The Oval: What History Teaches Us

Good afternoon.

If you have watched my show for just two minutes or met me for 20 seconds you know one thing about me: I love history. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop talking about it. I love old things, I love relics, anything that came before me that history has blessed…I’m honored to see and hold.

Maybe that makes me odd but I don’t think so.

I think Americans love their history. We are a young nation but we love to learn about our past. And there is a good reason for that. Our past is where we discover who we really are as a nation, just as children inherit certain things from their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Our nation has inherited certain things from those who came before us. And it’s critical, we know what those things are. Otherwise, we leave our inheritance on the table. And it just will wash away.

That’s why I wish that the person who sits at this desk, and the people who advise him, took the time and topped thinking about the next news cycle, the next attack ad. And just stopped. And walked over to the bookshelf right here and read one of these books. They’re not just there for decoration!

They are there because our history tells us who we are. What we built. What problems we faced and how we overcame them.

The people who work in this office, not just now, but in every administration, ought to spend a lot of time studying history.

Because if they did, they would learn soon enough that some of the biggest problems they face are small compared to those which have come before. That some of the solutions they think will work have been tried and have failed before. That America may never have been perfect, but that America has been better than this. And America can be better than this again.

The problem we have Is that the people who sit behind this desk have so much going on around them. And they confuse action with accomplishment. They don’t spend time doing something that would solve a lot of their problems. They don’t read. They don’t study. They don’t learn from the past.

History is the greatest weapon against one of mankind’s strongest enemies: forgetfulness.

Forgetting is such a human trait. I go to the supermarket, and I forget to buy a gallon of milk. I come into the office, and I forget my keys in my car. Someone asks me: ‘Glenn, how old are your parents?’ And I forget. I have to think about it before I answer.

But forgetting to buy milk is one thing. Forgetting our nation’s history is another.

Let me give you an example.

This nation was once attacked on its shores and the enemy worked to infiltrate our populations. They placed in our cities sleeper agents. Gathering intelligence. Preparing for the day of attack. They watched. They listened.

So this nation took action. We discovered the plots.  We disrupted their plans. We found those who were guilty. And we hung them. Because in America, we have always believed that treason and treachery is a crime punishable by death.

Today, our nation faces a similar threat. The enemy has slipped past our thinly guarded borders. And we don’t know where they are.  But when we discover these plotters we don’t know what to do! We say: ‘There is no precedent for this!’ And so people sitting at this desk and working in this office - they simply make things up as they go along.

They bungle prosecutions. They expose vital intelligence. They give comfort to the enemy. And they allow treachery and treason to build further. All because they didn’t know their history.

They didn’t know that a prior administration – seventy years earlier –faced the same issue. Developed a plan. Took action. And solved the problem.

The cost of this historical illiteracy can be measured. It can be measured in the lives that have been lost. To terrorist attacks in our cities, at our military bases, all because our leaders didn’t study their history.

They didn’t read. They pretended like they were the first Americans to face a challenge.

But they were not the first. Not even the second.

The circumstances change. The cast of characters change. The culture changes. But in the end the challenges are the same.

Prosperity or stagnancy.

Freedom or dependency.

Justice or injustice.

Unity or disunity.

The individual or the state.

These are the choices that every American has known. Every generation of Americans has been asked to choose. These are not new choices. And our problems are not new problems.

What’s new is ignorance.

Ignorance of history.

Ignorance of what America stood for 236 years ago.

Ignorance of what America has learned in those years.

Ignorance of the successes.

Ignorance of the failures.

That’s new.

You can get ignorant by not learning. Or you can get ignorant just by being arrogant. By thinking you know more than those who came before you. By thinking that you know what you need to know. That’s arrogance.

And we see it today.

Wouldn’t it be great if the president sat behind this desk and spoke to the nation once a week for 43 consecutive weeks each time talking about a single president? One man, one president - five minutes. Just a little message about each former president.

Each time, saying:  “This president – Jefferson, Grant, Arthur, Truman… whatever…He led the nation for so many years. He tried to do these things. He succeeded here and he failed there. And this is what I learned from his time in office. So I thank him for his service to the nation.”

That’s it. Five minutes. Just a simple acknowledgement that nobody – not even the president – is above it all.  Above his predecessors. Above history.

And here is my hope: that if the current president, or any president, stopped to learn some history, stopped to think about what history teaches him, he might realize that America is better than he thinks. Is stronger than he thinks. More independent. More industrious. More capable of great things. That he does not need to wave a wand, give a speech, even sign a law that will solve a problem. That Americans are quite capable of solving themselves. America is better than its leaders. And that if Americans are trusted and if Americans are encouraged, Americans can restore this nation. Can rebuild it. Using the original blueprints. Using the original documents.

And just maybe if we had a president sitting at this desk who appreciated that history is the best adviser, we would begin to recognize that history is alive! And history is to be celebrated. Honored.

Let me close with one story, because it tells you why history matters.

This desk is called the Resolute. It was a gift from the British. It came from a ship called the HMS Resolute. The Resolute was a ship in search of the explorer Sir John Franklin in 1852. And on that search, deep in Arctic Seas,  it had to be abandoned by the crew.

Three years later, an American whaler, the George Henry, found it.  Broke it free from the ice. Towed it to port. And America restored it. Outfitted it. And gave it back to the British Crown as a gift.

The ship spent three more decades in service. Then it was retired.

