Category: History

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman

Rymanauditorium1

There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.

When the Light shines, darkness scatters

marchonwashington

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Few people positively impacted American culture more than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was propelled by his faith, and his understanding that America could not survive under the racial division, animosity and segregation that defined America in the first half of the 20th Century.

If the land of opportunity, the free nation he knew growing up was to survive the test of time, then the cancer of segregation had to be surgically removed. The danger of cancer treatment, however, is that it can often cause as much damage to the body as the cancer itself.

Dr. King understood this. He understood that for America to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement stronger, freer and more prosperous, the Civil Rights Movement had to not only secure freedom and opportunity to the African American community, but also had to foster reconciliation between African Americans and their white counterparts.

You see, one of the biggest hurdles to desegregation in the South was the fear held among many whites that, once equally protected under the law, African Americans would begin to enact Jim Crow style laws against them as a multi-century payback for the sins of the past.

During the 1960s, it was not uncommon to hear someone say, “The day is coming when a white man will be afraid to pump gas.”

And while there was a feudal societal structure in the South, Dr. King understood that the old Confederate caste system could be overturned if he assuaged the fears of middle-class, working voters.  Therefore, he reminded his followers, partners and supporters that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Dr. King understood to change the South, he had to change its heart, and that required love.

In a speech given on the subject, Dr. King described the three Greek words used to describe love: eros, which is romantic love, phileo, which is brotherly affectionate love, and agape which describes the self-sacrificial love that regards the need and well-being of the other, rather than self.

This agape love is the love that propelled Christ to the cross to redeem us from sin. And it’s that agape love that Dr. King urged his followers to have toward those who opposed the Civil Rights Movement.

In a sermon entitled, “Love Your Enemies,” preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Dr. King taught how love has a redemptive quality to it. Hate destroys. Love redeems.

Even back in 1957, Dr. King had caught the vision of not only eliminating Jim Crow from American society, but seeing America redeemed to the free and open country envisioned in the writings of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Dr. King did not want to, nor did he advocate, defeating any segment of society. Rather, he envisioned redeeming his adversaries over to his point of view, creating a stronger, unified, just and free United States of America.

Love redeems.

America has had a relapse. The cancer of racism and racial division has returned, and once again a generation has been called upon to treat and remove this cancer.

As we strive toward racial healing, reconciliation and unity, let’s not focus on the sins of the past, nor be distracted by the vitriolic voices that would divide us further. Let’s remember Dr. King’s vision of redeeming our adversaries, as well as each other, through love.

We can do this if we learn to love the sinner, while hating the sin and system he is in. If we speak the truth gently and faithfully, while rejecting responses of anger or violence, we will allow the evil of our day to be revealed for what it is, without clouding the picture with our own indiscretions.

Love your enemies, and do not evil thinking good will come. We’ve been here before, we’ve overcome this challenge before, and we can again. Redemption and reconciliation will come, if we do God’s will.

Blood, Sweat and Tears: The forgotten formula for long-term peace and prosperity in America

17504623_1425582290846774_1723984855442417737_oDuring a segment on my morning drive talk show on News/Talk 102.3 KXYL, Woody Tasch  of the Slow Money Institute and I discussed the perils of the modern American economy which emphasize short-term profit over a long-term vision of growth and development.

While I haven’t learned enough about the Slow Money Institute to offer any kind of endorsement, the premise of his organization falls right in line with a problem I have with the modern way of doing business in America.

Tasch’s organization raises money to offer no-interest loans to small family farms that serve local communities. His vision seeks to move America away from centrally planned agriculture to local farming by sparking a revival through financial aid.

The road will be long, and will require substantial investments of money, time and effort before any return is realized, let alone the realization of his dream. But Tasch realizes that, and forges ahead anyway.

And, without knowing his political or religious views, I wish him well, because I know that if America is truly to become great again, it will need a generation of Taschs to rise up and plant trees beneath whose shade they may never sit.

America overcame all odds to win World War II and become a world superpower. We enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in the 1950s, survived an economic recession in the 1970s, enjoyed more unparalleled prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s, and, thanks to technology, enjoy a convenient, peaceful and prosperous lifestyle never before experienced in the history of man.

This way of life was not won in a single stock market rally. It wasn’t won in a lottery, and while World War II propelled us to superpower status, our success in the 1950s had as much to do with the ground that had been tilled in the progressive era as it did with Eisenhower’s leadership in the war and as President.

The proverb, previously referenced, that a society becomes great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they’ll never sit, was the basis for American culture for more than 300 years. The colonists knew they would never enjoy the blessings of the nation they worked to build, yet they worked to build it anyway.

