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No Abiding City
O. P. Kretzmann

I have done a foolish and dangerous thing… In the sere and yellow time of my life I have moved the base of my lessening operations about two thousand miles west… With much huffing and puffing I pulled up my roots (all of them unpredictably either shallow or deep) and headed toward the sunset… I am here now in a part of the planet called California for the space of one waning moon, making what psychologists call an adjustment

Before I begin to describe this process I must reach to its beginnings… In my former life in Indiana I had an office and a position… The office was old and the position was even older… My task was to make decisions, deal out rewards and punishments, and do the thousand honorable and dishonorable things which seemed to be needed to keep an institution (of which I too was an inmate) alive… These decisions required the frequent appearance of some people in my office and conferences without end, which I managed to survive by watching, just westward of my visitors head, the tentative pecking of the first robin under the bushes or the falling of the first November snow… It was a nice life…

But it ended sadly and quickly… Most good friends came no more… My years of clout had ended and they saw no reason to continue a custom which had always been official… A few still came, mostly fellow warriors of ancient days who talked about their rheumatism and the wayward ways of youth… But the final chapter had been written, and I closed the book amused, dismayed, and a little wiser… Thirty years had ended in a whimper of loneliness made bearable only by the Scriptural comfort and hope that here we have no abiding city… I left that Indiana town when there was snow on the ground and no dust to shake off my feet…

And I arrived in Southern California, a recently discovered part of the planet and the last edge of the Western world… Here I found a small circle of good people who come here to build the city without walls… I found also the flamboyant vigor of youth and the uncontrolled expansionism of a young civilization whose marks are almost all materialistic… There are great shopping centers, huge food markets, and horizontal houses which seem to huddle close to the good earth when the season of rain begins… Here and there is a striking church, vertical and neo-Gothic, set down as a final tribute to a forgotten God and an abiding city… From this shore there is only Hawaii and the mysterious East beyond the great waters of the gentle Pacific…

I think I shall like it here… The snow and ice, physical, intellectual, and spiritual, are behind me and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land… For one who is close to three-score-and-ten, there is the excitement of newness and the beckoning signs of an abiding spring…

An inch or two back I referred to the newness and brashness of this land… There is, however, another side to this shrugging off the past and this childlike delight in the new… Some of the boosterism is giving away to a more mature civilization, a more thoughtful evaluation of life… Los Angeles may have Watts, the other side of a counterfeit coin, but it also holds astonishing opportunities for the arts, music, the theatre, and the authentic marks of a maturing society… Religion is still largely in the vaudeville stage, but its promise is assured by the kind of institution I now serve… I hope to write about it soon… Now I can only say that the task of building a Christian institution at the edge of the Western world is far different from the same task in Northfield, Minnesota, or Valparaiso, Indiana…

The coming of age of Southern California came to my attention in a minor way by a column in the Los Angeles Times… We have heard much about a Greater Los Angeles… This column announced the organization of LLA, a group devoted to a Lesser Los Angeles… Let it speak for itself:

Lesser Los Angeles is a modest organization which never meets because it dislikes crowds. Its life style is amorphous but visible, pledged to the preservation of that which is human, the conservation of that which is natural, and the celebration of those common grounds where man and nature meet.” “Lesser Los Angeles is opposed to crimes against nature, to speculation for sprawl, to conurbation for commercial gain.

Lesser Los Angeles believes that people are both part of the problem and part of the solution. Only man can make a mess on earth. Only man can make a magnificent city.

Lesser Los Angeles does not shrink from challenge. It believes that quality—even magnificence —can live here, still.

There it is: a maturing civilization… It is still no abiding city but moving toward the best we can do on this side of the golden gates…

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