Friday, June 01, 2007

Do Lutherans Have Bad Karma?

Thursday's Star-Tribune carried a review of Broders' Pasta Bar, a restaurant in south Minneapolis that my wife and I have enjoyed on several occasions. The review is generally positive, with the critic (Rick Nelson) praising the owners for "the giving communal dining a shot... For taking pasta seriously. And for accomplishing the near-impossible and creating a casual neighborhood restaurant that genuinely merits the cross-town drive." But while I agree with his assessment of Broders', one paragraph in Nelson's review struck me as strange:
"Watching all the animated conversation bubbling around my perch at the bar - where, trust me, each seat is as premium a piece of real estate as a potential Lake of the Isles teardown - one thought raced through my cortex: Can all this conviviality really exist in buttoned-up Minneapolis? OK, closer observation revealed that the social interaction was running true to form, with conversation obviously reserved to parties with a prior connection. God forbid a Minnesotan -- present company included -- would actually spark up a spontaneous chat with the stranger to their right. Maybe it's karmic: After all, the restaurant lives in the shadow of the city's Protestant epicenter, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church." [For those of you who don't know, Mount Olivet is a (very) large Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis, with two campuses, nine pastors, and about 13,600 members.]
What is Nelson trying to say here? Is he implying that Lutherans (or Protestants in general) are so dull and pleasure-hating that simply locating a restaurant near one of their churches poisons the atmosphere? It appears that Nelson is blaming Lutheranism for what he perceives as the "buttoned-up" nature of Minneapolis residents. And why the reference to karma? Karma is not a Christian concept, but perhaps it's well known in certain circles that Lutherans have the bad variety of karma, and therefore those looking for conviviality had better avoid even the ominous "shadow" of a Lutheran church.

Although I may be wrong, I suspect that Nelson's comments can be attributed (at least indirectly) to the massive influence of Garrison Keillor, who has convinced much of the nation that Lutherans are dark, bland, and guilt-ridden, incapable of enjoying the good things of life. Of course, there is much truth, and a great deal of humor, in Keillor's depiction of Midwestern Lutherans. But it is obviously a caricature, ideal for getting easy laughs from any audience. So it's not surprising to see others in media pick-up on this theme, since the term "Lutheran" has now become short-hand for a whole set of cultural and psychological attributes. Thus, a restaurant critic can contrast "conviviality" with "Lutheran church" and assume that everyone will get his meaning immediately.

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