Queen Victoria had an idea. She ordered that craftsmen use wood from the ship to make a desk. And she gave that desk to the president Rutherford Hayes. It has been in the White House for all but a few years ever since. And it has been in the Oval Office for nearly four decades.

Maybe it’s easy to read that history and think “Well, that’s just stuff that happened way, way back. And everyone in the story is dead!” And if you think that, you probably are bored by history. Or, If you’re like me, you love that story because it tells you something about a friendship and about national honor.

It tells you in one story: Why America and Great Britain share a special friendship. A friendship both nations have fought and died to preserve.

And from that story, you learn what it means to sustain that friendship over decades.

That story might have helped the current president when he was thinking about what to give as a gift to the queen and to the prime minister in his first year of office.

Maybe, instead of an iPod and some DVDs, he might have looked at this desk and thought: “We can do better. We should do better.” And for once in his presidency he might have avoided a mistake just by studying history. Just by acknowledging that he’s not the first smart guy to sit in that chair.

That’s how history is. It’s like an instruction manual for the world. An instruction manual for the president. An instruction manual on America.You can be president and not read the instruction manual, but you know how it is with instruction manuals. Whether it’s a TV or a mobile phone or a country, if you don’t read the manual, you won’t know how the dang thing works. You won’t get to use all the features. And in the end – it might break on you because you didn’t read the manual.

So even if our president won’t study our history, you should. Because one day, we’re going to have to fix this mess and it would be good if you’ve read the manual first.

Thanks for watching.

May God bless you, and may God bless this Republic.

 

 

Summer is ending and fall is in the air. Before you know it, Christmas will be here, a time when much of the world unites to celebrate the love of family, the generosity of the human spirit, and the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem.

For one night only at the Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, on December 7th, join internationally-acclaimed radio host and storyteller Glenn Beck as he walks you through tales of Christmas in the way that only he can. There will be laughs, and there might be a few tears. But at the end of the night, you'll leave with a warm feeling in your heart and a smile on your face.

Reconnect to the true spirit of Christmas with Glenn Beck, in a storytelling tour de force that you won't soon forget.

Get tickets and learn more about the event here.

The general sale period will be Friday, August 16 at 10:00 AM MDT. Stay tuned to for updates. We look forward to sharing in the Christmas spirit with you!

Ryan: Elizabeth Warren does the Wing Ding

Photo by Sean Ryan

Two thousand people yipped and howled as Elizabeth Warren bounced onto the stage like it was a stairmaster and she was a gym rat.

Sold out. Maximum capacity. Whole place writhing, all 30,000 square feet, with tight rows of folding chairs like checkers on the dancefloor big as a Walgreens.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Under the disco ball that hung from the dark blue ceiling, the crowd screamed like Warren was Led Zeppelin and the year was 1970, when really she was a 70-year-old Senator and this was a fundraiser called Wing Ding, in Clear Lake, Iowa, at the Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly spent the last few cold hours of his life.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Warren did not stand behind the podium like Biden or Bernie Sanders.

She was a yoga grandma! A rapping pastor! A beat-boxing cop! An energetic manager! A cat who thinks it's a puppy!
It was like she needed to move around the stage and wave her arms and fire up the congregation or else the floor would belch into lava.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Iowa would work its magic on Warren. By the end of the weekend, she emerged as a top contender, a position she'd maintain with alacrity, then build on.

In her turquoise blazer and her shoes-that-meant-business, she strolled out to the edge of the stage and gave her speech like a natural-born specialist of hootenanny.

Only thing missing was The Who's "Teenage Wasteland," or, better yet, that "Sail away, sail away, sail away" song by Enya.
Warren was a car commercial, the kind directed at Millenials, with plastic indie rock and a phony "who gives a shit" vibe. She was expensive cheese from right around the corner. She was Nancy Sinatra, but without Lee Hazelwood.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Voice like a stack of hay catching fire, she made promises. She riled the crowd. And it was an odd sight, the way these meek folks attempted to get rowdy. The way they grimaced and writhed, it was like seeing the reclusive kid volunteer to be the mascot.

It was like they were trying to match the intensity of Trump rallies. No politician has been able to do that so far. The man fills arenas, for God's sake. And his supporters wait for hours outside hoping to get inside. Then he makes them wait. Let's the place get feverish.

Until people are so psyched that they literally cannot remain seated, and they stand their eagerly for thirty minutes, gasping every time a song ends with the hope it means he has arrived.

The Wing Dinger — God bless them — just didn't have that dragon energy, that ravenous devotion. Have you ever seen that show "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job"? The people in the ballroom were hyperventilating and spazzing like characters from Tim & Eric. The whole occasion would have been a pickpocket's dream.

Variously, they bulged and shuffled and freestyled to themselves. Who gave the kids sugar cookies at the Baptist youth sleepover? You know they can't handle it, you know they get twitchy, so manic it's almost violent.

And that fed Warren, revved her manic engines.

Full speech: Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding www.youtube.com

If this had been the 1980s, I would have suspected everyone there had spent all day railing cocaine. And Warren would be the Sly Stone of the event, guarding the vault full of drugs.

If only she could have pulled out a guitar and played AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" or performed a duet with a cat on a keyboard. My dad and I had arrived late, and both of us struggled to relax our eyebrows because this scene was unbelievable. It must have been especially odd for my father, who emigrated from Ireland at 33.

