“Reverend, my daughter came home from school the other day with a magazine she asked me to read, especially one article in it. She has to use this paper in her class in English literature in the Grand Rapids Christian High School where she attends. She herself was deeply shocked with its contents. And I confess I never read anything more sacrilegious than that article to which she referred. If I can get the magazine long enough for you to read, I wish you would.”
With approximately these words a dear brother approached me. Moreover, he saw to it that I did have opportunity to peruse the magazine Literary Cavalmde. I skimmed through the entire contents of the February 1959 issue of this paper, and with more carefulness read the article referred to, namely, “The Green Pastures.” What I read moved me to pen these comments that others of our readers, especially those Protestant Reformed, may be stirred up to inquire of their children just what materials are being used by the schools to which they commit their children for their Christian education.
“The Green Pastures” is a drama written by Marc Connelly in 1929. Literary Cavalcade presents the television version of it as it appeared in 1957 in “a slightly modified television version” by Hallmark Hall of Fame. And we are told that it “was so- enthusiastically received it is being repeated on March 23 over NBC, at 9:30 p.m. E.S.T.
The drama “The Green Pastures,” according to the author himself, “is an attempt to present certain aspects of a living religion in the terms of its believers. The religion is that of thousands of Negroes in the deep South. With terrific spiritual hunger and great humility, many of them who could not even read adapted the contents of the Bible to the consistencies of their everyday lives.
“Unburdened by the differences of more educated theologians they accepted the Old Testament as a- chronicle of wonders which happened to people like themselves in vague but actual places, and rules of conduct, the true acceptance of which will lead them to a tangible, three-dimensional Heaven. In this Heaven, if one has been born in a district where fish frys are popular, the angels do have magnificent fish frys through an eternity somewhat resembling a series of earthly holidays . . . The Lord may look like the Reverend Mr. Dubois, as our Sunday School teacher speculates in the play, or he may resemble another believer’s own grandfather. In any event, his face will be familiar to the one who has come for his reward . . .”
The article goes on to say, “For more about heavenly fish frys, after enjoying LC’s excerpt, students are urged to see the Hallmark Hall of Fame production next month, or obtain Marc Connelly’s original in the library.”
The article presents ten different scenes in Act I. The first scene is in the Sunday School where Mrs. Deshee reads from the Book of Genesis and the children in her class raise questions related and some unrelated to the passage read. We pass over this without further comment.
Scene 2 is a fish fry. It is supposed to take place in heaven. An attendant opens the pearly gates to admit a happy choir of angels on their way to the fish fry. They sing and march, they, of course, being negroes. The following conversation ensues:
“Cook: Hurry up, Cajey. This here fat’s crying for more fish.
Cajey: (enters with fish. Camera follows him up to group): We coming fast as we can. They got to be catched. Can’t say ‘C’mon, little fish. C’mon and get fried,’ can we?
(Camera pans with the Stout Angel as she crosses and looks up. We see cherub on a cloud.)
Stout Angel: Now you heard me before, Leonetta. You fly down here. You want to be put down in the sin book? (To the Slender Angel who is passing by.) That baby must got imp blood in her she so vexing. (Back top to the child.) You want me to fly up there and slap you down? Now go on and play with your cousins. [The cherub flies off. Back to Slender Angel.) I ain’t seen you lately, Lily. How you been?
Slender Angel: I’m fine. I been visiting my Grandma. She’s waiting on the welcome table over by the throne of grace.
Stout Angel: She always was pretty holy.
Slender Angel: Yes, ma’am. I guess the Lord’s took quite a fancy to her.
Stout Angel: Well, that’s natural. I declare your Grandma’s one of the finest lady angels I know.
Slender Angel: She claim you the best one she know.
Stout Angel: Well, when you come right down to it, I reckon we is all pretty near perfect.
Slender Angel: Why is that, Miss Jenny?
Stout Angel: I suppose it’s cause the Lord He don’t allow us associating with the devil no more so that they can’t be no more sinning. Nowadays if a lady wants a little constitutional she can fly till she wing-weary, without getting insulted. (An Archangel enters.) Good morning, Archangel. (Others say good morning.)
Archangel: Good morning, folks. I wonder can I interrupt the fish fry and give out the Sunday School cards. (Cries of Certainly!’ ‘My goodness, yes,’ etc. The marching choir stops.) You can keep singing if you want to. Why don’t you sing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’? I ain’t heard that lately (The choir begins ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ rather softly, but does not resume marching. The Archangel looks off left.) All right, bring them here.
