not posted any blogs yet, but I have friended you in case you will find that encouraging, and am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts. ;-)
Garrison is his own person, and doesn't need to be told what to say. If he followed in the footsteps of countless hacks who write blogs, he would had vanished from the scene years ago. As far as Christians, pseudo- Christians, atheists, and countless varieties of fringe pagan worshippers, I suggest they follow Garrison's advice and "buzz off".
Garrison Keillor lost me years ago when he demonstrated absolutely no sense of humor about himself when confronted by a spot-on impersonation by Harry Shearer. He takes himself way too seriously, apparently with room for his humor alone.
I've listened to (and watched) Garrison Keillor since he hosted the Morning Show on MPR, and was truly shocked at his column. I'm tempted to blame it on the stroke, really. He has, over the years, expressed opinions on any number of topics without managing to be overtly offensive. In the past few months he has managed to be, not to put too fine a point on it, rude. Anti-Semitic, yup. And rude to Jewish songwriters, rude to UU's, rude to his entire reading audience, who know that he's capable of so much better than this.

I could go into a whole lot of stuff on the intricate neurochemical processes that can be disrupted by a stroke, but I'll just leave it at this: what he wrote was out of character AND rude.

I admit to being hopeful that the response is an apology. I am neither Jewish nor UU. But I am a Minnesotan, and we really DO believe in being nice. He was not being nice. And I apologize, for Minnesota, on his behalf.
I thought GK's post was a spoof but it seems he's being a yo-yo about UUs.
Came back for another read today, seems the schism's still on...
Satire is meant to amuse, at it's best when it takes truism to the offensive edge of the cliff... GK is from my state too, I seldom miss his show, not gonna change that, nor apologize... A little history light has been shed here already, learn from it, and to laugh...
Thanks for pointing us to this piece. I tried to read it with an open mind (is this irony? is he constipated?) but it really upset me. Speaking about what is "ours" is an unfortunate us-them reality that offended me, a Jew who lives and does not-so-bad in a Christian country, one who, when living in a small town went to UU services rather than skip the whole thing altogether just because there was no liberal synagogue available. Anyway, I love Garrison, will continue to, but this---wtf??
When I first read GK's story, I couldn't quite decide whether it was satire, or anger.
That said, I have to play devils advocate here. I totally agree with him! I get tired of the "political correctives" around here. Since when did we have to give up our beliefs, and prejudices. All in the name of not offending anyone.

Just sign me,
A tired old fruit, in Florida!
Hail music, hail tolerance, and therefore "Hail Mr. Keillor!" I agree with Mr. Zach Elliott: "Living in a free society means people are free to appropriate Mr. Keillor's sacred holiday and do with it what we wish." Furthermore, as a songwriter and musician, I say take the music and lyrics and go to town with your own special spin. Not just any alterations or overhauls work, but the better job you do musically/lyrically on the old and familiar, the more it will be appreciated. I don't know how many are with me, but I crave originality served with my truth. And Jewish songwriters? Well I'll thank God—if there is one—for them, and for them I could bow down, face to the floor, and pray to every day. Happy Everydays.
I'm not going to say any variations of "It's a joke, get over it!", since it is all too common for someone on the Internet to say something horrifically offensive and then accuse his offended victims of having no sense of humor. However, having read over Keillor's original post, and your response, and myriad of responses to your response, I really wonder if a number of people (I'm not going to name names) should take a remedial class in reading comprehension.

This isn't the tired old Religious-Right rant against holiday secularism. Garrison isn't calling for Christ to be forcefully inserted into or pasted over the top of any and all winter-solstice-holiday-celebrations. He isn't taking offense at non-Christian holiday traditions but the revision and adulteration of Christian traditions. Why get so offended at him telling you to "buzz off"? What does "buzz off" mean? How about "go and do your own thing, and let me do my thing" ?

Taking a beloved religious song and rewriting the lyrics in a way that substantially changes the meaning is bound to upset those who like it the way it is. It's offensive, that is to say, it creates offense; it causes people to become offended. That said, the Constitution protects the right to be offensive; it also protects the right to be offended. Unitarians have the right to make their own "Silent Night" and Garrison Keillor has the right to tell them it sucks and they should quit doing it - and his saying so in no way compels them to do so. And I suppose it gives all you idiots (and lest there be any confusion, when I say "all you idiots", I'm referring to the ENTIRE INTERNET) the right to be offended at him for saying so. And so on, ad infinitum. It's a mess, living in a (somewhat) pluralistic society: half the time we can't even agree to disagree.

