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A Grain of Salt



by Garrison Keillor


I have made fun of Lutherans for years – who wouldn’t if you lived in Minnesota?  But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.  We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their constant guilt that burns like a pilot light, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese.  But nobody sings like them.  If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively “Lutheranless” place, to sing along on the chorus of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear.  But if you do this among Lutherans, they’ll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach!  And down the road!  Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony.  It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage.  It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony.  We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison.  When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment.  I once sang the bass line of “Children of the Heavenly Father” in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices.  By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.  I do believe this: people, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony, are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress.  If you’re dying, they’ll comfort you.  If you’re lonely, they’ll talk to you.  And if you’re hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!  If you laughed while reading this, you must be a Lutheran.


The following list was compiled by a 20th century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:


  1. Lutherans believe in prayer but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
  2. Lutherans like to sing except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
  3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital even if they don’t notify them that they are there.
  4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.
  5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.
  6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their children’s choirs would make them too proud and conceited.
  7. Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while “passing the peace.”  (Editors note: Not in this congregation!)
  8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.
  9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LCMS groom make for a mixed marriage.  (or an ELCA groom and WELS bride)
  10. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.
  11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to a dollar for a meal at church.
  12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keillor stories are totally factual.
  13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color for the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole adds too much color.
  14. Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know when you’re a Lutheran when: 

*        You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can!

*        It’s 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.

*        Doughnuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.

*        The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight.

*        All your relatives graduated from a school named Concordia or Luther.

*        When you watch a “Star Wars” movie and they say, “May the Force be with you,” you respond, “and also with you.”

*        You actually understand those folks from Lake Wobegon, MN.

*        And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say “good-bye.”