And right now he was frowning because it was so loud in there.

As Warren shouted into a handheld mic, my dad turned to me, almost upset, "Who is she?" he asked, but before I could answer, he said, "I do not like that woman."

*

When Warren was 12 years old, her father suffered a debilitating heart attack.

He didn't die, but he wouldn't be able to work for years.

The medical bills got so bad that Warren'sfamily nearly lost their home. The car was repossessed. Those were gritty, emaciating days.

Her older brothers joined the military. Her mother got a minimum wage job at Sears. And, at 13, Warren started waiting tables.

She grew up in Oklahoma, where I myself was raised, so I can tell you that it is the Cinderella of States. My personal favorite. At night, the stars croon down over you like they are checking on their infant in its crib and you are that infant. Much like Iowans, people from Oklahoma tend to be kind, and patient, and wild like Americans ought to be.

*

When Warren was growing up, Oklahoma was a Blue State. Her family wasn't Republican. And, these days, Warren is considered a progressive.

But her worldview has evolved over the past few decades.

Photo by Sean Ryan

As a girl, she had seen the effects of bankruptcy firsthand. But her early conclusions led her to personal responsibility. After all, she had taken a job at 13 to help pay her dad's medical bills.

One of Warren's former students, told reporters that, "What changed [Warren's ideology] was the stories of ordinary people filing for bankruptcy. That speaks really well of her that she was presented with information contrary to her worldview and adopted it."
Before that, she leaned right, politically. Or, in the words of one of her best friends growing up, "Liz was a diehard conservative in those days."

Another friend called her an "ice-cold Republican."

A colleague at the University of Texas in Austin, where she worked in the early 1980s, said that "Liz was sometimes surprisingly anti-consumer in her attitude."

Another colleague said "I remember the first time I became aware of her as a political person and heard her speak, I almost fell off my chair. She's definitely changed. It's absolutely clear that something happened."

Until 1996, when she was 47 years old, Warren was a registered Republican.

And I do not mean this in a snarky way. Opposite. It's admirable when people undergo personal change. We have to. It's a matter of survival. A person who never evolves is blinded by hubris and destined to fail.

Longtime Warren collaborator Jay Westbrook has told reporters, "It drives me crazy when she's described as a radical left-winger.

She moved from being moderately conservative to being moderately liberal. When you look at consumer debt and what happens to consumers in America, you begin to think the capitalist machine is out of line."

At some point she got pregnant for the first time, setting in motion a series of events that may have involved discrimination, or may have been a fabrication she has since used in stump speeches as a heart-tugging anecdote.

As far as controversies go, it's as goofy and PG-rated as her onstage persona.

Who cares if she lied for the sake of a story and the benefit of victimhood? Trump lies constantly. Politicians lie constantly. It's part of the reason public trust in government has sunk lower than ever before.

No, it's not morally acceptable that politicians are habitually dishonest. But the outrage aimed at Warren isn't actually about that, is it?

*

Warren won state debate champion in high school. Shortly after graduating, at 19, she married Jim Warren, a mathematician who worked for IBM, then NASA.

The two dated when Elizabeth was 13 and Jim was 17. Warren chose marriage over a full-ride to the prestigious George Washington University.

Three years later, she gave birth to her first daughter. You can find the picture of her in the hospital bed, surrounded by white sheets, her eyes an oceanic blue, glowing as she holds her baby for the first time, a technicolor sash around her left shoulder.

She focused on being a mom for two years, then put herself through law school at Rutgers. At her graduation, she was eight months pregnant. Most airlines won't allow women so close to their due date.

After ten years of marriage and two children, her husband divorced her.

Warren hadn't expected it. One night, she asked her husband, "Do you want a divorce" and he said yes, even though she'd been asking in that, "Something's wrong but surely things aren't so bad" kind of way.

Imagine the enormity and disbelief she must have felt as her husband said he'd be leaving her. The kind of moment that gives a person vertigo.

Warren tried to revive the marriage, but her husband had given up. Before long he moved out, quit smoking, got super into dancing, then remarried.

Politicians tend to mention tragedies only as evidence for a policy stance. Or occasionally these stories will appear in a candidate profile. Or you can read the ice-cold Encyclopedia version.

I always wonder about the desperation people suffered in those moments that must have seemed so long, the quiet after bitter words or desperate outbursts. The enormity they must have felt.

In moments of trauma, we become intensely aware of the noises and smells and colors and momentos around us. What was the first object Warren noticed after hearing her husband say, "Yes"?

She has since said that she and Jim never really fought. That she didn't blame him for leaving. But that they just didn't work out. "I can't imagine anybody putting up with me over long periods. It's why I can never be cranky about Jim. I get it."

Still, a marriage has to be fairly bad for a couple with young children to divorce. But even an amicable divorce is devastating. It marks the death of a love that had once been good enough and deep enough for two people to bind themselves together, if only by law.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Now, Warren was a single mother. Surely, at times, that was lonesome. She must have felt moments of intense waywardness.

There must have been anxious nights, lonely mornings, swarming with memories about life as it was, all those plans for the future that must feel so naive in hindsight.

Warren's quirkiness has made her an easy piñata for her rivals.

But I just think about her, alone in a room, folding clothes or staring off, blinking and slouching there alone, and I feel disgust for politics as a bloodsport.

