It is the 9th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1952.
It was a banner year for publications in the English language. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” as well as Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” debuted this year. John Steinbeck, eleven years after beginning the project that would be his magnum opus, published his monumental “East of Eden” in 1952. For all the debate about the great American novel, the answer is easy: it’s “East of Eden.”
A big year for Children’s literature as well. E.B. White introduced us to “Some Pig” Wilbur in his “Charlotte’s Web.” Also, C.S. Lewis published his next installment in the Narnia series with his “the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” A quick note to those of you who pointed out that I pronounced it as “trader” the other day. It is “treader,” but remember Jesus even died for the sin of mispronunciation.
In other entertainment news, Sun Records opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952. Sam Phillip’s legendary studio would record the first hits from both Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Also, in ‘52, the band Bill Haley and His Saddlemen would be renamed as Bill Haley and the Comets. Their “Rock Around the Clock” is credited with popularizing the phrase “Rock and Roll.” However, while Bill was still with his Saddlemen, DJ Alan Freed was using the term for the rhythm and blues hybrid. In 1952, his “Moondog Coronation Ball,” a concert with five acts, was shut down due to the overwhelming crowd. The first of the so-called “Rock and Roll Riots,” they shot Freed to fame and Rock and Roll into infamy.
Kitty Wells became the first-ever woman to top the Billboard charts in 1952. Her “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was a response to Hank Thompson’s decidedly misogynistic “The Wild Side of Life.” Wells’s song was banned on radio and forbidden at the Grand Ole Opry.
On television, “The Marriage License,” an episode of “I Love Lucy,” became the first television program to attract 10 million household viewers at once. Dwight Eisenhower, running against Adlai Stevenson, used short commercials on the program. Before this, Stevenson had paid for a 30-minute program that had angered I Love Lucy fans by bumping it. Thus, Eisenhower decided to intersperse his short messages throughout the show. This was the beginning of short campaign commercials designed for broadcast television. In 1952, broadcast television was the talk of the world, with new stations from India to Canada and new shows that included “The Today Show” on NBC, “American Bandstand,” and “Ozzie and Harriet.”
And it was in this context that on this, the 9th of September, in 1952, the television program “Life Is Worth Living” was first aired. A project of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the first-of-its-kind show blended the modern after school special, “Father Knows Best,” and a general message about faith and family from the recurring minister, Pastor Martin. If you are familiar with the LCMS’s later claymation series “Davey and Goliath,” “This is the Life” was something like a more mature, live-action version of that show. It would be easy to note the silliness of mid-20th-century religious television, but the truth is that they were very popular shows. The Lutheran Church had been instrumental in the early religious broadcasting on the radio, and for 30+ years, “This is the Life” blended modern problems with broadly Christian solutions. Among the actors who had roles in the show were: Jack Nicholson, Leonard Nimoy (Spock!), and Adam West (the original Batman). The show ran until 1988, but no collection of episodes exists for sale today. Some episodes can be found on YouTube. Others would try to imitate the program, but there was something about midcentury, midwestern Lutherans that would be popular enough to earn the show two daytime Emmys and a nomination for a Primetime Emmy. The show came to an end in 1988, debuting on this day in 1952. The show had a remarkable run of 36 years on broadcast television.
The reading for today is a short one from St. Augustine, a reminder of the good news of the simplicity of the Christian life. This comes from a homily on an Epistle from John and is in light of the Gospel. Augustine writes:
Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who still calls “A Mighty Fortress,” the “Theme to Davey and Goliath,” Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.