Resisting The “Security of Easy Conformity”

I don’t usually buy books about urban planning, but “The Twilight of Cities” (1962) by E.A. Gutkind recently caught my eye at a Salvation Army thrift store. Something about that title…

A quick perusal of the pages revealed more than the history of cities and proposed ideas for designing better urban living centers (decentralized, was Gutkind’s vision). To my surprise and delight, E. A. Gutkind inserted a few gems of what might best be classified as “social commentary.”

Knowing a little something about E.A. Gutkind is necessary to fully understand the quotes I am about to share with you.

Erwin Anton Gutkind was born in Berlin Germany in 1886. He became an architect of repute. Most of the buildings he designed in Germany are still standing, and are designated as historical treasures. But E.A. had a personal “problem” that prompted him to leave Germany in 1935. He was Jewish.

Gutkind was, evidently, an intelligent man. He saw the handwriting on the wall. He got himself out out of Germany before the Nazi ascendency started herding Jews into the ghettos; before it was too late to get out. He went first to Paris, then to London and, in 1956, he ended up in America. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania. He authored several books before his death in 1968. (my thanks to Wikipedia)

It so happens that sociology is an integral part of urban planning. Sociology is “the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings.” The sociological insights of E. A. Gutkind were, no doubt, influenced by his own personal observations and experiences. And now, 57 years after E.A. Gutkind wrote the following four quotes, his insights are profoundly pertinent to our times…

“Two antagonistic attitudes are visible today. There are the eternal conformists, who are ready to accept the ascendency of the State as an unavoidble fact, and consequently will listen to even the most superficial slogans with which a superficial propagnda tries to dull their independent judgment. But there are also those who are conscious of their own individuality and refuse to be lulled into the security of an easy conformity. These eternal rebels against the leveling embrace of group bondage under the cover of patriotism, nationalism, professional interests, and the like are ready to rely on their own responsibility and their own strength.”

E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)

“… The exponents of contemporary religion are money and material success. Their seats of power, their temples, are concentrated in the centers of cities, from which their high priests, the leaders of banking and commerce, manipulate the life of the masses. Cities of the past were built around temples and churches, palaces and town halls, as meaningful centers of society. They were small in scale, and organic entities. Today, the city centers, with their banks, insurance companies, and commercial palaces, are the strongholds of a fractional mass society, vast in scale and amorphous in structure.”

E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)

“Hence, we see the almost unlimited gullibility of the masses and the standardized manner in which they make use of their daily leisure. They watch the same films; they listen to the same radio programs; they read the same magazines filled with mediocre articles on “what the public wants.” In other words, their leisure is prefabricated for them, and psychological mass manipulation has a field day.”

E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)

“From the cities, growing more and more amorphous economically and socially, there have been spreading forces that exert an ever-increasing impact on the rural areas, disintegrating old ways of living and creating a new attitude toward life. These forces are moving toward the same goal, toward an integration of all parts of large regions. This development will grow in intensity and lead to unity in diversity encompassing whole countries.”

E.A. Gutkind, from “The Twilight of Cities” (1962)

Few people care to resist the “security of easy conformity.” To do so requires an understanding of mass sociological manipulation, as employed by government, industry, and various special interests. To resist is to stand out from the crowd. To resist is to invite criticism, or worse.

But, from my perspective as a follower of Jesus Christ, resistance to the secular zeitgeist is integral to my faith. It is, I hasten to say, a passive, personal, and even respectful resistance. But it is resistance nonetheless.

Erwin Anton Gutkind

Promoting Free Enterprise In Socialist America

I’ve become a big fan of the Eric Metaxas show, and I really enjoyed the recent interview with Joe Ricketts (above). Mr. Ricketts is a 78-year-old “self made” billionaire who has written a book titled, The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get.

After listening to the interview, I checked out the book at Amazon. Unfortunately, I can’t justify spending $25 for the book. It’s probably worth the money, but I’ll wait until the paperback version comes out, or until used copies are available for a few bucks, or until I see it for fifty cents at a yard sale.