What do rancor or invective get us in the end? A winner who trounced a loser? What is the human cost? Not just for the people being targeted, but for the world as we'd like it.

Why isn't it enough to disagree with an opponent? Why does there have to be humiliation?

And if it's wrong from one politician, it's wrong from them all.

A person can't decry the abuse that President Trump faces — which is daunting in intensity and volume — then cheer him on when he's doing the same exact thing.

Somebody is going to have to take a slap or two to the face and not react, but it would accomplish far more than a vitriolic comeback.

At this point, three years into Trump's Presidency, there was no way to tell who started it and who was just reacting, so everyone involved in the fight was guilty.

In other words, people could no longer blame Trump for how the selfsame persona they had taken in response.

To quote Morrisey, "It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate. It takes strength to be gentle and kind."

When the ram charges straight for you, all you have to do is take a step to the left or the right and off the angry bastard goes, headfirst into the ground. Do that a few times and you'll get more support than you might expect.

Which, I'm not saying to never fight. Conflict is healthy. Passivism can be worse than violence. To fight is to live honorably. But only if justice is the reason for fighting.

If the ram is coming at you because it wants to silence or control you, grit your teeth, chalk up your horns, lower your head, and go to battle. Courage and morality are vastly different than bravado and self-righteousness.

As Tolstoy wrote in his novel War and Peace, "If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war."

*

Two years later, Warren married Bruce Mann, a law professor. They've been married ever since.

For nearly three decades, she taught law, mostly at Harvard.

Then, she shifted to politics. In 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed her to a congressional panel. Two years later, she became a special advisor to Barack Obama, who had selected her as special adviser to the Treasury secretary, but stopped short of nominating her as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Shortly after, she resigned. A month later, she announced her Congressional bid, which gained momentum after her speech at that year's Democratic National Convention.

In 2013, she was elected senior Senator of Massachusetts after beating Republican incumbent Scott Brown with 53 percent of the vote. She would go on to win a second term in 2018, this time with 60 percent.

Every candidate has a stain. Warren's happens to have led to mockery. For years, she claimed Native American heritage. For many of the right, it was yet another example of the left's allegiance to identity politics.

The left was more concerned with the way the issue come to attention to begin with, after remarks President Trump made during an event honoring Navajo code talkers. As has become the norm, many of the country's leading news outlets ran scathing anti-Trump op-eds that they labeled as hard news.

In other words, opinion was being packaged as fact. In other words, propaganda. Like the passive-aggressive tone of this Washington Post article.

Which is certainly not the right way to handle injustice. And is certainly not journalistically sound.

Once again, the media's blatant disdain of Trump only served to further empower him. Gave him more proof of fake news. And allowed him to justify, in the eyes of his followers, the repeated use of the Warren's nickname.

Worst of all, it widened the distance between the news media and the portion of the American public they'd long ago lost access to.

Likewise, conservative news outlets pounced with an air of, "See? I knew it all along?"

And responded with a different version of the same aggression used by the media. Outlets like FoxNews played up their masterful victim narrative, the idea that the mainstream media has a stranglehold on America, despite the fact that FoxNews has long been the dominant news source of the mainstream media they claim to be a victim of.

Photo by Sean Ryan

This feedback loop played out until Elizabeth Warren's genetics became a national conversation.

Last year Warren released a DNA test that revealed sher to be only between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native America. Fellow democratic candidate Corey Booker — a Senator from New Jersey — has more Native American DNA than Warren. And, unfortunately for Warren, the nickname that President Trump gave her gained more power.

During an interview on MSNBC, Warren said, "It is deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur. Donald Trump does this over and over thinking somehow he is going to shut me up with it. It hasn't worked in the past, it isn't going to work out in the future."

In a bizarre twist, Warren's ex-husband was a pioneer in the field of genetics and helped make the technology accessible to the public when he co-founded FamilyTreeDNA, which sells genetic testing kits.

*

Across the street from the Surf Ballroom, 300 yards from the entrance, a Trump 2020 sign the size of a front door glared out, impossible to avoid.

Photo by Sean Ryan

It's a power play in line with Trump's own combat style — which, again, there's nothing wrong with a good fight, even if there is some dirty fighting, but why did it have to be all of the time? And why had everyone joined in on it?

*

Warren began her presidential campaign on Febraury 8, 2019, with a rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts, at the site of the 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike, a two-month-long standoff that led to 296 arrests.

Three people died, an Italian immigrant, who was shot in the chest. A Lithuanian immigrant who was beaten to death for wearing a pro-labor lapel pin. And a Syrian boy who was bayoneted in the spine.

The strike takes its name from a James Oppenheim poem.

"As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,For they are women's children, and we mother them again."

*

As Warren drove her speech to a close, Kamala Harris paced down the long ramp by the side of the stage, then walked through a curtain that divided the hallway from backstage, then into the crowded ballroom, immediately surrounded by cameras, lights, hands, selfies.

Ten feet behind the curtain, Joe Biden shifted at the side of the stage, chatting with several people in brand-new Biden 2020 shirts, and waiting to go on.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Each candidate had 10 minutes or so, which Biden, like most of the other candidates, would use to insult Trump and fumbled through his "President's words matter" speech, two days after his "poor kids are just as talented as white kids" comment, and I wondered if everyone else found the irony as hilarious as I did.

Now Warren was pounding her fist.

The already hysterical crowd became even more incensed with each of her words. It was the first moment I realized that Warren actually had a shot at winning the nomination.

