Friday, July 1, 2022

What not to do under gunfire

Originally posted in May 2017

Here is security-camera video of the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday [in 2017 - DS], for which Esteban Santiago has been charged with multiple felonies. There is nothing graphic in the video, but watch what the people standing behind him do - and more importantly, do not do.




I understand that people were caught wholly by surprise and did not process what was happening very quickly. I understand that as a retired Army combat-arms officer I would recognize gunfire and its implications many times more quickly than the average civilian.

But that is of no comfort to the five people Santiago is accused of murdering or the six of wounding.

News reports say that the FBI has not ruled out a terrorism connection yet (I am doubtful) but even if not, this is the kind of thing ISIS wants its members of sympathizers to do anywhere in America they can. Can we expect more shootings like this? Almost certainly. [Update, Jan. 11: The terrorism angle may be justified, "Airport Shooter Converted to Islam, Identified as Aashiq Hammad Years Before Joining Army"]

In such a situation, you have only one rule: OODA. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. What you must not do is what the people in the video did.

Observe:
No longer can you assume you are safe. No longer can you enter public places without awareness of what is going on near and far from you. You must observe what is happening! Not just with your eyes, but with your hearing and other senses, too.

This must become a habit that does not stop. When I was learning to fly, my instructor insisted that at every moment of flight, I should always have identified a place to land if my motor quit. Since the airplane was obviously moving, that meant I had to near-constantly observe for a suitable emergency set-down place.

At every moment, you must know where exits are, the fastest ways to get there, which one is best, which one is second best. You must know where to hide if escape is closed off.

Orient:
In the video, the people behind the shooter did not ascertain what was happening for precious seconds. Under gunfire, this can be fatally slow. You must orient on the danger without hesitating. That means where, what, how.

No one did that when the shooting started. I am not casting blame. They just didn't. See what they did? They froze for precious seconds, which can get you killed, while trying to process what they were seeing and hearing.

Decide:
Quite simply, in about a half-second you have to orient on what the danger is and decide what to do. Back to the people in the video: when they decided to move, they stepped only a few feet, then either fell straight down or huddled behind luggage. They were still targets and had gained no safety at all. Your decision must be one that will reduce your danger. It is not enough to decide to do something, you must do something effective.

Act:
Action must follow decision in less than an eyeblink of time. In almost any shooting situation, you have to run like Jesse Owens out of there. Run away and do not stop until you are behind friendly guns (cops).

You may respond that no one can outrun a bullet. That's true, but running away does two things: first, it removes you from the area of danger, of course, but second, it reduces your attractiveness as a target to the shooter. They do not shoot at distant people. They just don't, especially with a handgun and even if a shooter does he will very likely miss.

Do not run routes that you would take if nothing was happening. Go through obstacles rather than around, if possible. Go across baggage carousels for a shorter route or faster exit. If you're not in an airport the same principles apply.

What about hiding? If the only exit is on the other side of the shooter, then hiding may be your only option. There are two kinds of hiding: concealment and cover. Concealment is simply getting yourself out of sight from the shooter (but be prepared to move) but that doesn't mean he can't shoot you. If you hide behind a curtain you can still be shot! So cover is the better choice, where the shooter can neither see you nor shoot you if he tried. But remember one of Murphy's Laws of Combat: "Make it too hard for the enemy to get in, and you've made it too hard for you to get out." Your objective in taking cover or concealment is immediate safety but also finally to get the heck out of there!

Pray to God that you never encounter such a situation. But remember that "hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." Be prepared!

Update

Also, be aware that buildings' interiors often provide limited exits, which will be fatal funnels as folks mob the door and cannot get out once the bullets start flying. Do not follow the crowd unless there is no alternative! 

Be camouflaged. That not mean wearing woodland-pattern clothing, but to be low profile, dress modestly, and use clutter and quiet movements to become a bit more ninja-like. Being flashy and glued to your smart phone is a no go. Dressing and acting bland, dull, and as unnoticeable as possible may give you an edge.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Get ready for the catastrophic DEF shortage


DEF is the acronym for Diesel Exhaust Fluid. Every diesel truck that has been made since 2010 is required to use it. It's a product made of 32.5% urea (made from natural gas) and 37.5% de-ionized water. DEF is kept in a separate tank in the truck and the trucks using it will not start unless the DEF system is working properly. There are regulators inside the engine that mix DEF with the diesel exhaust to reduce diesel emissions. That's the purpose of DEF.

