September 25, 2020

Midweek Monkery 5/15/13

monks ale

Welcome to Midweek Monkery, Lutheran edition. I hope you will enjoy a few of the things that have made me laugh as I have started to learn more about the Lutheran community, especially the immigrant Lutheran community in the U.S.

If you are a laughing Lutheran, I’d love to have you chime in today with a few knee-slappers of your own.

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luther-shadesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATop Ten Ole and Lena Jokes
from Trinity Lutheran Church, Frankfort, MI

Ole and Lena are stock characters in folklore of the upper Midwest of the U.S., the outgrowth of the Scandinavian immigrant experience. You can find Ole and Lena jokes all over the internet. Here’s a good list I found on the website of a Lutheran church in Michigan.

1. Ole: Lars, I heard that you saved a man’s life in a restaurant last week.
Lars: Ya, I sure did. I advised him not to eat the Lutefisk.

2. Ole was on an airplane trip. His seat partner was a gorgeous young woman who made Ole’s heart skip a beat. “Where are you going,” asked the young woman. “Minneapolis,” answered Ole. “Same here,” said the gal. I’m going to Minneaplois to meet the man of my dreams… because I read in a magazine that the sexiest, most romantic men in the world are NORWEIGIANS and AMERICAN INDIANS. By the way, what is your name?” Said Ole shyly, “Ole Red Feather.”

3. Ole said that the way to identify a funeral procession in North Dakota is to notice if the combines have their lights on.

4. Ole says Americans are funny: First they put sugar in a glass to make it sveet, a tvist of lemon to make it sour, gin to make it varm dem up, and ice to cool it off. Den dey say, “Here’s to you,” and den dey drink it demselves.”

5. Ole and Lars were visiting France. They went to an Oyster bar where the waitresses were topless. Said Lars to the waitress, “Ve vould like a dozen oysters… and can you bring dem vun at a time?”

6. When Ole and Lena got married and went on their honeymoon. Lena was a bit bashful. As they walked up to the hotel, Lena said, Vhat can ve do so dey von’t know ve’re newlyveds? Answered Ole: YOU carry the luggage.”

7. Lena was visiting with her friend Freda Tofteskov, who explained how her husband Hjalmar had courted her with a rather unusual marriage proposal. Hjalmar told Freda that if she married him, he would either churn 10 pounds of butter, or write her a poem. “I see,” said Lena, “So it looks like you married him for butter or verse.”

8. When Lena tried to give the phone operator her phone number on a long distance call, the operator inquired, “Do you have an area code?” – “”No,” said Lena. “Yust a little sinus trouble.”

9. Ole was filling out a questionnaire. To the question regarding church preference, Ole put down: “Red brick with white trim.”

10. Ole calls up his doctor and says: “Every morning at 5 I have a BM. Fine says the doctor, that’s very healthy… so what seems to be your problem? – “Vell,” said Ole. “I don’t vake up until six.”

luther-shadeslatl-305x480“The Herdsmen”
from Life among the Lutherans, by Garrison Keillor

Many of us were introduced to upper Midwest and Lutheran culture through the radio show Prairie Home Companion and the writings of its gifted host, Garrison Keillor. Here is a hilarious excerpt from his book about them.

The Herdsmen were winners in the Church Ushers Competition Thursday night in Houston, Texas. They beat out a Baptist usher team, a Methodist, and were first runners-up to a Jewish team called Parkyercarcass. The Herdsmen came home Friday with the first-runner-up trophy, and it was nothing to people. Nothing. A national award. That’s how Lake Wobegon can be in February. Dark and discouraging. The Herdsmen used to have that great front four of Don, John, Louie, and Boomer back in the seventies. And Boomer, he was an usher’s usher. The man worked a sanctuary on Sunday morning like you wouldn’t believe. With Boomer you didn’t have people filling up the back rows first — he moved ’em right down front. Boomer was a big man, and he got his nickname from his voice, which would strip wallpaper. He’d been a basketball coach and did some auctioneering and raised six kids, and no matter where they were, they could hear Boomer when he called them for supper.