The revolutionary war soldiers knew that the nation of which they dreamed, where all men are regarded as equal in the sight of God and the law, would never mature in their lifetime, yet they took to the battlefields anyway, losing life and limb at the hands of the British army.

The founding fathers knew that their effort to shape a free and prosperous nation wouldn’t be completed in their lifetimes, yet they worked to create that nation anyway.

Men built farms, businesses, communities, towns and cities, dreaming of the greatness those things would become long after they passed. Fathers left legacies and inheritances to their children. Factories were built. Companies started. New inventions sent to market. Through this great society that arose on the premise of planting trees for the next generation, we saw the industrial and technology revolutions arise, which not only lifted America out of poverty, but much of the world as well.

Today, we enjoy the shade of those trees planted by our forefathers. We stand on the shoulders of giants. However, we have become so accustomed to enjoying prosperity, we’ve forgotten how to build it for the future.

You will rarely find a CEO of a publicly traded company that looks beyond the next quarter’s earnings report. After all, that’s the benchmark by which his performance is measured. The board of directors want to see an increasing stock price, strong earnings reports, and good coverage in the media.

A temporary drop in stock price, earnings, or public perception can be the end of a CEO’s career, even if that temporary downturn could lead to a brighter long-term future for the company. Therefore, few look farther than 3-6 months out. There’s no reward for planting trees for the next generation. In fact, it can be penalized.

It’s not just Wall Street CEO’s. Politicians rarely look past the next election, therefore long-term solutions are never offered. The Interstate Highway system, Civil Rights legislation, Social Security, and Women’s Suffrage would never pass in today’s political climate. In times past, politicians would risk their political careers if they thought it would better the country long-term.

Consumers rarely look beyond the next iPhone, smart screen or automobile. What legacy are we building and leaving for the next generation? Where are the trees we are planting?

We need a new generation to rise up, and we don’t necessarily have to wait for that generation to be born or come of age. The Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Y, or the Millennials can do this. We need a generation to rise up and plant trees for tomorrow, trees under whose shade they may never sit.

The opportunities are there. Wall Street has sucked up the big money in most industries, leaving a vacuum on Main Street that can be filled by the right breed of entrepreneurs. We can build America into a great country. We can do what generations of great Americans did before us.

The question is, are we willing? Are we willing to begin a project that will not be completed in our lifetime? Are we willing to make the sacrifices to benefit the generations to come?

I hope I am.

Gov. Abbott signs SB 24, church/state controversy reignited

Governor Greg AbbottFormer Houston Mayor Annise Parker drew national outrage in 2014 when attorneys for the city of Houston subpoenaed sermon notes and audio from pastors who had organized a petition to force the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to a public referendum. Pastors who organized the petition said the HERO ordinance violated religious freedoms.

The pastors had collected the signatures needed, but several thousand were rejected when it was discovered that one of the pastors who collected the signatures was not a registered voter. With the signatures disqualified, the petition failed, and HERO was set to be enacted.

That’s when the pastors sued, and during the discovery phase of the suit, lawyers representing the city subpoenaed the pastors’ sermon notes to see if those pastors had violated the law by discussing, promoting, or giving instructions regarding the petition during worship services.

The resulting fallout had pastors, pundits and politicos criticizing the city of Houston to the point that Mayor Parker ordered the city’s attorneys to withdraw the subpoena. The pastors scored a victory, which led to a legal victory, which led to an electoral victory when Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected HERO.

Sunday, at Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took a victory lap as the governor held a bill signing ceremony for SB 24 during worship services. SB 24, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), prohibits local and state government entities from subpoenaing sermon notes, audio or video from pastors, and further prohibits those pastors from being forced to testify about their sermons.

The bill, seen as a response to Houston’s 2014 subpoena, went into effect immediately, however, the way the governor signed the bill reignited the debate over the separation of church and state.

Current law prohibits churches from influencing political elections, or the passing of legislation. While churches can weigh in on issues (such as abortion or same-sex marriage), they cannot lobby in favor of legislation on those issues, nor can they endorse candidates who support their views on the issues.

While President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order instructing the IRS to stop enforcing the law that bans church involvement in the political process, critics note that the executive order can just as easily be reversed in the next Presidential administration, exposing politically active churches to prosecution, or loss of their tax-exempt status.

The separation of church and state is one of the pillars that upholds the freedom of the American republic. Historically, whenever the church takes control of the government, persecution against non-adherents follows. Whenever the government takes control of the church, blasphemy and heresy follow. Both situations become ripe with corruption.