Vehicles with SCR [Selective Catalytic Reduction] technology have a separate tank filled with DEF. This is then injected into the exhaust pipe, in front of the SCR catalyst, downstream of the engine. 

Heated in the exhaust, it decomposes into ammonia and CO₂. When the NOx from the engine exhaust reacts inside the catalyst with the ammonia, the harmful NOx molecules in the exhaust are converted to harmless nitrogen and water, which are released from the tail pipe as steam.  (link)
The DEF system is critical for "greening" the use of diesel fuel. But DEF stocks are dropping.

The shortages our country is experiencing are making their way to diesel fuel and Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF).  If the current shortages of mechanics, trucks, and drivers does not improve then shortages may continue to get worse, so plan ahead.  ... The bottom line is that freight won’t move without DEF.

Urea is manufactured as a derivative of natural gas. The largest US manufacturer is CF Industries, which has an overwhelmingly majority share of total manufacture:


Urea is also an essential ingredient in fertilizer. Yet despite these production numbers, the United States is the world's third-largest importer of urea. Who exports it? Market Realist reports,

There's a global shortage of urea. While the ongoing supply chain issues are also to blame for the urea shortage, the situation got worse after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is a major fertilizer exporter and the country has banned fertilizer and urea exports.

China, which is also among the major urea exporters, has put restrictions on exports. Urea prices have surged over the last year, which is leading to high fertilizer prices. To ensure the domestic supply of fertilizers at a time when there are real risks of a global fuel shortage, countries have been looking to curb exports and prioritize domestic consumption. Natural gas is the key raw material in urea production.

Since urea is a key input for DEF, the shortage is having a negative impact on the DEF supply. Also, Europe, which is among the major DEF exporters to the U.S., is battling higher prices and natural gas shortages.

And, key point

According to Discover DEF, “If the truck is allowed to run out of DEF, the engine's power is reduced, a solid red warning will be displayed and the vehicle speed will be limited to 5 mph until the DEF tank is refilled.” If the DEF shortage gets worse, it could ground commercial fleets since they mainly run on diesel.

So: US urea imports are falling, US DEF imports are falling. And US domestic manufacture of DEF is likewise falling and may very quickly turn critical. But what about consumer sales? How will that be affected? Let's connect some dots. Here is dot one, Flying J and the Union Pacific railroad:

Flying J sells 30 percent of ALL the DEF consumed in the United States. 

According to Ken Cameron’s excellent article, Flying J gets seventy percent of its DEF via Union Pacific Railroad. Due to distribution points controlled by Union Pacific, Flying J cannot go to another supplier. Union Pacific is in control. In April, Union Pacific told Flying J to reduce its shipments of DEF by 50 percent, or else they would be embargoed, which would effectively bankrupt Flying J. 

If this ultimatum is enforced, Union Pacific’s restrictions on Flying J will cause shortages, since this would cut the national supply of DEF by 15 percent. In his testimony, Mr. Konar explained that a single rail car provides 3000 trucks worth of DEF fills (2.7 gal DEF/ per 100 gal of diesel). Every missed rail car will reduce trucking potential by 5 million miles! 

Remember that the trucks will not run if their DEF tanks run dry. DEF is sold through the same pumps at fuel stations as diesel fuel is. If a driver cannot fill both tanks, he can only park the truck. 

As you can see, Union Pacific's railway system is the largest
in the United States.

This whole situation is very odd, to wit:

  • Why would Union Pacific demand Flying J to reduce its shipments of DEF by 50 percent or face embargo? Doesn't U.P. make money hauling DEF for Flying J? 
  • What is Union Pacific's business upside of this demand? 
  • As well, did U.P. consult with CF Industries or DEF makers before issuing the edict to F.J.? If F.J. cancels 50 percent of its DEF orders, would that not affect CF and DEF makers? 
  • For that matter, why did Union Pacific issue the edict to Flying J at all, when FJ is just the consumer, not the shipper?

Dot two: what does urea manufacturer CF Industries and the Union Pacific railroad have in common? They are both heavily owned by BlackRock, Inc. 

