The Sun Also Rises

ErnestHemingwayPreface: During my college days, I lacked the proper appreciation for the education that was afforded me. Therefore, over the past several months, I have been reading up on the classics that I missed out on by skipping English class. My latest venture has been in the works of Ernest Hemingway.

At first glance, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, was a pointless novel following the misadventures of Jake Barnes, a World War I veteran working as a foreign correspondent in Paris for a New York paper. His misadventures go from dining in restaurants, to drinking in bars, to having coffee in local cafes, to his fruitless pursuit of the Lady Ashley, (or Brett, as her given name is).

There’s a love interest between Jake and Brett, but due to some undefined injury, Jake cannot consummate a romantic relationship with her. So, he aimlessly eats, drinks, and wanders in Paris, repeatedly coming into contact with Brett, who always seems to be in a relationship with someone she doesn’t love.

Seriously, that is the plot for, like, 75 percent of the book. The day ends, Jake and his “friends” go out to eat, then out to drink, then out for coffee. Then, the next day comes. The same routine ensues, until Jake and his friends take a trip to Spain to go fishing, and then to watch the bull fights in Pamplona.

Upon reaching the end of the book, my first thought was, “What was the point of all that?” Did Hemingway really waste two weeks of my time to tell me a series of bar and fishing stories? I mean, seriously, the book only described my last two years of college.

Perhaps the book was autobiographical. Perhaps Hemingway wrote the book merely to explore his own thoughts, emotions and struggles. Hemingway himself drove an ambulance in World War I, was seriously wounded, and worked as a journalist in Paris. He was a known drinker, carouser, and lover of pleasure.

Perhaps, unlike authors Ayn Rand or Harper Lee, Hemingway was not writing to convey a certain wisdom upon us. Perhaps his writing was a selfish attempt to self-counsel, and to work out his own insanity.

Or, perhaps there was meaning to The Sun Also Rises. Starting with the title.

The Sun Also Rises could be a tongue-and-cheek jab at Jake’s lifestyle of late night drinking and carousing. A lifestyle like that does not witness many sunrises. Usually, the sun is already up, the man begins his day, and continues until long after the sun has set. No doubt Jake saw many sunsets, but not many sunrises. Having witnessed many sunsets, perhaps the title is a reminder to Jake that “the sun also rises.”

Or, perhaps there is more meaning to The Sun Also Rises, and that Hemingway is more covert in conveying his messages to us.

The Sun Also Rises takes place in Paris during the roaring 20s, as young veterans of the first World War seek meaning to life, but wander aimlessly as members of “the lost generation.” Indeed, having won the war, one would expect the 1920s to be a time of great hope and prosperity. And to an extent it was, but after having survived the bloodshed and ensuing famines and plagues of World War I, many wondered, “What’s the point?”

In a time of great hope and prosperity, the lack of meaning and purpose lead many down a road of hopelessness and despair. Though the allies had won the war, the sun was setting on the glory of France and western civilization. Dreams had been shattered during the war. Friends and family lost, lives ruined. The sun was setting.

This was captured in the hopelessness that Jake felt in The Sun Also Rises. He could never marry the woman he truly loved because of what the war had done to him. His abilities were limited, and he was relegated to being a foreign correspondent in Paris. After life in Paris, Jake knew that life would never be the same if he were to return to his hometown in the mid-western United States. His sun was setting.

Yet, through the labyrinth of bars, cafes, restaurants, inns and bullfight arenas, Jake comes to clarify his feelings toward his friends, Brett, and his career. As the novel ends, he begins to find peace in this clarity, thus, “the sun also rises.” In this clarity there was hope, and reason for optimism. His wounds were not miraculously healed, nor had his dreams come true, but there was peace and clarity, and therefore hope. “The sun also rises.”

While The Sun Also Rises is completely devoid of spiritual insight, there is still a lesson to be learned.

Victory and prosperity do not equal happiness. The Sun Also Rises takes place during the prosperity of the 20s in the aftermath of victory in World War I, yet the characters found themselves depressed and hopeless.

Happiness does not come in wealth or achievement. If you cannot be happy now, you will not be happy if you obtain more. Happiness comes in having purpose, and living your life by that purpose. That purpose is found in the Lord, for He was the one who created you with it. Learn this precept, and you will see that the sun also rises.

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

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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.”

How the Johnson Amendment is used to target churches

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Any pastor will tell you that unless you put the scriptures into practice, they will not change your life. As a result, pastors are responsible not only for teaching the text and meaning of scripture, but also for teaching their congregations how to apply those scriptures to life.

However, when scripture applies to the legislative process, or a political election, the pastor must step out of the pulpit before applying scripture to the situation. Otherwise, the church can lose its tax-exempt status under the Johnson Amendment.

To be clear, pastors can discuss abortion, homosexuality, benevolence and relief for the poor, drug abuse, sexual immorality and the definition of marriage from the pulpit. It’s when those issues become tied to legislation, or a political campaign that the Johnson Amendment comes into play.

Such was the case in Houston during the fall of 2014. Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, adding sexual orientation to the list of things for which one could not be discriminated against. While this sounds like common decency on the surface, many felt that the ordinance infringed on the religious freedoms of Christian business owners, contractors, and political hopefuls. Then, there was the bathroom issue.