(A prim-looking woman teacher angel enters, shepherding boy and girl cherubs. The teacher carries beribboned diplomas, which she gives to the Archangel. They line up in front of the Archangel and receive the attention of the rest of the company. The choir sings through the ceremony.)
Archangel: Now then, cherubs, why is you here?
Children: Because we so good.
Archangel: That’s right. Now who the big boss?
Children: Our dear Lord.
Archangel: That’s right. When you all grow up what you gonna be?
Children: Holy Angels at the throne of grace.
Archangel: That’s right. Now, you passed your examinations and it gives me great pleasure to hand out the cards for the whole class.
(Cherubs go to him and get diplomas. The choir sings loudly. The Angel Gabriel enters at top cloud. The choir stops.)
Stout Angel: (To Slender Angel): It’s Gabriel!
(In a moment the heavenly company is all attention.)
Gabriel (lifting his hand): Gang way! Gang way for the Lord God Jehovah! (There is a reverent hush and God enters. He looks at the assemblage. He speaks in a rich bass voice.)
God: Have you been baptized?
Others (chanting): Certainly, Lord.
God: Have you been baptized?
Others: Certainly, Lord.
God (with the beginning of musical notation): Have you been baptized?
Others (now half singing): Certainly, Lord. Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord.
(They sing last two verses with equivalent part division.)
God (singing): Do you bow mighty low?
Others (singing): Certainly, Lord.
God: Do you bow mighty low?
Others: Certainly, Lord. Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord.
(As the last response ends, all heads are bowed. God looks at them for a moment, then lifts his hand.)
God: Let the fish fry proceed.
(The Angels relax and resume their inaudible conversations. The activity around the tables is resumed. Some of the choir members cross to the table and get sandwiches and cups of boiling custard. Three or four of the, children group themselves about God as he speaks with the Archangel. He, pets their heads, they hang to his coat tails, etc.)
Archangel: Good morning, Lord.
God: Good morning, Deacon. You looking pretty spry.
Archangel: I can’t complain. We just been giving our cards to the children.
God: That’s good.
(A small cherub, his feet braced against one of God’s shoes, is using God’s coat tail as a trapeze.)
Cook: You leave go the Lord’s coat, Herman. You hear me?
God: That’s all right, sister. He just playing.
Cook: He playing too rough.
(God picks up the cherub and spanks him good naturedly. The cherub squeals with delight and runs to his mother. God then speaks to the choir.)
God: How you shouters getting on?
Choir Leader: We been marching and singing all morning.
God: I heard you. You, getting better all the time. You getting as good as the one at the throne. Why don’t you give us one of the old time jump-ups?
Choir Leader: Anything you say, Lord. (To the choir.) ‘So High.’ (The choir begins to sing ‘So High You Can’t Get Over It.’ They sing softly but do not march. Gabriel brings God a cup of custard. God sips. After the second sip, a look of displeasure comes on his face.)
Gabriel: What’s the matter, Lord?
God (sipping again): I ain’t just sure yet. There’s something about this custard. (Takes another sip.)
Cajey: Ain’t it all right, Lord?
God: It don’t seem seasoned just right. You make it?
Cajey: Yes, Lord. I put everything in it like I always do. It’s supposed to be perfect.
God: Yeah, I can taste the eggs and the cream and the sugar. (Suddenly.) I know what it is. It needs just a little bit more firmament.
Cajey: They’s firmament in it, Lord.
God: Maybe, but it ain’t enough.
Cajey: It’s all we had, Lord. They ain’t a drop left in the jug.
God: That’s all right. I’ll just rear back and pass a miracle. (Choir stops singing.) Let there be some firmament! And when I say let there be some firmament, I don’t want just a little bitty dab of firmament ’cause I’m sick and tired of running out of it when we need it! Let there be a whole mess of firmament!”
So far the article and Scene 2. Scenes 7-10 are in my judgment worse yet. That such a magazine would be used in the public school which has no fixed principle of religious conviction and piety, is quite understandable. But how a Christian School teacher will compel the student to read this kind of stuff is more than I can figure out. To me, it was as revolting as it was to the young lady whose copy I perused.
We are not primarily interested in the drama of Marc Connelly. No doubt, he has given a rather vivid portrayal of the mind of the illiterate southern negro which is just as pagan as the idolatrous mind of the heathen who has never heard of the Bible. We are primarily critical of our Christian institutions of learning that will resort to this type of literature as a means of instruction, and the teacher who most likely believes that due to the common grace of God we have here a work of art which our covenant children should appreciate. With this I cannot at all agree. If this condition persists, it begins to look like our Protestant Reformed children will soon have to have a Christian High School of their own.