As for the accusations of anti-Semitism, everyone, please, think. Take a step back, count to 10, and ask yourself, "What did he actually say?"

He expresses a negative opinion about a few songs. Does being composed by Jews suddenly make them above criticism? Expressing a negative opinion about an artistic work doesn't equal hatred of that person or their heritage. Jews have the right to create holiday music that has nothing to do with Christ, and Christians have the right to call it tacky, sentimental, schlock and wish they didn't have to hear it blasting non-stop from every loudspeaker in every public place from November 1 until December 26.
Haven't read Keilors piece - yet; though, as a fellow PHC Fan and something of a UU (actually call myself Buddhist - as it's the only Faith that doesn't MAKE me Hate, or, for that matter, want to Hate - THEM!), I will.
A few points, however: Santa Claus is Way, Way, Way Pre-Christian - and the idea of giving Gifts at the Winter Solstice, is even older; just as the 'birth' of Gods (which I do too believe in) supposed Son - and the 're-birth' of the Sun (Spit it back out, you, you bad old Dragon!) are both so interelated (ie: The Early Christians STOLE/Adopted it) as to constitute a continuum.
Changing the Lyrics to Caroles? My Brother got spanked for this one!
There's a town in France, where the ladies wear no pants.
And the men come 'round, with their weinies hanging down.
Or (my own creation).
We three kings of origins far, tried to smoke a rubber cigar.
It was loaded and exploded, igniting yonder star.
Hardy, har, har!
Oh, the weather outside is frightful! And while we're on the subject of Christmas music....

I am not a huge fan of popular Christmas music. I love the traditional stuff - Schubert's Ave Maria, for example, I think is the most beautiful piece of music ever composed. But there are a few exceptions: Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song are undeniable classics. Bob Dylan's new LP is called Christmas in the Heart. The man can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. It's a wonderful record. He even does a good job with Winter Wonderland - a tune I have always loathed with a passion I can't even describe. Good for you, Uncle Bobby!

But for the most part, popular Christmas music has been known to make me sick to my stomach. One tune in particular is enough to drive me to extreme violence. Dick Wells is a legendary disc jockey and singer. Back in the fifties and sixties he was the vocalist for the Harry James Orchestra. He is also a good friend and an expert on the subject of popular songs. I once had a telephone conversation with him that went like this.

DEGAN: Dick, who wrote, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow?

DICK: Tom, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

DEGAN: Are Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne still alive, Dick?

Dick: No, Tom. Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne are both dead.

DEGAN: Good.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is another "Christmas song" I wish had never been written. I find it amazing and ironic that the root of Gene Autry's extraordinary fortune is based on the fact that he penned this hideously dreadful piece of holiday trash. Gene Autry is also dead. No comment. It's Christmas. Joy to the world.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Excellent piece and fascinating responses.

I wrote this to GK:
Forgive me if I am inexperienced at writing this kind of letter but your piece on "nonbelievers" touched me.
You see, I have long suspected that there is a lot of bitterness behind your humor, and mean-spiritedness as well.

I realized that I often enjoy your radio show, but never as much as when it first sneaked up on me on various radio stations in the mid-seventies as I drove across country one summer and I wondered where Lake Woebegone was. I didn't know, at first, that it wasn't. There was a humanity and sweetness that seemed grounded. But I couldn't read your books and wondered why and then I realized that the bitterness is concealed beneath the treacle in small doses but when concentrated between the covers the acid becomes corrosive.

Your Christmas essay this year drops the facade. It is all there. I suspect you were really thinking of your self when you wrote disparagingly quoting Whitman, who wrote, "To be great is to be misunderstood." Your comment that "his tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness" certainly shows that you have taken that to heart.

I appreciate that that you and the group your style "our guys" never wrote "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah." Thank you. Who are "your guy"s anyway?

Your acid is offensive not only to Jews and Unitarians but millions who actually enjoy the Christmas standards many of which were written by Jews. I found that ironic when I was twelve but not very remarkable more than 50 years later.

