Garrison Keillor, Beloved Host of 'A Prairie Home Companion,' is Retiring
Editor's note: With summer in full swing, many of the BreakPoint staff are enjoying vacation. This week we plan to re-air a number of popular commentaries from earlier this year. A version of this commentary first aired January 29, 2016.
For the past 40 years on National Public Radio, Garrison Keillor has served up a hearty and humorous slice of Americana through his Saturday night radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion.” Each episode featured live music and amusing skits like “Guy Noir, Private Eye,” and "Lives of the Cowboys," plus hysterical promotional spots from the "Ketchup Advisory Board" and Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie.
But the highlight of each show came near the end, when Keillor would share the news and latest gossip from his beloved Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.
Keillor’s polished art of storytelling made the mundane details from the lives of local townspeople a springboard to deeper reflections on life, relationships, and meaning.
If you know the show, you also know that Keillor’s worldview didn't always line up with a Christian worldview. So it may surprise you that we're talking about it on BreakPoint. But I think there are a number of things that we can learn from Keillor's success.
First, in an age where much of what we call entertainment is all flash and no substance, Keillor accomplished the extraordinary. His show became “appointment listening” each week for four million people on almost 700 radio stations. This was not merely a regional curiosity in flyover country. The successful longevity of Prairie Home Companion testifies to the power of great art and storytelling, and it's a lesson for all of us who are called to share “the greatest story ever told.” Christians should champion good art, especially those that, through story, point to deep truths of life and the world.
Second, Keillor can teach us something about perseverance since he wasn’t immediately successful. His first show on July 6, 1974, drew a grand total of twelve people. But he took his work seriously and he pursued excellence ahead of showmanship. In a recent interview, Keillor described the perfect day as getting lost in his work. Christians, too, believe in the sacredness of work, or as Dorothy Sayers put it, “The only Christian work is work well done.”
Third, I believe that Keillor’s work revealed God’s glory in ways that many openly Christian artistic endeavors sometimes miss. For starters, he took excellence seriously, especially in the music he chose for the program. Some of the world’s best musicians, from folk artists to country singers, Gospel quartets, blues and jazz artists, were guests on his show.
And fourth, he took being human seriously. We'd laugh at the citizens of Lake Wobegon, maybe because it was a safe way to laugh at ourselves. Keillor's storied portrayals were, like all the best stories, just so very, well, human. And he didn't shy away from the dark side of life, but instead he handled it without being graphic or gratuitous like so much in culture today.
And he took religion seriously too. Even as Keillor would gently poke fun at the Catholics of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Church or Pastor Ingqvist of the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, he didn’t ridicule faith itself like so much of popular culture resorts to doing these days. You might say, as many have, that Keillor’s storytelling was God-haunted. His music choices certainly were. At the finale which aired last weekend, Keillor led 1800 people in a Los Angeles venue in singing every stanza of Isaac Watt’s hymn: “We are Marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion.” It was stunning.
Keillor has won Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, been given the National Humanities Medal, and been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That’s a lot of achievement for someone who didn’t consider himself a performer.
I, for one, will miss him, but I won’t forget what his example teaches. Treat people and their deeply held beliefs with respect, enjoy your work, take excellence and beauty seriously, and most of all, tell good stories. The world needs more of them.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: July 12, 2016