*

Of all the towns we visited while in Iowa, Clear Lake was the most puzzling. It didn't feel like the rest of what we'd seen. It didn't resemble any other town in the country, far as I can say. Just a general ideal for "lovely American town."

Maybe Clint Eastwood's Carmel, California, or the wealthy part of Charlotte, North Carolina, or the gorgeous shaded Rice Village neighborhood of Houston, Texas.

Warren shuffled offstage and shook hands with Biden.

Then cue the Bruce Springsteen song. And somebody hurry up and push the button that activates Biden's facelift.

"The words that Presidents speak matter," said Biden. And some of the crowd were hearing him say it for the first time.

Warren gabbed with a lady in a floral dress backstage. They held hands like sisters. After a minute or so, she vanished backstage. Then the whole gig was finished. Closing time had come.

Andrew Yang hung out in the lobby after all the other candidates left. He took selfies. Talked policy. Behind him, young people in Yang 2020 shirts and hats that said "MATH" handed out Yang money.

He hugged. He laughed.

People puttered out of the Surf Ballroom in no sort of hurry, giddy in their candidate t-shirts, ready to effect change, to dethrone Trump.

The air had a gentle sway, tilted by a northern cold that felt winter-like, especially for August.

Right as the last big group of Wing Dingers walked out of the Surf Ballroom, a small car drove by, windows down, packed with young men who kept shouting, "Vote for Trump, baby!"

Then, stalled at a stop sign, the driver revved the engine and spun the tires, and as it sped off, one of the guys in the back seat shouted "Trump 2020, bitches."

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

He may not be a super hero like he plays in the movies, but Chris Pratt is proving once again why he's a hero to so many. The silver screen protector of the universe announced on his Instagram page a contest that will benefit the Brain Treatment Foundation, who is a partner of Mercury One that does amazing work with veterans. The Brain Treatment Foundation specializes in helping combat veterans who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The contest asks fans to donate $10 to the foundation for a chance to win a trip to drop in on the Guardians of the Galaxy star on the set of his new film Tomorrow War.

Watch his video below to hear all the details.


Ryan: The Ascent of Kanye West

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Apollo, god of poetry, light, prophecy, dance. Star of Greek mythology, rivaled only by Zeus, his father. God of justice. God of purification, knowledge, healing. God of the Sun. But most of all, god of music. So they called him the Leader of the Muses.

And on a bright Sunday morning midway through November, at the tail end of a decade, Kanye West looked out at the congregation of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, a 16,000-seater originally built for the Houston Rockets, and said, "Jesus has won the victory: Now the greatest artist God ever created is now working for him."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye's newest album, Jesus Is King, had been out for three weeks, and like every Kanye album, it was controversial, as adored as it was unaccepted.

Critics had shown a mostly tepid response, but nobody could tell if their disinterest was genuine, or if it was politically motivated.

After all, for the past year, Kanye had once again managed to penetrate the epicenter of American society. The last two Presidents had literally shamed and cursed Kanye, but, still, who could've guessed he would befriend this one?

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The week after Kanye's Olsteen appearance, at the House impeachment hearings, as the entire country watched and listened, Congressmen and diplomats would mention longtime Kanye collaborator A$AP Rocky no less than five times, in casual reference to the Kardashians and the deal between Trump and Sweden, struck at the urging of Kanye West.

Meanwhile, Jesus is King became the ninth consecutive Kanye album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 — a feat he shares with Eminem and The Beatles — and the sixth time in the 2010s alone. And, to be fair, his only studio album not to debut at number one was The College Dropout, his first, which went triple platinum and earned the third-most Grammy nominations in one night, winning Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song with "Jesus Walks."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Jesus is King was also the first record ever to top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Rap Albums, Christian Albums, and Gospel Albums simultaneously. All eleven tracks charted on the US Billboard 100, joining the other 96 Kanye songs to have landed on the Top 100.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

This album was different, and not just because of Kenny G. For the first time, Kanye was not a god or a self-destructive fallen angel. He was a father, a husband, a son, and, most important, a man full of belief, with his hands outstretched, surrounded by a choir.

"I remember sitting in the hospital at UCLA after having a breakdown," he told the congregation, "and there's documentations of me drawing a church and writing about starting a church in the middle of Calabasas."

That night, following an afternoon of ice-skating at the Galleria, Kanye returned to Lakewood Church and performed a concert. Imagine hearing a his electro-gospel opera in an arena designed, acoustically, for professional basketball games. Only better, because everything had been padded. With LSD graphics on the swirly blue carpet.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When we experience art, it changes us.

So there I was, four rows from the stage, crying in front of FoxNews. Because Kanye had brought his Sunday Service choir with him, and they were singing "Ultralight Beam," one of the few perfect songs ever made, a song that played during my wedding ceremony, the song my daughter, God willing, will be born to, a song I have never once listened to without at least tearing up.

“Jesus Is King" A Sunday Service Experience at Lakewood Church with Kanye West youtu.be

"This is a God dream, this is a God dream. This is everything."

Kanye was the only person onstage dressed in his own clothing, a neatened blazer. The choir were draped in grey, like holy silhouettes.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

So who cares about FoxNews and their snotty reporters in their shoulder-padded blazers. The rest of us had drifted into the immediacy of it all. And I wasn't about to play stoic journalist here. I wasn't a reporter first and a human or an American later.

