"Do you know who Garrison Keillor is?"
My friend Omar gave me a polite smile, but I could see he was dumbfounded. My cultural reference to clarify an ecclesiological point through Lord Garrison Keillor of Lake Wobegon had fallen flat. For a moment, I choked on my inability to illuminate my "brilliant" thought.
I looked at Omar (a native Honduran currently living in Mexico City serving La Frontera Ministries) and moved from frustration to jubilation. I wanted to hug him. He was surprised by my happiness.
I celebrated with Omar, "I have an ELCA Lutheran friend who does not know who Garrison Keillor is! I think there's hope for this church yet."
I'm not the first to experience a cross-cultural communication of the Lutheran witness to God's grace that does not require a northern European vessel. But in the trenches of Lutheranism in the United States, these connections can be challenging at times, especially for pastors who have defaulted toward all things Scandinavian and/or German for their illustration bank.
I am not a cultural iconoclast, but I have been troubled since I moved to the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest over 25 years ago and viewed the blurred lines between culture, theology, and faith. For too many years, Lutherans have believed that the culture of their ancestors and/or dead theologians IS the message.
While Garrison Keillor has a kernel of truth in his humor about specific generations of Lutherans, it is only a kernel. Keillor has not done Lutherans any favors related to communicating God's grace to their neighbors. While appreciation of culture is not an inherent problem, cultural superiority and hegemony is a problem. While I doubt Mabel Sorenson and Betty Johnson intended to be exclusive with their annual lefse symposium, people of the Christian faith need to expand their vocabularies and recognize the voluminous lexicon that is available to them to both receive and share the grace of God in Christ.