Thirty-five years ago, required Sunday morning viewing in my home consisted of “CBS Sunday Morning” and a string of televangelists the likes of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Billy James Hargis, and of course “The Hour of Power” with Dr Robert Schuler. It’s noteworthy that among those god-squad preachers Schuler was the least cloying, yet his Garden Grove Community Church is the one that’s gone belly up. Is there a lesson here? The others and their progeny now control several state legislatures, validate the candidacy of Republican office-seekers, and want to put me and mine in a concentration camp. Who said it was a curse to live in interesting times?
Religious programming was just as formulaic then as it is today: Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart could cry on cue, at the moment precisely timed to maximize phone-a-thon donations from viewers who genuinely connected their salvation with a fifteen dollar-a-month pledge supporting Tammy Faye’s addiction to gold-plated faucets or Swaggart’s car-seat quickies with working girls, if you know what I mean. Their own long-term redemption has been astounding. Likewise their ability to pass the reins of power to offspring who studied, after all, at the feet of masters in chicanery. Sour grapes? Not really. Twice a week I engage in my own packaged infotainment. [Paul and Jan Crouch divorced eventually, by the way, but she got custody of the hair.]
These days, Schuler’s “feel good” theology looks downright reasonable, though I could never actually figure out what he believed that didn’t devolve into some tchotchke sun-catcher sparkling in the kitchen window. Otherwise, the man had taste, first hiring Richard Neutra to design his drive-in worship center and then commissioning the redoubtable Philip Johnson’s energy-guzzling “Crystal Cathedral.” Today, though, it’s Hughes Rudd, host of “CBS Sunday Morning” who comes to mind—ninety minutes of sanity before an ongoing orgy of con artistry that continues on cable TV today. Can you say “Creflo Dollar”?
Perhaps it was descriptors like puckish and curmudgeonly that drew me to Rudd’s easy going journalistic style, for he was the first course of my Sunday morning fare. In Rudd’s case, my nostalgia is heartfelt: though we didn’t know it then, he represented a journalistic style that has gone the way of the dodo and been unseated by talking heads of whatever stripe suits your fancy or political affiliation. Mine are on the Left.
I recall one program toward the end of his career with CBS which ended—as they often did—with the personal insights of a small-town boy from Waco. One of Rudd’s hobbies, it seems, was the collection of lyrics from Country & Western songs, which are likely unfamiliar to anyone who’s not lived in Texas or Oklahoma. Lyrics, mind you—the actual poetry of the song rather than its melody—were Rudd’s addiction, and that morning he shared a few of them with his viewers. Nashville poetry that sent me into paroxysms of laughter. You know; the silent, convulsive sort that often leads to issues of bladder control. I share from memory, here, the three that sent me over the edge:
What are we going to do about your husband and what are we going to do about my wife?
I’m wearing out the shoes that Charlie wore.
And my all-time favorite:
I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.
Ironically, it resonates because we’ve all been there.