I am glad for you that you will not be suffering in Norway this year and that that cold memory warms your heart, but your arctic blast chilled this season much more than even Christmas advertising in September because you should know better.

So, go "make some gingerbread persons and light three candles and sing softly in dim light about the poor man gathering winter fu-u-el and the radiant beams and the holly and the ivy" and enjoy yourself and let the rest of us have whatever joy we find in this season untarnished by your bile.
When you wrote this--
"In a more contemporary context, UUs who try to be open-minded and welcoming at times enforce essentially a Republican-free zone."

--I was tempted to shout, "Sign me up!" But, some of my best friends and relatives are, ahem, Republican.
Good call. We don't need more folks on the War on Christmas bandwagon.
But I should admit that I haven't read the piece yet myself. Dang it.
I don't know. I thought the concept of a UU joining the Christians in their War on Christmas (essentially a war on anyone who wants to celebrate any December holiday other than XMas) was kinda funny. Unless UUs aren't as tolerant and inclusive as they say they are.
The only explanation I can think of is that Keillor's sick of public radio & knows the only permanent way to escape Lake Wobegon is to flee to "mainstream" AM talk radio. Judging from his bilious rant, he's made a solid start.
BTW, I too was struck by the anti-semitism in his rant about the secularization and (codeword) "commercialism" of XMas.
I think I'll mosey on down to Cambridge & hang out with the other should-have-been janitors. Let GK clean up his own mess.
I dont know!? It seems to me Mr. K's tongue was planted hard and firm in his cheek with the so called "rant".
Good to see all the thoughtful comments... wish I could reply to them individually! I too would wish his piece to be satire... or if not for him to say more about his feelings here and where they are coming from.
Given the gross sentimentality Keillor has locked himself into all these years on his radio show it's amazing his "dark" side hasn't made him suicidal by now--let alone a few innocuous remarks about organized religion--regardless of the religion.

At least, as a Buddhist, few even know our sentimental holidays so they can't pick on us. Since we believe this life is an illusion anyway it doesn't much matter.
YOU GO DOUGLAS. Good grief. Anyone ever hear of separation of church and state?
on last night's archival PHC, I found it interesting that his "Joy To The World" had sheep baaaaaaing the chorus --- So much for Silent Night's alterations. So take his criticism in the UU stride of tolerance and don't blame --- GK is only human.
So sorry to hear that Keillor has lost his edge...or rather found it. He's the guy with the radio show, right?
I am a UU.

I spent my first 40 years as Roman Catholic, including elementary, high school, and college. I finally decided that God couldn't really mean that babies who died without baptism would go to Limbo and only the Bishop could forgive the "sin" of abortion but any priest could forgive rape.

This year I loved our Christmas Eve service at First Unitarian in Orlando. We celebrated the birth of any and every child, the return of the light to our lives and to the world, our need for peace. We sang "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" written by a UU minister. And, Garrison, we sang "Silent Night".

Garrison, I have loved you for almost 20 years. I have seen you in person when you have been in Central Florida. I will continue to love you. But, I paraphrase the"perfect prayer" "Give us a break!
I dunno. It really didn't offend me. If the philosophy of UU is to encompass all forms of faith, then certainly we should expect to handle a little cynicism too.
How does Keillor's "Perfection is a goal of brilliant people and it is unnecessary where Christmas is concerned," jibe with conscious awareness, and worship 24/7, of the living, perfect G-d: the single source of perfection in Creation? It doesn't.

He would do well, at his advanced age, to pay some attention to the American Creed, the three Mottoes enshrined on the Great Seal; and to the writings, conclusively debunking Christianity, of America's Author, Founder, and Prophet, Thomas Jefferson.

Does he dispute that there is but One G-d, Creator of the universe, acknowledged by "Annuit Coeptis," and America's founding documents?

The Founders made covenant with It: an indisputable blessing available to all in this prophesied Promised Land into which "all nations flow."

Would Keillor, betraying America, rather "Divide and Conquer?"

Keillor's right about Summers, but if he were an intellect and an American man, he'd use his art to illuminate JFK's Executive Order 11,110's ending the unconstitutional Federal Reserve, restored by Richard Nixon's and George H.W. Bush's assassination of President Kennedy to, by the notion of CFR-Chairman Emeritus David Rockefeller's full-page ads, "G0 to the rescue of the pro-Western Christian democracy of South Vietnam," JFK's NSAM263 chose to abandon militarily six weeks before a hit-team from the Knight of Malta-led Roman Catholic CIA "reversed" NSAM263 to send 58,000 of us to die for the pope...who no doubt celebrates Christmas in a manner acceptable to Keillor.