  • BlackRock is the second-largest holder of CF stock. What that means is that basically BlackRock has near-controlling influence over manufacture of all urea production and urea products in the United States because of CF Industries' dominance in the field.
  • BlackRock is also the second-largest shareholder of Union Pacific, owning 7.3% of common stock.
  • The Vanguard Group, Inc. is the largest shareholder of both companies, owning 8.5% of shares of Union Pacific and 12.37% ownership of CF Industries. 
  • And Vanguard is also the largest shareholder of BlackRock, Inc, holding almost 8 percent of shares. The second-largest owner of Blackrock, Inc., is BlackRock Fund Advisors, which means that Blackrock itself occupies that position.

Dot three (Updated): Who owns Vanguard? According to its web site, "Vanguard isn't owned by shareholders. It's owned by the people who invest in our funds." In that sense, it is like New York Life, which is a mutual company; it is the same idea as a co-op or credit union. 

There is a unrelated company called American Vanguard Corp. It is agriculture oriented. BlackRock is the largest shareholder of AVC, so it is east to confuse this Vanguard with the investment Vanguard. But there is no relationship  between the two. 

But one question is whether BlackRock holds Vanguard investment funds, and if so, what percentage? That is a difficult question. In Vanguard's prospectuses there is a section called the "Statement of Additional Information." In this, the company is required to disclose the identity and address of holders of 5% or more of a fund's shares. However, this disclosure is only done fund by fund. By far, the largest investors in Vanguard funds are institutional investment companies, mainly 401(k) and other retirement holdings. How much, if any, of Vanguard's funds are owned by BlackRock would be a very time consuming process to learn. 

But it may be relevant to know that there is a technical, but not practical, difference between Vanguard not being owned by shareholders versus the people who invest in its funds. Anna Pavlova, a professor of finance at London Business School, explained to Reuters,

... a concern could be that the two companies “may not accurately represent client preferences” when voting in invested companies on their behalf. She also acknowledged that both “try to be transparent in how they vote (by) publishing this information”.

As company shareholders, BlackRock and Vanguard can vote on behalf of their clients at company shareholder meetings. Both firms also have “investment stewardship” functions, which enables the proxy votes.

Which is to say, the proxy stewardship function means that the investor-owners must be very proactive or even aggressive is they want to determine how their votes will be tallied to set Vanguard's policies. And even if some or many investor-owners are that proactive, if BlackRock owns large shares of Vanguard funds, proactive investor-owners will be far outvoted by BlackRock proxy-voting on behalf of vastly larger numbers and share values of other, passive, investor-owners.

But we do not know whether that is happening. 

So here is the dot connection: 

  • CF Industries is the overwhelmingly dominant maker of urea in the United States. Urea is the key component of DEF. 
  • CF Industries' two largest shareholders are Vanguard and BlackRock. 
  • Flying J sells almost a third of all the DEF sold to truckers in the country. It obtains 70 percent of that DEF from shipment by Union Pacific railroad.
  • Union Pacific has mandated that Flying J reduce its shipments of DEF by 50 percent, or else they would be embargoed, which would effectively bankrupt Flying J. 
  • Union Pacific's two largest shareholders are Vanguard and BlackRock. 
Bottom line here: BlackRock has a very powerful voice in both CF Industries and Union Pacific. 

Dot 4: 

The policy, strategy, and plans division of BlackRock is the BlackRock Investment Institute.

The BlackRock Investment Institute (BII) leverages the firm's expertise and generates proprietary research to provide insights on the global economy, markets, geopolitics and long-term asset allocation – all to help our clients and portfolio managers navigate financial markets.

And:

  • The Chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute is Tom Donilon, President Obama’s former National Security Advisor. 
  • Tom Donilon’s brother, Mike Donilon is a Senior Advisor to Joe Biden. 
  • Tom Donilon’s wife, Catherine Russell, is the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office. 
  • Tom Donilon’s daughter, Sarah Donilon, graduated from college in 2019 and now works on the White House National Security Council.

In February, CNBC reported, "Biden pauses new oil and gas leases amid legal battle over cost of climate change." And Politico reported that the number of oil and gas permits approved by the Bureau of Land Management for drilling on public lands declined to its lowest number under the Biden administration this year. So how does that affect the supply of natural gas to use to make urea?