But I just read the first chapter of the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can find it, in full, under “Editorial Reviews” at the book’s Amazon page (link above).

While I can’t relate to being a billionaire (of having more money than you can spend), I can relate to Joe Rickett’s message of hard work, entrepreneurship, and American free enterprise, which he sees as a worthwhile objective. He communicates and celebrates his message with personal stories.

In the interview with Eric Metaxas, Mr. Ricketts tells the story of people he met in his early days who owned their own business, and looked like they were just barely making ends meet, but they were actually very wealthy. On the other hand, he met people with businesses that looked outwardly prosperous, but it was only a veneer of prosperity.

I’ve known people like that here in my small rural community. You may know people like that yourself. Many wealthy people really don’t care to live an ostentatious lifestyle. It’s not important to them. Besides that, if you are wealthy, it’s best that you not show it or talk about it, unless, maybe, you are Joe Ricketts and you have a good story and a good message to share with the world.

Joe Ricketts prefers to use the term “Free Enterprise” instead of Capitalism. I think that’s a good idea. Joe says that free enterprise is what made America such a prosperous nation. I think that’s true.

In the first chapter of his book Mr. Ricketts talks about his early job experiences growing up in a small Nebraska town. His father was a self-employed carpenter. Joe worked for his father as a helper but his father eventually fired him. That was probably best. I don’t think that growing up in a family business and working only in that business is a good thing. Seems to me that some “real world” work experience would be a good educational experience. Then, after several years of that, you would be better prepared to step into a family business, more fully appreciate it, and contribute to its continued success.

So, Joe ended up working at several different jobs in his small town. He worked as a janitor’s helper. He worked in a drug store. He worked in a factory. He learned important lessons from the people he worked for. He saved his money. He paid for his college education himself. He worked his way through college. From a young age, he loved to work and earn money.

In the first chapter of his book, Joe Ricketts says that all his friends in the small Nebraska town where he grew up were involved in school sports activities. But he had little interest in sports. His satisfaction came from working and earning money. When he once played basketball on the school team, he wasn’t good at it. Sports were not for him.

I could relate to that. I never played on any school sports teams. When I was in high school I had a job up the road from my house working at New Hope Mills. I worked there for a couple hours every day when I got home from school. I worked there every Saturday. And I worked there on school vacations. I liked working. I liked earning money. And I had an entrepreneurial, free-enterprise vision from a young age.

Joe Ricketts says that some people have that free-enterprise desire, and some don’t. I think that is true. If you have such a desire, or you know someone who dies, check out what joe Ricketts has to say. I think you’ll enjoy his perspective.

###

That phrase, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” needs to be added to my Aphorism of The Fathers (and the mothers) blog post. But it is not always true. I know plenty of people who have worked hard all their life and not really made much money. Work alone doesn’t equate with success. We all know that.

And I would be remiss if I did not point out that there is more to wealth than just money and things. In fact, if money and things are all you have in life, I don’t think that is true success. There is social wealth, spiritual wealth, family relationship wealth, emotional wealth, health wealth.

The challenge is to find the balance. Financial poverty is the human default setting. I don’t think poverty is, in any way, a desirable or good situation for anyone. Yes, a balanced life is the goal. And with that in mind, I am always mindful of The Biblical Mandate to Work.

My Dog Biscuit Story

Twelve days ago my wife was unexpectedly tasked with the role of primary caregiver for a handicapped and needy member of our extended family. Marlene is an old pro as a medical advocate and caregiver, but it was so sudden, and it has been very time consuming. She has been gone most every day since then, and several nights too. So it is that I’ve been taking care of Marlene’s dog.

Amy is her name and she likes Marlene far better than me. But she tolerates me pretty well when she has to. Shortly after her breakfast, Amy needs to be walked. This is the first dog we’ve ever had that we take a daily walk with. Previous dogs didn’t need walking because we would let our boys loose (so to speak) and the dogs went with them. No lack of exercise there.