…[Boomer] was founder of the Herdsmen, and they still work from that 4-3-2 formation, even as other ushers have gone to a zone, and their secret still is quickness and anticipation. You can’t push when you usher — that’s called interference — and you can’t close your hand over someone’s arm — that’s called holding — but those guys could move people. The National Church Acolytes & Assistants Association, the NC-Triple A, sponsored the National Ushers Competition, which was held at the Grand Opera House, which is a tough room to work — big balcony, three aisles, boxes, but that’s where the Herdsmen went for the competition.

They raised money for the trip with a series of fish fries, and when you put on fish fries, you’re going to gain weight, so they had to have their pants let out. They wear blue polyester suits with an H and a sheep embroidered on the pocket. They sat in nine adjoining seats in rows twenty-five, twenty-six, and twenty-seven, wedged in like marshmallows, and it was a turbulent flight down to Houston, especially on the descent; the plane was shaking hard, and steam or something was coming out of the vents, the wings were flapping, and they could hear the flight attendants in back singing, “I Walk in the Garden Alone,” which was not reassuring. But they landed in Houston, and then they got on a little bus, one of those buses that is a box set on a truck chassis, so the ride is much the same as what animals get en route to the stockyards, and the bus driver rode around lost, and when the Herdsmen arrived they were nauseated and dizzy. It was 1:30 and they were up to compete at two o’clock, so they barely had time to throw on their clothes, and it was a motley crowd. A thousand people and there were a lot of Episcopalians in there, and they always take more time, and a group of blind nuns, the Sisters of Helen Keller, and that slowed things up — old ladies waving white canes and whacking people with them, and some guide dogs growling and barking — and there were 140 members of Lutheran Weightwatchers, and the kids from St. Vitus’s School for children with ADD, kids who come with a fast-forward button — it was like herding fruit bats and water buffalo. And there were only twenty stalls at the Communion rail and six servers, two of them elderly, but the Herdsmen go the job done by dividing people up and putting the elderly into another line, the sippers (who insist on drinking from the cup) in one line, and then three express lanes for dippers — and they set a new national record, one thousand people taking Communion in fifteen minutes, about 1.1 second per communicant. They might’ve won first place, but two judges marked them low on style, which may have been due to indigestion from that bus ride. Both Elmer and Danny cut some cheese during the competition, loud ones, and the smell hung around, and you lose points for that.

* * *

luther-shadesThe Herdsmen Should Have Booked with This Airline
“All fares are by free-will offering, and the plane will not land until the budget is met.”



We are a modest people
And we never make a fuss
And it sure would be a better world
If they were all as modest as us.
We do not go for whooping it up
Or a lot of yikkety-yak
When we say hello, we avert our eyes
And we always sit in the back.
We sit in the pew where we always sit,
And we do not shout “Amen!”
And if anyone yells or waves their hands,
They’re not invited back again.

I’m a Lutheran, a Lutheran — it is my belief;
I am a Lutheran guy.
We may have merged with another church
But I’m a Lutheran till I die.

– Garrison Keillor, “Lutheran Song”


  1. I always wondered if lutefisk was the Lutheran equivalent of penance…

  2. I’m assuming that the gorgeous young woman was looking for the ‘sexiest’ men as opposed to the ‘sexist’ men. 😉 But to each their own.

    • Corrected. Good editing always appreciated!

      • Oh and to add my favorite: Sven and Ole went out duck hunting, and they worked at it for a couple hours and finally Sven says: “I wonder why aren’t we getting any ducks, Ole?”
        Ole says: “I don’t know. I wonder if we’re throwing the dog high enough.”