That’s why Rev. John Leland, a Baptist pastor who preached in Virginia and Massachusetts, strongly advocated for the separation of church and state, supported James Madison, and was instrumental in promoting the passage of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In promoting the separation of church and state, Leland wrote:

Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

That was the goal of the separation of church and state. Churches would not run the government. Government would not run the churches. Man would be free to serve God in a way that satisfied his conscience.

Churches should participate in the market place of ideas. When government seeks to regulate religious speech, it seeks to take control over the church. However, if churches become “dark money” organizations for political parties, they have not only violated the separation of church and state, they have also deviated from their God-given mission.

Furthermore, any law that forces a man to violate his religious conscience is a law that violates the very essence of man, and the three founding principles of our nation. So, with SB 24 in place, and Gov. Abbott’s and Lt. Gov. Patrick’s victory lap behind us, let us press onward to a world where man is free to believe, churches are free to preach, and where government governs well, and as little as possible.

Objectively analyzing Rand

Ayn RandHoward Roark was an idiot.

He represented himself in a court of law, fulfilling the old proverb, “A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”

He sat there at the defense table while a coalition of accusers bent on destroying his career testified against him. He never cross-examined. He never defended himself. He was thus found liable in a civil suit that cost him everything.

In the book, The Fountainhead, Roark was an architect who rejected long revered traditions and cultural influences, and designed buildings based on what was practical.  He cared less for critical acclaim, and more for producing a product that served his clients well. Those who commissioned his buildings were well pleased, even if their friends belittled their choices. Those who hated him aimed to destroy him.

Such was the set-up for the lawsuit that wiped Roark out in the middle of the book. A religious enthusiast contracted with Roark to build a temple for all religions. Roark initially refused, being an atheist, but relented at the insistence of the buyer, who was put up to it by an altruistic leader in New York.

Roark designed a temple that looked nothing like the classic temples of the ancient world, neither did it look like a church. The client was unhappy, and sued.

If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have argued that the buyer was warned the temple would not look like any temple ever built, that Roark was given total creative freedom, and that the services requested were delivered on time. If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have won that case. And I don’t even have a law degree.

Following Roark’s legal demise, his girlfriend marries another man, and Roark vows to wait until she leaves her new husband and returns to him. At this point of the book, I had to call “bullcorn!”

The Fountainhead is one of the definitive books of 20th century America. Written by noted philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead has inspired many successful Americans. Mark Cuban, an entrepreneurial maverick, says he reads it for inspiration. Cuban built his fortune online, founding and eventually selling Broadcast.com. He owns several other companies, and gained his biggest notoriety as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.

You can see a lot of Roark’s character in the way Cuban runs the Mavericks. From his battles with the NBA commissioner, to his taunting referees from the sideline, to his multiple attempts to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the roster, Cuban has lived up to his team’s name.

Still, Cuban fights. Roark surrenders.

In addition to the adventure of a maverick architect, The Fountainhead offers legal drama, romantic drama, irony and the occasional laugh. At face value, the book is a good read, and is the favorite of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The problem is, the book was not written to entertain us.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s philosophical manifesto written in novel form. The entire work was written to propose, explain and promote her political philosophy of “Objectivism.” With Roark being the embodiment of Objectivism, it comes as no surprise that his character has no soul.

Roark has no passion beyond his designs. He has no passion for his girlfriend. He has no passion to defend his practice in court. He pours his heart into his work, then offers it on a “take it or leave it” basis without passionately advocating for it. He just exists, an odd colored flower in the garden of New York.

Ironically, his lack of soul exposes the fallacy of Objectivism.

Boiled down to one sentence, Objectivism is the belief in that which can be verified through tangible means. It removes the aspects of faith and morals, and evaluates everything through the lense of what reality can be verified, what works, and what does not.

As a result, Objectivism promotes selfishness, individualism, to an extent, libertarianism, and social liberalism. And while Objectivism is very strong on individual rights (of which I strongly support), it falls short in that it denies the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of creation, his spirituality.

As such, when Objectivism was captured in one fictional character, that character turned out hollow. He had no soul. (Not that he didn’t have a soul, which he didn’t, he was fictional, but he didn’t have soul. There was nothing to him.)

In promoting her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand often discussed “the virtue of selfishness.” This virtue was lauded for its harmony with human nature. In order for there to be true harmony, each individual can only be expected to act in his own self-interest. Expecting an individual to act against his best interest is immoral, as is the individual who does not act in his own best interest.

Not only does this teaching run contrary to scripture, it denies man’s spiritual nature, and ignores American history.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about the natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong that is present in each individual. Whether that individual believed in God or not, that individual had a concept of right and wrong. We may argue about family values, and what does or does not constitute marriage, but we all agree that a man should commit himself to his wife, and that a man is not to just take whatever woman he pleases.

