A Writer’s Almanac Mourned—and Much More

I am sad this morning. In the quiet of my early mornings, with no noise or activity in the house, I would read A Writer’s Almanac on my iPad. Years ago I started listening to it on NPR stations while driving or in my study at 8:25am on WAMC in the capital region of New York. When I got an iPad, I got the app and started reading it. As I read it, I could often hear the calming baritone voice of Garrison Keillor in my mind. Even if I didn’t like the day’s poem, the hint in my ear of Garrison reading it dramatically kept me reading it. I encouraged my students of preaching at Northeaster Seminary to read it as a discipline in reading a poem a day and notes about life and culture.


As I read brief notes about the day in literary history, I would often go down side roads. Almost two weeks ago I was reminded that President Lincoln gave his immortal address at a makeshift graveyard in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Before November 19, 2017, was over I read the full text and context of that remarkable speech again. Just yesterday was the birthday of C. S. Lewis and that had me thinking about his influence on my faith and life.


This morning there was no Writer’s Almanac to greet me. Of course, I heard yesterday that Keillor has been accused of an inappropriate gesture toward a female colleague and, hence, Minnesota Public Radio has dropped A Writer’s Almanac and anything to do with Keillor from its broadcasting. I am saddened this morning, not just for my lost morning friend, but more for Keillor and his family—and the woman who experienced an inappropriate touch from his hand. I read his account of the incident, which sounds rather tame in light of what we have been hearing about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Congressman Conyers, Judge Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Matt Lauer, etc. The list goes on and on.


Yesterday was particularly marked by the news releases, and firings, of Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. Lauer is bigger news, as his role in the popular media was enormous. I am saddened for him and his family—and the women he treated inappropriately. I never thought Lauer was a very good interviewer or a significant news reporter. But Keillor was, for me, a significant American humorist. I often listened to A Prairie Home Companion (PHC), though not as faithfully as I followed A Writer’s Almanac. I went to watch live performances of PHC several times at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. After the radio broadcast ended, he would return to the stage and lead a sing-along, rich in Americana and Gospel (always including Amazing Grace). It was almost like a tent revival meeting in the best sense. He would remain after the sing-along to greet everyone who lined up and sign every book and program put in front of him—never hurried. I was always moved by his ability to portray the quirkiness of American life.


On the same day the president of my country embarrassed me again, as he does just about every day he tweets or attempts to speak coherently. His response to the firing of Lauer was typically graceless and tasteless. His retweeting of fake videos meant to provoke fear and hatred of Muslims was reprehensible. David Duke, former grandmaster of the KKK (or some such title), spoke on behalf of all white nationalist and white supremacist Americans in thanking Trump yesterday. If Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t call the president a moron (I think he did), he should have. Trump’s inappropriate remarks yesterday follow by just two days his embarrassing the nation and offending native Americans (and others citizens like me) by making a graceless, unnecessary, and offensive statement in front of several native Americans being honored in the White House for their service in World War II. And the abuser-in-chief continues to serve as president of the United States. I am embarrassed, offended, and troubled.


Yesterday afternoon my wife and I want to see the new movie Wonder. It deals with middle-school bullying. And the strength of a family of character and humanity. I commend it to you—and bring tissues. It was an experience of grace. This story needs to be told and heard, but remember that bullying is not limited to middle schools.


In the midst of all that is wrong in our land, there is much wonder and beauty and grace. Acts of kindness and care abound. I will look for those qualities today, even as I am saddened by not being able to read A Writer’s Almanac. And, more, much more, I am saddened that countless women have experienced sexual harassment from men in power and then are vilified and bullied by men when they finally muster the courage to speak publicly of their humiliation.

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