Marlene actually got Amy primarily to have a protective companion when walking. She (we) need the cardio workout as much as the dog does.

Amy and I were walking along the road by our house yesterday and one of my neighbors (Marilyn) was driving by. She stopped her car in the road next to me and Amy. Her window was down. Marilyn handed me a dog biscuit. I thanked her and handed it off to Amy, who was pleased to have it. We exchanged pleasantries briefly. It so happened that Marilyn was on the way to her son’s house to walk his dog.

That gift of a dog biscuit brought to mind an event from my early childhood…

My parents divorced when I was around four years old. Shortly thereafter, my mother and I took a train from Maine to California to visit one of my mother’s brothers. As I recall, this much-older brother had gone from Maine to California some years before and had become successful at something. The only thing that sticks in my mind is my mother telling me that he had been an actor in some Western movies.

I have exactly two memories of that trip to California. The first is audio-visual. It requires a bit of set up…

My uncle had a rule about smoking. He didn’t want anyone smoking on his property. My mother smoked PallMalls, and she didn’t abide by the rule. One night my mother and my uncle got into an argument about her smoking. He threatened to take the lit cigarette from my mother. She ran. He ran after her. It was dark. My mother was screaming.

So, what I remember is my mother screaming in the night, as my uncle (he was laughing and yelling) ran after her, and all I could see was the red, lit end of the cigarette in my mother’s hand, bobbing around in the pitch blackness.

The other memory is about dog biscuits…

I had a cousin who was approximately my age. One day my cousin and I were by the mailbox when the mailman delivered the mail. He reached into his pocket and handed each of us a dog biscuit. We thanked him, and after he left we ate the dog biscuits.

The next day we were at the mailbox again, and the mailman again gave each of us a dog biscuit, which we again ate after he walked away.

I think it was on the third day that I told my mother the mailman was giving us cookies, and I showed her the dog biscuit.

It never occurred to my cousin or me that the cookies were not for us to eat.

I think I may have blogged this story before. I think that often. As I get older, with hundreds of blog posts behind me, I’m bound to repeat without realizing it. But I’m pretty sure I have never written about when I was 12 years old and told my mother that I hoped I didn’t get venereal disease. I’ll save that for another time.

Authentic Agrarian Life in Latvia (2019)

“This is a full documentary movie including all 4 seasons about Grandfather. The movie uncovers one day in each season in his life It talks about his daily routine and dedication to his down to earth lifestyle his fathers lived. His passion and love is horses. He is an old and experienced horse logger and is doing all the farm work all year round using only horse power. He is a hard worker and fully self-sufficient and independent. He has been living off the grid, before there even was a grid. Grandfather turned 76 May 2019. Since his wife passed away 10 years ago he works on his farm almost alone. He says – I do not need anyone to help me – I have horses…”

Campbell’s Meaty, Marrowy Ox Tail Soup (12 cents a can)

Ox tail soup magazine ad from 1922

Have you ever eaten ox tail soup? I have, and it was very good. But it wasn’t Campbell’s Ox Tail Soup from a can. Marlene’s mother made it. I ate meals often at Marlene’s parent’s house when we were dating. It was the 1970s. Marlene’s mom cooked a pot roast every Sunday. With mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy. The ox tail soup was something different.

Just look at the ingredients in that ad above. All good stuff!

Tomato soup magazine ad from 1922

The Campbell’s Soups company had their own farm in New Jersey back in the 1920s. That’s what the ad says. I never knew it. And it never occurred to me that soup would be “great for breakfast.”

I grew up eating Campbell’s tomato soup, usually with grilled cheese sandwiches. You probably did too. Remember that?

Pea soup ad from 1922

I’ve never had pea soup. My mother used to make split pea soup, and it was not something I enjoyed. But Campbell’s pea soup was made with “dainty tender” peas. It was probably very good.