The choir zigzagged on the loft flanking the stage. Each of them had a headset microphone, like Garth Brooks.

God only knew how they sang so perfectly. How did they project their voices like that? More beautiful than anything we had ever heard, more beautiful than water.

After "Ultralight Beam," it was "Every Hour," the mesmeric opening track of Jesus Is King.

Sing every hour, Every minute, Every second, Sing each and every millisecond, We need you

Every Hour youtu.be

The performance felt all the more sacred because this was church, where people gathered to lose themselves, to sing as a chorus, to confront who they really are.

Across the street, one protestor stood hollering.

Meanwhile thousands of people waited at the entrance, giddy to get in. They would join us in no time. Soon, they would fill every seat in this church.

*

That morning, Kanye told Olsteen,

"It's like the devil stole all the good producers, all the good musicians, all the good artists, all the good designers, all the good business people and said, 'you gotta come over and work for me.' And now the trend, the shift, is going to change."

Jesus Is King was the result of a new cultural and artistic movement that more or less started with 2016's Life of Pablo, Kanye's closeted gospel album. Which was a surprising departure from 2013's Yeezus, with its tangled social commentary and fashionable solipsism. And that drum sound, the one every half-decent producer has spent the last six years failing to emulate.

The 2010's saw him grow more cerebral. He even teased a book of philosophy titled Break the Simulation.

Then, in 2018, he released Ye, the second of five albums in a Kanye-produced series, all recorded at his Wyoming studio. In keeping with the criticisms of hip-hop he voiced on "Ye vs. The People"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye eschewed many of the themes he'd embraced for so long, replacing them with meditations on mental illness, fatherhood, suicide, love, and addiction. The album's working title had been "LOVE EVERYONE."

On "I Thought About Killing You," he raps,

The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.

The title "Ye" is not just the diminutive of "Kanye."

As he said in an interview

I believe 'ye' is the most commonly used word in the Bible, and, in the Bible, it means 'you,' so it's [saying] "I'm you, I'm us, it's us." It went from being Kanye, which means the only one, to just ye – just being a reflection of our good, our bad, our confused, everything, that I'm just more of a reflection of who we are, just as beings.

Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that

All individuality is a manifestation of universal life, and hence everyone carries a tiny bit of everyone else with him, so that divination is simulated by comparison with oneself.

In the months following the release of Ye, Kanye would live out this idea, and build his own movement, a reflection of who we are, then begin his church in Calabasas.

*

At 10:30 that morning, the three of us — Samantha Sullivan, my wife Caroline, and me —- strolled into the arena and claimed seats in the media section.

That place resembled the inside of an ant colony. We were three ants.

The service began with errorless music, then shifted into a quick, stirring message by Osteen, who always seemed to appear onstage from nowhere, privvy to the kind of big-money stage tricks you find at a Shania Twain concert.

The entire place and all the Jumbo-Trons and all the people, it all had a cinematic presence.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

A preliminary giddiness spread through the room. Then, Kanye emerged, there on the stage, and the place erupted.

A man in a "Jesus is King" shirt danced around his seat.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Everyone took their seats, but one man standing in the crowd shouted affirmations. "Speak truth my brother," he shouted.

The man shouted several more times, then Kanye politely told the guy to hold off on the support because it wasn't helping, because Kanye needed relative quiet to capture and release his flow.

The ceiling glowed in skittish purple.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye described the corrupting force of the media. A chill came over the room. Behind him, the unapologetic blue of Jesus Is King.

It was my first encounter with Joel Osteen, and I was surprised and somewhat baffled to find him likeable, based on everything I'd ever heard about the man.

Kanye said as much, that Osteen is nothing like the version of Osteen many people have broadcast.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Osteen laughed, "When you've got Kanye defending you, you've made it, man."

Rays of light danced through the arena. I'm talking Pink Floyd light show levels.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

With 21 Grammys, Kanye is tied with Jay-Z as the most decorated hip-hop artist of all time.

Osteen asked Kanye what he would say to his younger self, if he could go back in time.

"You know, it's nothing I can say to the younger Kanye through words," he said. "I could speak to the younger Kanye through music."

*

Osteen played the middle section of "God Is," arguably the focal point of the album.

And Kanye danced and rapped along with it. And the surreality of the situation was daunting. Was that really Kanye West up there? with Joel Osteen? dancing to his gospel song?

Six or seven years ago, I saw Kanye a mile away at the Toyota Center — coincidentally, the current home of the Houston Rockets — for his and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne tour. It was a much different experience than this.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When Kanye finished, the media flooded out. As did a quarter of the people in the congregation. This bothered many of the regulars.

Security and ushers yanked big grey mop buckets from cabinets, and dispersed them down aisles, and money music played.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then the time for prayer. Prayer leaders lined the walls and pews. And anyone could walk over to them and pray. Men and women clung to strangers, crying sometimes, hugging. Holding hands, whispering phrases.

*

One of the media coordinators pulled us out of the sermon, led us through passageways and elevators, past classrooms and security guards, through a black sheet, then behind a barricade.

This is where all the media had rushed off to like old folks trying to get the best seat for bingo.

Each news outlet was allowed one question.

After 15 minutes, the energy changed and you could tell they were near.

Then, Kim Kardashian-West was walking our way, holding her daughter's hand, followed by Kanye, who was followed by Osteen.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

"Nice tags," Kanye said, referring to my "GOOD" necklace.

