This Was The Life

this-is-the-lifeAs a boy I got up early in order to watch cartoons on Saturdays. I did the same on Sundays but back then, in the mid-60s, television on Sundays was a little different than it was on Saturdays. First there was a politically incorrect test pattern, then film of four jets doing a flyover while the national anthem played. The first program featured a barbershop quartet and that was followed by a Lutheran soap opera. That’s neither a typo nor a punchline. I had not much Christian teaching so This Is The Life, produced by the LCMS, along with Davey And Goliath, produced by the United Lutheran Church, served as my televised catechesis.

I knew that This Is The Life was religious. I remember one scene in which an actor I recognized from primetime explained to a prisoner that the Psalms contained the whole range of human experience. I have no idea why I remember that except that, perhaps, it was contrary to my assumption (then) that the Bible was out-of-date and irrelevant to modern life.

It’s interesting that a confessional Protestant denomination produced what, even at this distance, seems like a professional soap opera with a Christian message. The writing, acting, and production values were on par with the day time soap operas that Grandma watched (she called them her “stories”). The Christian message was explicit but it wasn’t over the top. The episodes showed sin and grace. In the episode linked below the program also affirms the Bible as God’s Word, Christ as the way of salvation, and the necessity of connecting with a local congregation. The episodes also, however, reflect their time and serve as an interesting time capsule, a snapshot of the culture (e.g., tensions between pretensions of urban sophistication and rural simplicity) and a witness to the relations between Christ and culture in the 1950s and 60s. The episode linked below is monochrome but I remember the program being racially integrated.

All these years later, the program is still interesting. I intended only to watch the first segment but I wanted to see how it came out so I watched all three segments. I don’t recall any confessional Reformed churches attempting the same thing. The Christian Reformed Church has dabbled in television. I remember Joel Nederhood doing a TV show in the 80s but it was not a drama. It’s interesting that the LCMS (and United Lutherans) chose story telling (narrative) as a way to try to reach an increasingly secularized, urbanized America in the 1950s, 60s, and beyond. The Wikipedia entry says that This Is The Life ended its run in the 1980s. I suppose there might be a connection between the end of the run and the reduced need for public service programming after deregulation.

It would seem that a well-written, well-acted, and well-produced television/internet video series would be an effective outreach tool. Are any of the confessional Reformed denominations producing anything like This Is The Life for cable or the Internet?

Here’s Davey And Goliath:

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  1. Boy, that brought back memories of my childhood (1950s-1960s). I remember “This is the Life.” I also remember “Look Up and Live,” another denomination-related TV program along the same lines. But I especially remember Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, probably the most famous Roman Catholic of his time, in America (he died in 1979). I grew up in a Roman Catholic home, and I remember seeing him from time to time. His wasn’t a dramatic show. Rather, his program was straightforward teaching. He even used a blackboard on the air. It was on his show that I first heard the name of Thielhard (sp?) de Chardin, the French philosopher. There I was, a 10-year-old boy (or so) thinking, as I wrestled with his name: “Try hard to do what, now?”

    No, we just don’t have religious programming on commercial TV like that anymore.

  2. 5000 LCMS congregations. What’s the count post-walkout/Seminex I wonder?

    Loved the dial telephone with 4-digit phone numbers. I actually remember our 4-digit number. The really old geezers remember the 3-digit numbers!

  3. Actually, I remember our 4-digit telephone number (plus the exchange name) growing up in the 50’s – TRinty-7704! I also remember watching “This is the Life,” since I grew up in an LCMS congregation. My folks had it on (once we finally got a TV set) every Sunday after church services. Man, how things have changed!

  4. Never saw or really heard of “This is the Life” and Davey & Goliath came a tad before my time but I remember them later.

    I’m a bit younger so I got up early in the 70s to watch Saturday cartoons and then on Sundays we would watch Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Marx Brothers.

  5. We have a daughter who turns 2 tomorrow. Her favorite DVD’s are Davey and Goliath!

    Takin’ it to the next generation…

  6. Teilhard de Chardin, the pantheist and credible Piltdown Man forgery suspect (according to one article in the New Scientist I read many years ago; a couple of years later they tried to repair the damage with an article accusing Smith Woodward of the forgery) – say no more!

    I think part of the problem with regard to production of Reformed soaps is that it’s not easy to find an actor who’s embraced Reformed religion and remained in the profession. I believe you yourself have qualms, to put it mildly, about actors representing the Lord Jesus in the flesh, even though we no longer know Him in the flesh (If we took this to its logical conclusion, we wouldn’t read out His words, because in doing so we wold be making an oral/aural image of His voice. The spirit of the commandment is that we avoid worshipping through the image – I would have thought that with an actor one would be safe enough there), so it’s understandable if actors feel a bit diffident about their profession – after all, the commandment talks about nothing in the heavens above, nor in the earth beneath, nor in the waters under the earth.

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