By the way, when I was a kid I was expected to eat everything on my plate. And when I was done, I had to ask to be excused from the table.

One of the foods that I disliked the most as a kid was liver. My mother was a good cook, but not when it came to liver. It was dry and hard. I cut it into small pieces and washed each piece down with a gulp of milk (without chewing). When no one was looking I would slip liver pieces into my pocket and get rid of them later. (I think I’ve blogged that story before)

Vegetable soup magazine ad from 1923

I once did some carpentry work for an old bachelor farmer. One day I hauled some refuse out to his farm dump, and I was amazed to see hundreds of empty cans of Dinty Moore beef stew there. I reckon the man pretty much lived on Dinty Moore beef stew.

If I were a bachelor I might do pretty much the same. Except I would add some other convenient foods, like bananas and peanut butter. I love bananas with peanut butter. I would, of course, no longer be on the keto diet. 😦

Tomato soup magazine ad from 1922.

According to the ad above, radiation from Campbell’s soup brings jubilation. That’s downright amazing.

I read recently that people are not eating Campbell’s soup like they used to. Campbell’s sales are down. Come to think of it, I haven’t had any Campbell’s soup in many years. That’s because Marlene makes her own soup. I firmly believe that my wife’s homemade soup brings more jubilation to me than a can of Campbell’s.

Did you notice the price of a can of soup in 1922? Twelve cents!

I went to an online inflation calculator to do some calculating. The cumulative rate of inflation from 1922 to 2019 is 1,394.68%. At that rate, a can of tomato soup today should cost $1.79. But I checked online and a can of Campbells tomato soup can be bought today for $1.48. Thus, it would appear that the cost of tomato soup has not paced inflation. However…

A can of Campbell’s tomato soup today is only 10.75 ounces. How much soup was in a 1922 Campbell’s soup can? Was it 12 ounces? Was it more? I have not been able to find out. But it was probably 12 ounces— certainly more than 10.75 ounces. So, when you take shrinkflation into account, a comparable can of soup today is probably very close to $1.79.

I like old advertising. The ads above are from some of my old National Geographic magazines.

The Problem With Kanye West’s New “Jesus is King” Music Album…

Pastor Adam Tyson gives a salvation message and calls the Los Angeles audience to repentance in this “Sunday Service” presentation (at 38:30)

Okay, I confess, the title is “click bait.” As far as I’m concerned, there is no problem with the Jesus is King album….

After my previous blog post, Run Strong Kanye, I was not going to blog about Kanye again. But I watched his “Sunday Service” show (above, at The Forum in Los Angeles) and I was blessed by it.

My only criticism would be the title of “Sunday Service.” It is a show; a form of entertainment. I think it could also be referred to as a type of crusade, like a Billy Graham crusade. That’s because God is honored, Jesus is proclaimed, and a gospel message is given. But it is not a church service.

If Kanye’s crusade/show came to a place near me, I would go. No question about it. But if it was packaged into an every-Sunday church format, I wouldn’t go. I don’t go to church to watch a show.

Many conservative Christians are uncomfortable watching the “Sunday Service” YouTube video above. There is just too much jumping around by the chorus singers. The music is so different. And that rap is of the devil, don’t you know?

Well, I’m a 61-year-old, conservative, Christian, white man who has absolutely no reservations about saying that I like the “Sunday Service” show. You need to know, when I was a young Christian, in my teens, I listened to Christian rock performers like Larry Norman (Only Visiting This Planet), and Randy Matthews (Pharoah’s Hand). Hymns were boring to the young me, but those songs weren’t.

That said, I don’t listen to “Christian rock” songs any more. I have matured in my faith. I have come to see and appreciate the deep, abiding, soul-feeding theology found in so many traditional hymns.