  3. Adrienne says

    As I was learning and adjusting to being Lutheran one of the things that I just loved is the glorious traditional, classical music. The church has a huge pipe organ and it is just magnificent music. Well one Sunday the pastor preached a sermon that I thought was particularly excellent. Coming from an Evangelical Free Church I was used to lots of applause and Amen’s etc. As we were exiting the service the pastor was waiting, as always, to shake our hands. The Sanctuary doors are right underneath the choir loft. Pastor is a very soft spoken unassuming man. As I shook his hand I asked, “are Lutheran’s allowed to clap?” He looked rather startled then raised his eyes toward the choir loft and replied, “only for the band.”

  4. Adrienne says

    Oh and I loved the video. Haven’t heard that much good old common sense since Granny Clampett went home to be with the Lord. Love the cell phone announcement to which I say a hearty but subdued Lutheran AMEN!!

    • brianthedad says

      I did too. As much for hearing the old familiar accent from years ago as the humor itself. Reminded me of my grandparents and rural Illinois. Yes, they were German, but that accent is definitely Old School Lutheran, regardless of country of origin. I’m sure there are some purists who would dispute that, but when you’ve been in the deep south for 40yrs, it’s a wonderful sound. What a rush of good memories!

  5. I’m starting to think that, just like TIm Whatley, Chaplain Mike has converted solely for the joke value! 😉

  6. My favorite Luderan story is when a very devout Reformed friend came to me in a quandry about where to send his young son for schooling. He didn’t want to put the lad in the public schools, and he was horror-struck at putting him into any of the three well-known private Christian schools in the area; St. Francis – a Catholic school, Glad Tidings, a Pentecostal school, and Polk Christian, a broad Evangelical school with an ABEKA curriculum and a pronounced dispensationalist flavor.

    He paced up and down in my apartment hashing out the pros and cons of each school when I remembered something.

    “You could send him to St Pauls’s” I said. “The Missouri Synod church opened a K-12 program last year.”

    His face brightened like the Lord had come back. “That’s wonderful! I can teach him about the proper use of the Law at home a much easier than I can brain-bleach all that other heresy out of him!”

    Unfortunately, my advice may have backfired on my friend, as his son recently married a Lutheran girl, which phrase if you Google-Image it, presents you with a lot of photos of fresh-faced girls playing basketball.

  7. I love that story about the “Herdsmen”. Even as I read it I’m hearing it spoken in Keillor’s voice.

    Ole and Sven planned a fishing trip to Canada and decided to go all out. New equipment. Private guide. Luxury backwoods cabin on the lake. At the end of their big week they had caught a total of 3 fish.

    Ole says “you know, Sven, I did the math and each one of these little perch cost us $5,488.”

    “Holy cow!” says Sven. “It’s a good thing we didn’t catch any more!”

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I believe it was in a different Keillor story about competitive ushering that we learned about the use of hand signals, including the one for “I need a fresh offering plate: this one is full.” This, it was explained, was only used in competition, as it was never needed in a real service.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “Ole and Lena” sounds like something off a CD by Da Yoopers.

    Is Frankfort above or below Da Bridge? In Da U.P. or in Da Mitten?

  9. As a representative of the UK, I understand about 40% of this. I’m guessing the usher thing is about American football.

    • Ben, assuming you are serious: many traditional Protestant churches have ushers, much like a theater. Their job is to get people to squish close together on pews (bench seats), to make room for more. They escort families from the narthex (lobby) and fit them in, like a Tetris game. They sneak in late-comers at discreet Times. They hand out programs or bulletins. They pass around a plate where people place their offering money. They collect the money and “attendance cards”. They pass out communion cups and wafers on shiny trays, and collect when done. In between time, they’re supposedly counting the money in a back room while listening to the sermon… But if you ever saw the show “Everybody Loves Raymond”, then yes you’re right, they’re actually watching football on TV instead.

      • thanks for your help, and no I’ve never seen ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, though that could just be lack of exposure to American TV, rather than living in this side of the Atlantic.

        If Internet monk ever needs some football (soccer) references, or ‘subtle’ humour, give me a buzz.

