For you who would love to live in the “happy days” of the 1950s

In an article about change in worship we noted that some people in our churches seem to want to return to the 1950s.  One person responded to say she found absolutely nothing to like in the piece and said, “I’d love to live in the 1950s.”

Happy Days. Chevrolet convertibles with the huge fins.  Malt shops and sock hops.  Mayberry was America and America was Mayberry.  Ike was in the White House.  Elvis was in his ascendancy.  And Andy Griffith was sheriff.

What’s not to like, right?

I smile at that.

No one loves the 1950s more than those who never lived them.

My wife said, “In the 1950s, every time a plane went overhead I thought it might be carrying an atomic bomb to drop on us.”

Such was the attitude of fear pervading this land.

In the early 1950s, I recall walking home from church with my grandmother after one of those meetings in which the preacher scared the living whatever out of us, and hearing the planes overhead–hey, Birmingham had lots of planes!–and I was thinking the same thing as my  wife: “We’re goners.”

You want to return to that?

Civil Defense was training people to stand on rooftops and spot aircraft, just in case one from the USSR showed up.

People were building bomb shelters, and television ads told how to survive the initial blast of an atomic bomb.

At the same time the preachers were decrying the worldliness of the churches and very few of the congregations were doing anything about missions. There were almost no witnessing programs by any denomination, and volunteers traveling to foreign mission stations to do short-term projects were discouraged by mission boards because they interfered with the work of the career missionaries.  No denomination had disaster relief ministries.

The 1950s were not a golden age of anything. I lived through it. I graduated from high school in 1958.

The so-called golden age of television–that’s what they called the Fifties–gave us the dumbest, boringest, mind-numbingest programs you can imagine. These days, at least you can turn to the National Geographic channel or see what the weather is doing or switch over to a rerun of “Blue Bloods.” In those days, we had Milton Berle and Omnibus and 15 minutes of news each night from cigarette-smoking John Cameron Swayze. Yes, he smoked right there on the tube.  The Today Show had a chimpanzee as a regular. The Tonight Show had egotistical, not funny Jack Paar.  It was uniformly awful. Oh, and we had three channels. Count ’em, three.

In the 1950s, cigarettes were everywhere and no venue was safe from the deadly fumes. You could actually smoke inside hospital rooms. Signs were posted on doors to alert you to the presence of oxygen tents–that stuff is flammable–so you were not to smoke in ICUs and such. Airplanes and buses had signs saying those sitting in back of the signs were approved to smoke.

You want to return to that?

The automobiles were “unsafe at any speed” and turned highways into death traps.  No seat belts, no air bags, and no unbreakable windshields.  If you went on a long trip, expect a few blowouts along the way. National highways took you through the downtown of every city.  In the summer of 1959 I worked in downtown Birmingham and recall the congestion on Third Avenue North as east-west traffic was routed through  downtown.  It was awful.  Eventually toward the end of the decade, someone came up with the idea for the interstate system, for which we are eternally grateful.

Jim Crow laws were in existence all over the south and racial prejudice thrived throughout the land (not just in Dixie).  The schools which blacks were asked to attend were an embarrassment, and most churches proclaiming “God is love” and “everyone welcome” would have turned into battlegrounds if Christians of color had appeared at the front door.

There were a few good things in the 1950s.  They were better than the 1960s, that’s for sure–with their riotings, assassinations, and the Vietnamese war, the most divisive engagement this country was ever in.  In fact, if you are able, avoid both decades.

Nostalgia is a liar. (The saying goes, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!””)  Nostalgia suffers from a poor memory. It cancels the negatives and embellishes the positives.  You end up forgetting the low wages, horrible working conditions, racial prejudice and lack of legal protection from being fired unjustly, and get all teary-eyed remembering a time that did not exist.

Something similar to that is found in Scripture….

In the difficult days of the wilderness wanderings, some of the Lord’s people longed for the “good parts” of Egyptian slavery, if you can believe that. “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5).

How quickly they forgot the harsh slavery, dismissed the cruelties of the Egyptians who murdered the Hebrew babies, and overlooked their complete lack of freedom. Incredibly, they longed for the fish, the melons and the onions.  I’m remembering what Vance Havner said about that, “Think of it–melons are 90 percent water! Cucumbers are 12 inches of indigestion! and the onions and garlic speak for themselves!” (not an exact quote. He said it better.)

So with those who want their churches to resemble the 1950s.

Perish the thought.

I cannot find one place in Scripture where the Lord approves His children wanting to return to yesterday.  Each day brings new challenges and opportunities and God is doing fresh things daily.  If “His mercies are new every morning,” as they are, I suspect it’s also because the needs of that day will be brand new also.

6 thoughts on “For you who would love to live in the “happy days” of the 1950s

  1. I haven’t commented before, but I wanted you to know how much I enjoy and learn from your posts. I haven’t seen a new post in a few days, so I am hoping and praying that all is well and you are just busy about our Lord’s work.

  2. I too am a regular reader. Such wonderful pastoral wisdom! Thank-you Joe. Miss your posts and a bit concerned. Like Deborah, hoping you are just busy. I’m also praying for you.

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