Pastors who preached against homosexuality could not reference the proposed ordinance, or discuss petitions to call for a public referendum on the ordinance, from the pulpit. To engage the ordinance, those pastors would have to work on their own time, apart from the churches. Such is common, and such took place in the aftermath of the passage of HERO.

The petition to call for a referendum failed, and Houston area pastors filed a lawsuit claiming that many signatures on the petition were unlawfully disqualified. During the discovery phase of that suit, attorneys for the city subpoena’ed the sermons of some of the pastors who helped promote the petition.

Time magazine reported that lawyers for the city wanted to search the sermon notes to see if any of the pastors had discussed the petition, or instructed their parishioners on how to participate in the petition during church services.

Immediately, there was an outcry from the Christian community in Houston, and Mayor Parker ordered the lawyers to drop the subpoenas for the sermon notes, telling the Texas Tribune that she had not approved those subpoenas prior to them being sent out.

The legal and political process played out, resulting in the referendum on HERO being put to the voters. It ultimately failed.

This post is not to reopen the debate on HERO, bathrooms or same-sex marriage. This post is to examine how the Johnson Amendment was used, though not cited, as a legal tool to overcome the political activities of Christian pastors.

Under the Johnson Amendment, churches are not allowed to engage in activity that would influence an election, or legislation. Churches cannot lobby the legislature, their local councils, and cannot endorse candidates. Churches cannot contribute to political candidates or political action committees. Doing so would cost them their tax-exempt status, and subject them to federal regulation.

There are good reasons for the Johnson Amendment, as no one wants to see churches become stealth super-PACs, as Roll Call fears. On the other hand, the premise of the Johnson Amendment was the basis for the City of Houston’s subpoenas for Sunday sermons. They wanted to see if any pastor had crossed the line. Had that been established, the city could have used the violation of the Johnson Amendment to put down the lawsuit, thus saving HERO. And that’s where the problem lies.

If the government has the right to examine Biblical teaching, and then ban or penalize it for becoming “too political,” then what’s next? The separation of Church and State would eventually be weathered down, and government would control religion. That has resulted in disaster every single time it has happened throughout history.

Churches are tax-exempt to preserve the separation of church and state by preventing government regulation through tax incentives or penalties. If government wants to ban financial contributions from churches to political causes to keep that separation in tact, fine.

However, the government should never have any say in what is taught from the pulpit, or the Sunday School rooms. Furthermore, churches should be able to advocate for policies that parallel their mission. Stand up, speak up, but don’t pay up.

For those reasons, President Donald Trump’s executive order for the IRS to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is a good thing, even if it doesn’t make any significant changes to the way things are.

The Texas Legislature passes the Sanctuary Cities Bill

Texas_State_Capitol_Summer_2005 Public DomainThe Department of Homeland Security detained 44 illegal immigrants before transferring them to the Travis County Jail for the disposition of criminal charges, according to a report from the Washington Examiner. Once in the Travis County Jail, those inmates were released under Travis County’s “sanctuary cities” policy, a policy where the sheriff’s office denies ICE detainer requests for certain illegal immigrants, thus releasing them back into the public.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely makes requests to local sheriff’s and police departments to detain illegal immigrants until ICE can follow through on deportation proceedings. Often, local jurisdictions deny these requests, and release those immigrants for a variety of reasons. Some, to save on the cost of housing illegal immigrants in jail until ICE arrives, which can sometimes be weeks. Others, to make a political statement and to pander to liberals and immigrant communities.

The case of Travis County, Tex., home to Austin, has been at the center of this controversy as Sheriff Sally Hernandez publicly stated that she will deny ICE detainer requests, unless the suspected illegal immigrant has been charged with capital murder, first degree murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

Travis County’s sanctuary city policy has holes, according to a report from Fox 7 in Austin. Fox 7 reports that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office denied ICE detainer requests for illegal immigrants charged with injury to a child, sexual assault, and repeated sexual assault of a child, thus releasing them on bail.

The scandalous release of criminal immigrants in Travis County led to a heated debate on sanctuary cities policies, which culminated in the passage of Senate Bill 4, which makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they do not honor requests from federal immigration authorities. The Texas Tribune also reports that entities that adopt sanctuary city policies can be fined $1,000 for a first offense, and as much as $25,500 for repeat offenses.

The bill also includes a provision that allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a suspect’s immigration status. That part of the bill, known as the “show me your papers” amendment, limits such questions to detainment, and does not allow police to stop residents for the purpose of checking their immigration status.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would erode public trust in law enforcement, as immigrant communities would be less inclined to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement for fear of being detained or deported. Opponents of the bill also cite compassion as a reason for their opposition, saying that America should be the land of opportunity.

While compassion and public trust are important, opponents of the bill have yet to justify the release of criminal immigrants, specifically the ones released by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. While releasing those individuals may have been compassionate to them, it certainly did not show much compassion to their victims.

All residents of Texas deserve to live in a safe society, where criminals are held accountable, and offenders are removed from their victims. This cannot happen if those offenders are being released in the name of social justice.

Castro, Cruz, and Texas Red vs. Blue

In the debut episode of the “Leland Acker Show” podcast, I examine Joaquin Castro’s decision to stay in the House and not challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, and what that means for Texas Democrats.

I also discuss what single event could turn Texas blue, the 10 reasons millennials are leaving Christianity, and Jeb Bush’s prospects in owning the Miami Marlins. Check it out, then tell me what you think.