Where the five-percent Roman Catholics owned ninety-five percent of the wealth and whose leader, Nguyen Cao Ky, said "People ask me who my heroes are. I have only one -- Hitler," they no doubt celebrated Christmas as Keillor would have wished, as well.

Keillor is no man of G-d, or America, or science.
Although I appreciate the fact that we need to be reminded that Christmas has been paired with the winter solstice and has become one of the many victims too numerous to list, of the commercial orientation of our American culture, I found much of this counter rant to be softminded and shallow in the pursuit of truthful knowledge. Even little children understand the legend of St. Nicholas and the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. That GK is an intelligent commentator with passion and resolve should be both noted and applauded - had there been more truth seeking and less cowardice of fact in the last decade the country would no doubt have fared far better.
Thank you - I had been really angry about the Keillor article, but you post really helped talk me down!
I'm very surprised to hear of Garrison's rant, especially as a huge fan of his "PHC" show on NPR . Hmmmm.....Why would he do that? Anyway, also very interested in the UUs and the Society of Friends. I always thought of the Quakers as the purest of Christians (I was raised a Southern Baptist, by the way....very fundamentalist Protestant!) and have recently attended Friends' Meeting. After attending a few times, I find Meetings very calming and conducive to meditation. Still hope to attend UU gatherings one of these days.
Another thing: whether "Christians" like it or not, Christmas is also a secular holiday. After all, its date was arbitrarily chosen to coincide with the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice.
Actually December 25 isn't "arbitrary": it's the first day, in the Northern Hemisphere, one can actually perceive, without the benefit of a "Stonehenge" or "Newgrange," that the day is longer following the "descent" ending astronomically in the Winter Solstice.
I have just read the cited article by Keillor, and have just read your post and have also read some of the comments and am now confused on a couple of points. What were the lyrics changed to? Is his anger justified maybe? Also, about making mistakes at Christmas, you guys and gals do know we celebrate the Christmas holidays at the wrong time of the year (should be August or September, and that's not even accurate because we are overlaying a Gregorian Calendar over an older Jewish Calendar and that might not be right), and most of the area around where Christ was born is desert, so what were the sheep eating and why were there Shepherds with sheep in a place where they couldn't eat anything in the first place? And I think the problem here is not personal, but cultural. Ever been to Minnesota? Very repressed place to live. People come up to you and open with "Say?" not "hello", and end with "you bet cha"; yes, Keillor goes to Norway but does that makes him a world traveler? I don't think so.
I only know one UU and she is very nice, but I know nothing else about them. We all have a soft underbelly for some things, but really, what is one more mistake in a season founded at the wrong time for the wrong reasons to advance Christianity?
Note to Garrison and to you all --- from UUs and Jews everywhere --- these boys are good: play with links at bottom to enlarge window.
I've noticed in Keillor's writing a certain, um, Limbaugh-ish boorishness in the past, oh, at least a year. I don't hear it on the radio show, but his writing has mightily annoyed me more than thrice.

I dunno what happened. Is it the Conservatism-ing of America, post 9/11? Mere Aging? A few slipped gears?

{sigh} It's sure disappointing, though.
So - when did Garrison Keillor turn into Chuck Norris, or some OTHER rabid Right-Wingtard?

And BTW - "a Republican-Free Zone" and the willingness to speak Truth to Right-Wing Power is one of the things I love MOST about Unitarian Universalism....
this leap to judgement of keillor as anti-semetic after years and years in the spotlight having not spilled the beans on his "anti-semitism" does not reflect so poorly on him as it does the knee jerk reactions of Jewish "victims." If there any wonder why Israel gets away with it--and a broad swath of so-called Jewish "liberals" in this country are nothing of the kind?
It's getting to be Christmas time again. Maybe we call all refer to it as Happy Festivus day and everyone will be happy. Somehow I doubt it.
Margaritaville Blender
I think he was trying to be funny or something. It just didn't turn out that well. Let's all get along - but great free article.
This post is very old but still cool to read

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