Garrison Keillor reminds me somewhat of a modern day Mark Twain.  He was born in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1942 and developed a very popular weekly radio program entitled “The Prairie Home Companion” which made fun of the pretend occupants of Lake Wobegon.  He combines nostalgia and sentiment with a dash of acerbic satire.  The short story Protestant is from Lake Wobegon Days (1985).  In this story he talks about a family of very religious people that are called Brethren.  They keep arguing amongst themselves and splitting into ever smaller groups that will have nothing to do with the other group because of some argument over what a person should and should not believe or do.


In the story Keillor states: “Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’ and the Brethren believed that was enough.  We met in Uncle Al’s and Aunt Flo’s bare living room with plain folding chairs arranged facing in toward the middle.  No clergyman in a black smock.  No organ or piano, for that would make one person too prominent.  No upholstery, it would lead to complacency.  No picture of Jesus, He was in our hearts.  The faithful sat down at the appointed hour and waited for the Spirit to move one of them to speak or to pray or to give out a hymn from our Little Flock hymnal.  No musical notation, for music must come from the heart and not off a page.  We sang the text to a tune that fit the meter, of the many tunes we all knew.  The idea of reading a prayer was sacrilege to us---‘If a man can’t remember what he wants to say to God, let him sit down and think a little harder.’ Granpa said.”


Other beliefs of Brethren included:

  1. Women did not speak in a meeting.
  2. If you were not a full member you could not join in the Lord’s Supper.
  3. Women couldn’t wear slacks because of Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”
  4. They had no ordained clergy as they believed in the priesthood of all believers.  (Which inevitably led to arguments as to how to interpret the Bible which then led to the splitting up of the congregation.)
  5. No television, no movies, no novels as they tended to glamorize iniquity.
  6. No rock’n’roll, jazz, swing, dance music, or nightclub singing---all too worldly.
  7. No alcohol, not even beer: “Beer is the drunkard’s kindergarten,” said Dad.  Small things led to bigger ones.
  8. No card-playing---which would lead to gambling.
  9. No hand-holding and no dancing---they brought out carnal desires.
  10. You had to be very very careful about who you associated with.  Even amongst the Brethren you had to be cautious.  For example:  “If Believer A is associated with Believer B who has somehow associated himself with C who holds a False Doctrine, must D break off association with A, even though A does not hold the Doctrine, to avoid the taint?  The correct answer is: Yes.”


That last one is a good one to think about.  Don’t just fly by it.  Just how careful should we be in order to protect our children and ourselves from negative influences?  Will such protection make us stronger or weaker in the long run?


The Amish do a wonderful job of protecting their children and themselves and I have long been an admirer of the Amish.  However, the Brethren are a different type.  They spend a lot of their energy fighting amongst themselves and lose the beauty of God’s word in the process.  Not so with the Amish.


In the story, one of the children is beginning to question some of these ideas.  He asks: “What if you were hitchhiking in a blizzard and were picked up by a guy who was listening to rock’n’roll on the radio, should you get out of the car even though you would freeze to death?  ‘I guess the smart thing would be to dress warmly in the first place,’ offered Dad.”  At another point he asks in terms of music: “How about Beethoven?”  His mother responds: “That depends. Was he a Christian?” 


Unfortunately none of what I have given to you of this story really captures the spirit and the humor of the story.  You should definitely read the story for yourself in its entirety.  It is only about 9 pages long.


No matter how serious we are about God and our religion, we should never forget to maintain our sense of humor about all things spiritual.  Without that sense of humor we are likely to become insulated and defensive like the Brethren and not really find the wondrous joy that is an essential part of being a spiritual person.


One of the most important things you do in relation to another person’s belief system is that you appreciate it.  Go back over all of the beliefs the Brethren hold.  Pick out at least several of them that you think are important ones that you would like to see others follow.  Why have you chosen these?  Defend your selection.  Assume that you are a Brethren, defend your position.  Until you are able to do that, you really are not prepared to reject their system of beliefs.  This principle applies to all systems of religious belief.