Be Thou My Vision comes to mind immediately. The hymn is centuries old. I have instructions for Marlene on the first page of my Bible…

I will be adding Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing to that short list. It was written in 1757. The message, the words, the theology expressed in the song resonate powerfully with me:

Both of those songs are, essentially, prayers, and I’ve prayed portions of them often. For example: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

So, there will be no Larry Norman, no Randy Matthews, and probably no Kanye West songs at the end of my heavenstretch. But I do believe those sorts of songs have their place, and they can serve a positive purpose.

As for all that jumping about and swaying in Kanye’s “Sunday Service” video, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable in a show. It would in church (I’m not Pentecostal), but not in a crusade-show.

I can, however, envision such a presentation on the redeemed New Earth, when Jesus the King comes down to dwell among his Redeemed people. indeed, such dancing, before the throne, with pure joy and worshipful praise, is very easy for me to feature.

And perhaps, in the New Earth, in my new body, loosed from the constraints of introversion and this aging husk, I will join the jumping and swaying. Wouldn’t that be something! Such an idea is, I’m sure, far closer to eternal reality for God’s people than is floating on clouds and playing a harp.

In the meantime, some people are already making their own earthly music from Kanye’s Jesus is King album. YouTube renditions of “God Is” are Here, Here. There will surely be many more examples in the days and years ahead.

And then there are some youTube videos expressing doubt about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity. That’s to be expected. Celebrity conversions are always suspect. They do need to be scrutinized to some degree. Discernment is needed, as is grace.

I expected Kevin Swanson to be among the Kanye skeptics. But I was pleasantly surprised when he and co-host, Bill Jack, were supportive of and positive about the new Kanye on a recent episode of Generations Radio (Click hear to listen). I like what they had to say.

I came to faith in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That movement was the closest thing to a spiritual awakening that this nation has had in recent history. As America now spins itself down the secular toilet bowl, Christians have been praying for another Great Awakening, for a convicting and eye-opening move of the Holy Spirit that will save the Republic (or lay the groundwork for rebuilding from the ashes).

I believe the bold Christian witness of Kanye West may be the spark of another Jesus Movement. History may look back on this time with an understanding that we who are living now can not see. I hope and pray this is the case.

In the final analysis, the Biblical parable of the sower comes to mind. It is a Christian-agrarian parable…

One thing I know for certain… Kanye West, along with all the people in his “Sunday Service,” and all the people who listen to his music, and all the people who read this blog post, and he who has written it, will be like one of those four different seeds in that parable.

As a long-time gardener, I know the sadness and discouragement of sowing seeds and seeing them not grow to their fullness. But I’ve also seen what happens when plants send their roots deep, are not crowded out by weeds, and get all the sun and nutrients they need. Such plants grow full and strong; they are a delight to the gardener.

It’s a beautiful parable.

###

P.S. If you watch the Sunday Service YouTube clip at the top of this blog post you will soon see that the choir director is a remarkably talented man. His name is Jason White. This article tells some about him and provides some interesting insights into what Kanye is doing behind the scenes. In the article Jason White is quoted: “Our goal is to win souls for Christ.”

Run Strong, Kanye!

Kanye West is one of the most popular and successful musical artists of our day. His genre is hip-hop, which originated with inner city black and latino youth in the 1970s. Hip-hop and rap music are pretty much the same thing. Any rap music I’ve been unfortunate enough to hear in the past was vulgar and offensive. Thus, Kanye West, popular though he may have been to millions of others, was a total unknown to me.

That is, he was an unknown until October of 2018. That’s when Kanye West showed up on my radar; when he did something so epically courageous that I became an admirer.

Kanye visited President Trump in the Oval Office (with a MAGA hat on his head). All the media were there, photographing the event. Trump let Kanye talk. After a minutes-long stream of consciousness speech (that, frankly, I couldn’t totally follow), Kanye West proclaimed: “I love this guy.” Kanye went over to the President, gave him a hug, and said it again: “I love this guy!” This Short You-Tube Clip shows the amazing moment.

