Senator Al Franken

9 09 2009

Al Franken was one of the first interviews I conducted for Lord, Save Us. His willingness to sit with me to discuss the various issues was a big encouragement when the project needed some, and for that I will always be grateful. Now whether you like Al or don’t like Al, you probably don’t really know Al—even if you are familiar with his characters, his radio persona, or his biggest role to date: United States Senator. One of the big takeaways I gleaned from this interview with Al was that there is a world of difference between a sound bite and conversation.

Al smiled, studied me for a second, “So what’s this for again?”

What’s this for? You have to love a guy who will show up for an interview just because someone asked. I explained to Al my whole “Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?” journey. Al nodded. I saw interest and understanding in his eyes, familiar territory to him no doubt.

DAN: I was fascinated and confused to see that a conference was held last month in Washington, D.C. called A War on Christians. What do you make of that?

AL: I suppose there is a war on Christians…in Sudan, and China and evidently Afghanistan, I mean, there is actually, but there’s not one in the United States. And it just cracks me up.

DAN: Last Christmas we heard a lot of noise about a War on Christmas, earlier today we were over at the St. Paul City Hall where the Easter Bunny was ejected.

AL: I’ve never seen anything like this. This is really silly. There’s no war on Christians. There may be Christians who think this is a Christian country, when our constitution is very, very clear.

Al explodes with laughter. Something he does quite regularly and loudly. There is something I trust about a person who is so comfortable owning such a boisterous laugh. Having myself been teased for decades about my own explosive, synapse-disrupting laughter, I find yet another thing in common with this liberal, secular Jew from the Midwest.

DAN: Religious Liberty and Christian country are two different things?

AL: They’re the actual opposite. The whole point is that there is no established religion. The government can’t establish religion. And they think that they’re not allowed to practice their faith by not doing prayers in school. You can pray silently to yourself in school and kids do I’m sure all the time before exams. But a public school can’t sanction “a prayer” because that’s been ruled to violate the establishment clause. You know, I’d be perfectly happy to have school prayer in the country if it were The Schmah.

Al laughs again, then pauses, waiting for some kind of recognition from me. Meanwhile, my brain is swimming. The Schmah? Okay, I guess I’m supposed to know this prayer, clearly a Hebrew prayer—another embarrassing example of how we Christians don’t bother to know anything about beliefs that aren’t held by us. This is particularly embarrassing considering half of our Bible is the Jewish Scriptures (more than half really, if you count pages) and, yeah, Jesus was a Jew too. A couple significant connections between Christians and Jews so forgive me if I feel a little lame I have no idea what Al Franken is talking about.

AL: You know, “Schmah Isarael adonai Elohenu, Adonai echad.”

After a beat, Al responded to my blank stare with the English translation.

AL: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Fine. You want prayer in school that’ll be it. But, you don’t do that.

Excerpt from “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” by Dan Merchant
© 2008 Dan Merchant, Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers

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