(Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in “I Love Lucy”, via Google Images)
I just finished the Audible version of “Lucy and Desi: The Legendary Love Story of Television’s Most Famous Couple” (a great listen, even for casual fans of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz). One part that stuck out was Lucy’s turn to the teachings of Norman Vincent Peale as “I Love Lucy” became a megahit in the early 1950s.
According to the book, although Lucy had been in acting in Hollywood films since the 1930s, she was never a big star. Relegated to mostly B-films, she enjoyed pretty steady work, but never became a household name. That is until “I Love Lucy” aired and was a ratings smash on the nascent CBS television network. Ball began doubting her sudden sucess; maybe she didn’t deserve it. One day on set she happened upon a copy of Peele’s book “The Power of Positive Thinking” and was changed. The mash-up of Christianity and self-help made her a convert, and years later, Peele would give counsel to Lucy during the break-up of her marriage to Desi, and even perform her wedding ceremony to husband number two, Gary Morton.
Peele’s book and teachings have come up a lot recently with the election of Donald Trump to the office of the presidency. As a kid, Trump attended Peele’s church with his family. In January, Giles Fraser wrote about Peele and Trump for The Guardian:
Norman Vincent Peale was for over half a century the minister of Marble Collegiate church on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and he made it one of the most influential pulpits in the country, railing against communism and un-American activities. It was to there in the 1960s that Fred C Drumpf took his family, moving over from the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, where they lived, drawn by Peale’s theology of how to be winner. Donald Drumpf says he attended Marble church for decades and that he was much influenced by Peale’s sermons. Norman Peale married Donald to his first wife, Ivana, at Marble in 1977.
For Peale, commercial acumen was close to Godliness. God wants to bless you with success and positive thinking is the way to achieve it. “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade,” as Peale famously put it. And through the continual repetition of this idea, and the repression of too much self-examination or self-criticism, you will almost hypnotise yourself into “successful” thinking. It’s important to notice that this is not faith in God but faith in faith itself. What is crucial is the power of the belief (or “positive thinking”) rather than its content.
On Monday, Carl Cederstrom, also writing for The Guardian, analyzed the Peele-Trump connection further:
Like Trump, Peale showers his audience in anecdotes, often casting himself as the hero. We hear about a woman who was able to bring back her husband by visualising him at home; a recovering alcoholic who Peale telepathically saves from a relapse; and a man who fixes his toe by asking the Lord to send it “right back to the plant”. For Peale, these stories illustrate a profound truth, first expressed by the psychiatrist Karl Menninger – “attitudes are more important than facts”. This insight, Peale continues, “is worth repeating until its truth grips you”.
This post isn’t about President Trump. Pretty much the entire rest of the internet is full of 45. No, it’s about truth. Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction and insight as well.” Considering Peele’s book was a bestseller, he was selling a whole lot of truth.
I’m not rich, famous (thank God) or powerful, but I do want truth- the truth that comes from the Lord. I want to be like David who wrote in Psalm 25:5, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.