        And can you install some software that allows us to use English spellings in the comment-boxes, without having them classed as mistakes. Humour, not humor. colour, not color. Gaol, not Jail…

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    My usual caution about Keillor and Ole and Lena and the like is that this is one particular subset of American Lutheran culture: upper midwest Scandanavian. My background in Pennsylvania German. There are enough similarities that sometimes Keillor is spot on. But often I am left scratching my head and concluding it must be a Norskie thing. The whole lutefisk thing, for example: we Germans are far too sensible to retain the worst of Old World pre-refrigeration cuisine as a cultural identifier. Show up at one of our events and you will find bratwurst on the grill, or sauerbraten if we are being fancy. And beer. Did I mention the beer? My church favors Spaten.

    • Interesting about the bratwurst and sauerbraten – in my neck of the woods, you wouldn’t see those at a PA German Lutheran picnic.

      but you’d doubtless find pickled eggs, tons of potato and macaroni salad, and shoo fly pies.

      Even in central and Eastern PA, there are differences in local German Lutheran culture, it seems.

    • oh, and – Lebanon bologna on cold cut trays…

  11. Ole and Lena get married in the Quad Cites and get in the car to drive off on their honeymoon in Dubuque. On the way, Ole puts his hand on Lena’s knee.
    ‘Oh, Ole, we’re married now, so you can go farther if you want.”
    Which is how they ended up spending their honeymoon in Duluth.

  12. Christiane says

    I married a Lutheran over forty years ago . . . (German grandparents) . . .

    please, please, give us more Lutheran jokes!!! 🙂 This was SO much fun!

  13. No, please, please, DON’T give us more Lutheran jokes. Those were more than enough.

    Chaplain Mike keeps assuring us this that Internet Monk won’t turn into a Lutheran blog, but methinks the Chaplain might protest too much, or would, if he could stop telling Lutheran Jokes long enough to,

    • Bob, we might just have to have a Baptist joke day. Is there anyone left in the SBC with a sense of humor?

      • I always take at least 2 baptists fishing with me. That time I brought only one, he drank all my beer.

        • I’m ABC, American Baptist, and I was just thinking of that joke when Mike made the suggestion. So I’ll use my multi-denominational baptist joke that I got from Garrison Keillor:

          The Lutherans don’t recognize the Council of Trent, the Catholics don’t recognize the Synod of Dort, and the Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I get the impression that the whole phenomenon of Lutheran kitsch is peculiar among the various denominations. I am talking about stuff like this: My brother used to piously place his Martin and Katie Luther bobbleheads atop the organ when he played services. Do Methodists had Wesley brothers bobbleheads? i gather not. Their loss.

        • I think one thing most folks might not be aware of is that different groups of Lutherans – from a fair number of countries – settled in the US over a 200+ year period of time.

          so… my PA Dutch Lutheran ancestors came here in the mid-1700s; the Scandinavian Lutherans in the upper Midwest came much later. And the Missouri Synod folks in the Midwest started coming in the mid-19th century. (Just a few examples; there are many more.)

          Like many immigrants, they held services in their native languages until – in some cases – fairly recently. And there are lots and lots of cultural retentions from the Old Country.

          But what characterizes Lutheran culture where I live is not at all the same as its counterpart in the upper Midwest, though there are a few similarities. I’d never even heard of lutefisk until I started listening to Keillor, and there are no “Ole and Lena” jokes in these parts, because there are no Scandinavians. Lutherans here assimilated a long time ago, and now there are many Scots-irish (the other dominant group that settled this part of PA) in Lutheran congregations, along with a smattering of Everybody Else who’s not one or the other.

        • There’s even an all-italian Lutheran church in Erie, PA, in what used to be the city’s Little Italy. I wored with a member, and she couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of italian Lutherans prior to meeting her.

          Go figure!

  14. My dad had a million Sven and Ole jokes. I meant to have him write them down, but cancer and Alzheimers interrupted those plans.