As a student at Baylor I returned from class to find my roommate on the couch watching television. On the “black and white” screen (remember this was a long time ago) I saw the familiar faces of Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his side kick Barney Fife (Don Knotts) sitting in the courthouse solving the problems of Mayberry, North Carolina with homespun wisdom and insight.
As I sat down, my roommate Jeff said, “Do you want to watch God’s show with me?” I had never thought of it in those terms, but upon quick reflection I realize he nailed it. “The Andy Griffith Show” was the gospel come to life on a 19’’ black and white screen. It was the story of good winning over evil. It was the story of a sheriff without a gun being the most powerful force in a small town. It was the story of how when we hold each other in “grace” life is far less complicated and confusing.
This week Andy Griffith traveled home to a “land that is fairer than day.” With his passing, I realized how my life was shaped by his mastery of his craft—the craft of storytelling. Griffith took the power of the parable from the ministry of Jesus and put it on the small screens filling the living rooms of America. During my childhood, television became the “babysitter” of a generation. Television shaped and molded the values of a generation of children taking in the story lines without censorship.
Sadly, the entertainment industry moved away from the family friendly themes found on the streets of Mayberry to the flash and glamour of the palm tree lines streets of 90210. Recently I caught a few episodes on Netflix of the television series “Friday Night Lights” to witness a small west Texas town like the ones I have lived in filled with stories of wild sexual escapades, drinking parties, dysfunctional families, and people of faith living out lives of hypocrisy. We have come a long way–I fear in the wrong direction.
Nearly twenty years ago, I read the book “Roaring Lambs” written by Bob Briner. In the book, he challenged people of faith to reclaim lost ground. He observed how the church in its efforts to change the world sent its best and brightest to foreign fields as missionaries, and yet we lost the high ground in our society in places like New York, Washington, D.C., and Hollywood. Rightfully he observed that if we wanted to change how the next generation saw the world, we needed to send our best and brightest as “missionaries” to Hollywood to be ambassadors of Christ in the entertainment industry. He knew all too well that the entertain industry is not really about entertainment it is about “values”—it tells the stories that shape how we see the world.
This week we lost a light in the life of Andy Griffith. I pray a new generation of storytellers will take his place, and speak into the generations to come stories of grace and hope found in the storyline of Jesus.