We may argue about what constitutes stealing, and what does not, but we all agree that it is wrong to go into your neighbor’s house and take his television. This is what Lewis referred to as “The Natural Law.” Of course, when he wrote about “The Natural Law,” Lewis was obviously referring to Romans 2, which says that when men who do not have God’s law, do by nature the things contained in God’s law, men become a law unto themselves.

And that natural law defines morality, and that law tells us that only doing what’s in our own best interest is not moral. When we follow such a lifestyle, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we have a guilty conscience. Objectivism denies that our conscience even exists. Objectivism has no soul.

Furthermore, if Objectivism were the pre-eminent philosophy of the day, America would fall. In his essay, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the role the Christian faith played in American society. De Tocqueville wrote that without faith, democracy would falter, because individuals only acting in their own self interests would tear the society apart. With the Christian faith, individuals felt responsible to contribute to society. Thus they did, and thus democracy works in America.

It was a sentiment also expressed by John Adams, who said that the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people, and that it was wholly inadequate to govern any other.

In addition to Objectivism not working for the afore-mentioned reasons, it will not work because it denies the Spirituality of man. We all are embedded with that natural law, and when it has been violated against us, we feel the hurt. Man cannot be expected to turn off his Spirituality. It doesn’t work.

So, while I applaud Rand’s efforts to stand up for individual rights, we must be careful not to blindly follow her entire philosophy. It goes against human nature, denies reality, and therefore can never work.

The generation that saved the world

WP_20150311_044
The World War II Memorial in Washington, DC

Today is VE Day, the day we commemorate the victory in Europe in World War II. I was blessed to take part in a VE Day observance ceremony in Brownwood, Tex., where the emcee noted that Brown County lost a local resident every week for the duration of the war.

The site of today’s observance, the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, stands where the Camp Bowie headquarters once stood. During World War II, Camp Bowie was the largest military training facility in North America. It was once home to the 36th Infantry Division.

Looking beyond the speaker, between the granite monuments bearing the names of Brown County natives killed in World War II, I could see across the valley that was once Camp Bowie. The area is now occupied by manufacturing facilities, baseball fields, recreational facilities, homes, schools, and Brownwood’s iconic football stadium.

I imagined the sight of soldiers marching in formation, military vehicles zipping along the base roads, ordinance being fired in live fire exercises, and planes taking off from the base’s runways. In that moment, I thought back to what life must have been like in 1942.

We often honor “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that fought World War II. Everyone sacrificed to save our country and our freedom, from the soldier who went to the front lines, to the manufacturer who converted his factory to make military equipment, to the civilian who bought war bonds, to the wife and mother who went to work to manufacture the tools needed to fight the war, to the parents who saw their sons shipped off on trains and buses, bound for duty stations before deployment, to the kids who collected metal and glass to donate to the war effort. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone contributed. Indeed, the Greatest Generation is worthy of our honor.

What separates the Greatest Generation from current generations, though, is not so much what they did, but what they faced, and how they overcame.

When our troops go to war today, we worry about casualty rates, and further implications of the war. Today when we go to war, we generally don’t fear losing our country. Yet, in World War II, we faced an enemy that we believed to be as strong, if not stronger than we were. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, our Pacific fleet was wiped out, and many military analysts said that if Japan had landed on our West Coast, they’d have reached St. Louis before we could have stopped them.

Germany was just as formidable of a foe. In the years leading up to the war, Germany paraded their technological advancements. At the outset of the war, we had a lot of ground to make up, which we ultimately did.

When America was drawn into the war, we didn’t face the loss of overseas resources, and we weren’t merely stepping in to help our allies. We faced the loss of our country, and by extension, the loss of our freedom. We had to act.

Faced with a challenge not seen since the Civil War, Americans willingly and wholeheartedly gave everything they had to protect our country, and to defend and build our way of life. The spirit of the American soldier, worker, mother, farmer and school child propelled the nation to victory, and a new, better world was birthed.

In the years since, we’ve had our moments of fear, but we’ve never been in peril. We’ve enjoyed nearly three quarters of a century of peace and prosperity, and it’s all because a generation rose up, met the challenge that was placed in front of them, and fought for their lives, and the lives of their children.

For that, we are truly blessed, and I am truly thankful. Take a moment, and reflect on how blessed we are, and remember the sacrifices it took to bring this blessedness to us. Then, thank a veteran.

For those who remember World War II, thank you for rising up. Your generation epitomizes the old proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”