Then:

Brief interview with Kanye West and Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church, Nov. 17 in Houston, TX www.youtube.com

Some of the outlets asked more than one question, but that was on them. They were the ones sinning in church.

*

As Kanye and Olsteen shuffled away, down the line of journalists, I said hello to a small crew from FoxNews as they packed their equipment.

"We're from TheBlaze," I said, smiling. To which they sneered and glanced at one another then got back to their conversation.
Samantha rolled her eyes and the three of us wandered around for an exit.

"Did we just get stiff-armed by Fox News?" Said one of us. "I didn't think they were allowed to look down on anybody."
"I've had that with people from Fox on several occasions," one of us replied.

"I mean, I thought I was doing them a favor a favor by acknowledging them. Nobody else does."

Then it happened again, a few minutes later, this time with someone we had worked with, someone who knew us.
You bet we were salty.

Bad as it felt to be judged like that, it was good to be underestimated. A relief. It meant we could perform without anyone caring or watching.

They had no idea who we were or what we were really doing. Good.

*

In November 2007, Kanye's mother died during a routine surgery. He and his mom, Dr. Donda West, had always been incredibly close. She raised him alone, after Kanye's father left, when Kanye was three.

A few months later, his engagement with Alexis Phifer abruptly ended.

He was 30 at the time.

Oddly, this tragic sequence of events would cause the birth of auto-tune in rap. Broken-hearted, Kanye wanted to sing. So he ran his voice through a vocoder.

Kanye's album 808s & Heartbreak, which like Jesus is King has no curse words, shoved music ahead at least two decades, into a world of synth-driven robotic R&B/Rap love songs belted out in janky auto-tune. That description doesn't sound ridiculous today. But that's only because Kanye eschewed the stale hip-hop of the early 2000s and reinvented the genre, something he has accomplished with every album.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then, he went on tour. But he never took off any time following his mother's death. And, by the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, he'd fallen to what he calls his sunken place.

He and then-girlfriend Amber Rose brought a bottle of Hennessy with them to the award show. They took slugs in the limo. Then on the red carpet.

When Taylor Swift won the award for Best Female Video, Kanye stormed the podium, sunglasses on, and grabbed the microphone, said "Imma let you finish," then let everyone know the award should've gone to Beyoncé, for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."

He was kicked out immediately. He tweeted, "Everybody wanna booooo me but I'm a fan of real pop culture... I'm not crazy y'all, I'm just real."

Followed by an apology. Then a few days later, during an appearance on debut episode of "The Jay Leno Show"

Leno asked Kanye, "What do you think [your mom] would have said about this?"

That hit Kanyelike a punch to the jaw. He teared up, froze.

He publicly apologized to Swift. Several times.

But it did little to quell the blowback. Once again, it felt like the entire nation hated Kanye. Compounded by a hot-mic recording of Barack Obama — the country's first black President — calling Kanye a jackass.

So the embattled Kanye retreated to Hawaii to record a masterpiece, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

*

"We are a Christian country," Kanye said at one point, to uproarious applause.

The vast majority of Americans, 90 percent, believe in a higher power.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

And America has the largest number of Christians in the world, with roughly 167,000,000, comprising 65-to-70 percent of the population. But that's down from 80 percent, as part of a downward trend over the last two decades.

The percent of Americans who attend a religious service of any kind — church, synagogue, or mosque — is even lower, less than half.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

One political scientist blamed the public's growing distrust in institutions. Another blamed conservatives. A writer from New York Magazine took it a step further.

Meanwhile, David French.

As always, the issue is far more nuanced than either side will admit.

Somehow, in the last twenty years, church and religion had become not just uncool, but slightly villainous.

All day, every time I looked around — at people singing, at people dancing, at people crying in joy or in the relief and recognition of their pain — I thought, "How could this ever be a bad thing?"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

I had spent my life going to concerts, had seen Kanye West numerous times, and this was something other than a concert, and unlike anything I'd seen from Kanye. It was also more than just religious or spiritual.

A family of strangers in a city of 6 million, in a world of 7-and-a-half billion, broadcast live, led by a man who fought off the devil in front of us for years. Who struggled with life just like we do, only we could nitpick through the one-way mirrors of our phones and our TVs.

But, now, he had been baptized in public.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Some people were still negative about Kanye's recent faith, especially Christians. As Kanye raps on "Hands On"

What have you been hearin' from the Christians?
They'll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

Consensus was, they couldn't believe him. As a Kanye fan since I was 13, I can tell you that he is genuine. It's really his only setting. Plus, his spiritual transformation has been building for quite some time.

*

By the time we returned to Lakewood that evening, the sky had turned dark blue, and frantic with airplanes.

The sidewalks around the arena overflowed with people. Police cars jutted out in crooked lines to block entrances or exits, the strobe of red-white-blue whirling onto pedestrians' faces.

Across the street, facing the giant arena, a man with a bullhorn ranted about the evils of sinful music.

Earlier that day, sheepish protestors had occupied the spot, holding red poster-sized letters that spelled out "I M P E A C H." There were only four of them, though, so they had to double up and share, and sometimes the "H" slanted down or the "I" slipped loose.

"Impeach Kanye?" one of us said, laughing.

"Kanye 2020," shouted someone.

The air was electric. People bounced when they stepped, or walked faster than normal, or turned oddly as they spoke like a third-year professor.