Keep in mind that Marxist media provocateurs have skillfully and deliberately exploited race issues in this country for many years. They are continually lighting the fuse that leads to the racial powder keg, anxious to see the coming explosion. But Kanye West broke free from the post-modern mind control plantation. He ran up to the lit fuse (with little apparent concern for his own safety), and stomped it out with four words: “I love this guy”

Kanye took incredible criticism for that, but he didn’t back down. What he did with Trump was so politically incorrect for a black, hip-hop artist that I couldn’t help but think his successful career was pretty much over.

But it wasn’t, and it isn’t. And now Kanye has once again totally rocked the secular hip-hop world (which is a very big world) by announcing that he has become a follower of Jesus Christ. But more than just announcing his conversion to Christianity, last month he released a new album titled Jesus is King.

There are no vulgar words in this album. The music style is eclectic, with some rapping, but I don’t find it offensive. It is mostly celebratory and worshipful. Most importantly, the theology and the messages in the lyrics are thoughtful and Biblical. Here is one example that I like a lot…

(“put the ‘Gram away” means to get off the phone and social media. “Gram” is Instagram)

What could be more bold and countercultural than for a secular, superstar hip-hop musician in post-Christian America to convert to Christianity, repent of vulgar rap, promote Chick-Fil-A, and make an album titled Jesus is King?

Answer: Nothing.

Christians and secular hip-hoppers alike are all now trying to figure out what has happened here. Is Kanye West sincere in his conversion to Christianity? Will it last? Is it a phase?

With those questions in mind, I listened to This Big Boy Interview with Kanye (I actually listened to it twice). If you are a middle class, white, older person, the way Kanye and Big Boy talk in the interview is not going to be familiar. Which is to say that Kanye is not speaking to middle class America in that interview. He is speaking to his people. He is speaking the language of a culture that has lost its spiritual moorings. It is a culture without hope. He is telling them that he has found hope in the message of Christianity; in the person of Jesus Christ.

I also listened to this Two-Hour Kanye interview with Zane Lowe. It takes place on Kanye’s 1,400 acre ranch in Wyoming.

Kanye West says some confusing things and some very insightful things in those interviews. He’s an intelligent man. No doubt about it. I found both interviews to be interesting and encouraging. Sometimes I think I should have been a cultural anthropologist. People can be so fascinating to watch and figure out..

One of the things Kanye reveals to Zane Lowe is that he was addicted to pornography, and the addiction was sparked by a Playboy magazine of his father’s that he saw when he was 5 years old. Is that what Kanye had in mind when, in the song above, he sings “Raise our sons. Train them in the faith. Through temptations. Make sure they’re wide awake.”

By the way, Kanye and his wife (married 5 years) have four young children: North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm.

I could very easily find a few negative things to say about Kanye West after listening to those interviews. But that’s not going to happen.

I have nothing but respect and appreciation for the decision Kanye West has made and his boldness in proclaiming his faith. I think something of real cultural significance may be happening here.

Unfortunately, the new Kanye West will be watched far too closely by the media and the skeptics in the days and months ahead. His every word and action will be scrutinized and judged. He will be watched and evaluated perhaps more closely than any other new Christian in the history of the world.

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew, chapter 10, that they would be hated by the secular world for being his disciples. This is especially true if you publicly declare that Jesus is King. That three word credal confession was enough to send a Christian in first-century Rome to the Colosseum. Their martyrdom was watched by the masses. It was sport. It was amusement.

The Bible makes is very clear that sincere, authentic Christianity is not all puppy dogs and sunshine. It is harder to be a committed Christian than not. Kanye West is being, and will continue to be, hated for his decision to follow Jesus Christ. He has a difficult race to run. I pray that he will run it with wisdom and courage, all the way to the finish line.

Jesus told his disciples that “he who endures to the end will be saved.”

Run strong, Kanye!

I’m cheering you on in your heavenstretch, and I hope to meet you at the finish line.