They sang along as they passed traffic-jam cars, most of which were blasting Kanye.

A chorus of police whistles and the usual rumble of semi-trucks passing on US-59. Just down the street, porn shops and strip clubs and a Ferrari dealership. Immediately Southwest, the Mahatma Ghandi District. West, the Galleria, home of the opulent Galleria mall, where Kanye and Kim and family gone ice-skating earlier.

Inside the arena, a different world, low-lit and glowing. A dreamscape of lambent crimsons and violets, a deeper, warmer, slower take on the lights atop the police cars outside. Globular squares of blue were arrayed along the ceiling.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When the musicians emerged to their instruments, the arena was still half-empty. The show had already been delayed 40 minutes. The demand to get in was so ferocious that the security gate was jammed up like a glass Ketchup jar.

Then, like spirits, men and women drifted onstage in all-grey uniforms and matching hats that looked like they should say "VIETNAM VETERAN" but actually said "Sunday Service."

Every single member wore brand-new grey YEEZY Boosts.

From the start, the performance was cinematic, a sort of new-world opera sung by a chorus of young American muses with nose rings or gold chains or dreadlocks or pink hair.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

From the huddle, a young man rose, and began reciting a poem. It was the invocation of the muse.

Gadamer wrote that poetry "becomes a test of what is true, in that the poem awakens a secret life in words that had seemed to be used up and worn out, and tells us of ourselves"

*

After a whirling rendition of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna," the choir began "Ultralight Beam."

They let the song spread. It grew enormous.

The air swirled as the song widened.

Kanye waited out of view, then appeared without ceremony.

A collective gasp when people recognized the melody of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." Which sounds like a dream already, with all that wilderness.

So it was even stranger when the song morphed into SWV's "Weak," a skating rink anthem written by Charlie Wilson of the GAP Band. A classic.

The choir were their own countervailing force. Yet they also connected us to the drama of the performance.
Looking back, I wish I could live in those moments forever.

*

Then came their cover of "Father Stretch My Hands" by Pastor T.L. Barrett And the Youth for Christ Choir.

Father Stretch My Hands www.youtube.com

Kanye has paid homage to Barrett's track on two different songs, from two different albums.

It was his prayer.

Pastor T.L. Barrett, a man who's lived an exciting and at times difficult life, only to become a Pentecostal preacher on Chicago's south side, and form a choir of 40 teenagers from his weekly choir practice.

If you dive into Barrett, you'll better understand what Kanye is doing.

*

Ten seats from Kim Kardashian-West, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX) stared ahead in a neat grey suit, occasionally poking at his phone and blasting people on Twitter.

Which means there were at least two people in the building who have appeared on Saturday Night Live.

There were other politicians, including Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. And even more at the earlier service. You could tell they were politicians the same you can tell a vegan burger from a real Whopper. Several times, Kanye held up his phone up and read the words from his newer songs.

Like "Selah," which built into "Hallelujah"s at the end, intoxicating and perfect, like being sucked into an undertow. Which led into "Follow God," a continuation of "Father I Stretch My Hands."

Kanye uses the image of stretched hands to express his own submission and the process that leads to his healing. As a reference to John 21:18

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

But the song is also about Kanye's literal father, and an argument they had. Then, under it all, he adds a sample of "Can You Lose By Following God" by Whole Truth. He ended the song with his Kanye shriek, somewhat confusing and abrasive with a choir present.

Then — something I did not expect. The thumping bass of Cajmere's "Brighter Days (Underground Goodie Mix)."

And now this was cosmic gospel.

It felt like a rave. Have you been to a rave? It's people dancing, taking MDMA. That is what it felt like.

Flourishes like that were part of Kanye's genius. No other gospel performance would dare. You won't find that kind of diversity at any other hip-hop show, either. The acoustic instruments, the choir. Maybe during a set by electronic musicians like Moodyman or DJ Koze. But, no choir. Yet here Kanye was, at Joel Osteen's church, blasting classic techno.

Oddly enough, though, the most popular song of the night was "Closed on Sunday," Kanye's ode to Chic-Fil-A.

Everyone in the arena knew the words. So then there were two choirs, in a dialogue. I didn't think it was possible, but the collective harmony got even more intense and engulfing than it had all night. So much so that the house speakers started to peak in one corner of the arena.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The Ancient Greeks were the first to use a chorus. In the 5th Century B.C., 50 actors would gather in the orchestra pit and sing in unison, commenting on the action of the play, describing scenes to the audience. They were a collective force. They represented one character, who was able to connect the audience to the characters and events onstage.

Kim Kardashian was front and center filming with her phone, as two of the West kids jumped around on the trippy blue carpet.

The performance was nearing its end, and suddenly Kanye was dressed like everybody else in the choir. Grey Yeezy kit and the Sunday Service hat. His transformation. From Kanye West to Pastor Ye, stretching hands.

Then, he was gone.
One by one, the choir began fluttering off the stage, to the Clark Sisters' "You Brought the Sunshine."

Half were gone, when I noticed the singer with braided hair crying. With every exhale, she collapsed her hands into the floor. Let them fall like tired flowers. Arrayed in fitful blue. She gasped. She heaved her shoulders like a wingspan. For a moment it was like she would actually take flight.

A security guard peered over the railing from above the stage. He looked like God.Symbolically, he was.

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com