According to the federal Energy Information Agency, in 2020 the US produced 111.2 billion cubic feet per day of nat-gas. In 2021, it was 118.8 billion cubic feet. The EIA forecasts 2022 thus:

U.S. natural gas inventories ended May at 2.0 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), which is 15% below the five-year average. We forecast that natural gas inventories will end the 2022 injection season (end of October) at just over 3.3 Tcf, which would be 9% below the five-year average.
So natural gas production is falling. What about infrastructure? Reuters, last month: "U.S. natural gas production growth wanes as need arises." 

For much of the past decade, Appalachia has been the workhorse of U.S. gas production, growing by an average of 36% per year from 2010-2019.

Pipeline construction has slowed, and output growth dropped to an average of 4% in 2020 and 2021. EQT Corp (EQT.N) said on its earnings call that growth will not pick up until there are more pipelines.

Appalachia "is nearing takeaway capacity limits," said analysts at Bank of America, who estimated there would be "little to no production growth" until new pipes enter service. ...

Another long-delayed project, Equitrans Midstream Corp's (ETRN.N) $6.2 billion Mountain Valley line from West Virginia to Virginia, has not been completed due to ongoing lawsuits.

"This project may be the last large greenfield natural gas pipeline to go into service east of the Mississippi River for some time," said analysts at ClearView Energy Partners, who estimate Mountain Valley will enter service in mid 2023.

America's largest gas field is the Permian Basin, but, "Permian gas output grew by an average of 17% per year from 2012-2020, before slowing to just 8% in 2021" (Reuters).

The Finale:

Unless the nation's truckers can refill with Diesel Exhaust Fluid, the trucks will stop. Literally. DEF production and imports are about to crater and the country's largest truck-fueling company, Flying J, has been directed by Union Pacific railroad to decrease its DEF-receiving shipments by 50 percent or be 100 percent  embargoed. Unless resolved, this demand may cause countless thousands of 18-wheelers to be force-parked very soon, perhaps starting this month. That would be a very, very terrible event, because according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the trucking industry transports almost three-quarter of all goods shipped in the country: 


Union Pacific's largest two shareholders are Vanguard and BlackRock. BlackRock's key figure for strategy and policy is Tom Donilon, President Obama’s former National Security Advisor. Donilon's wife, daughter, and brother work at the Biden White House. 

There is no wand to be waved to make the DEF shortage simply disappear. But doing nothing is both reprehensible and indefensible. There is no one better positioned to bring this looming catastrophe to the front burner than two men and two women named Donilon. Yet nothing is exactly what is being done. Why? Well, draw your own conclusions:

Update: Glenn Reynolds posts at Instapundit,
A Knoxville friend writes: “Ha, Rural King literally had pallets of 2.5 gallon DEF containers in their stores. $6.99, then $9.99. Now none. Same at Walmart. Tractor Supply etc. All of the newer ag equipment, tractor’s, combines etc require DEF. Talk about food shortages!”

We just need a hack so it’ll run without it. But EPA will probably block this. I liked it better when Atlas Shrugged was just a novel.

ANOTHER UPDATE: They were warned this was coming 6 months ago: The DEF Shortage – As Prices Rise, Supply Challenges Continue.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

What is worth dying for?

What is worth dying for? Since World War II, the United States has fought thirteen wars of varying intensity and lethality. They ranged from the Korean War and Vietnam to the rescue operation of the vessel Mayaguez during the Ford administration. During my own years of Army service, we invaded Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and sent Marines to Beirut, where hundreds of them died. We also fought our first war with Iraq. I need not remind anyone of the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The movie Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts infantry. The 54th was the first all-black regiment of the Civil War. In July 1863, the 54th Massachusetts was cited for bravery after a pitched battle on James Island, South Carolina. At dusk the next day the regiment carried out an attack against Fort Wagner, which guarded Charleston harbor. Almost half the regiment’s 600 men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

Soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry of the Civil War

The 54th was reconstituted and later distinguished itself in other battles in Georgia and South Carolina. They knew the stakes for them were higher than for white soldiers: if captured, they would be either summarily executed or enslaved by the South, including black soldiers born freemen in the North. Even so, by the end of the Civil War more than 175,000 Americans of African descent had volunteered to serve the Union, finally accounting for ten percent of Union forces.

During the United States' incursion into Panama in 1989, I served on the Battle Management Cell of XVIII Airborne Corps. We sent an infantry platoon by helicopter to a bank of the Panama Canal to attack a Panamanian army position blocking access across the canal. The choppers hovered a couple of feet above a dry, level flat in the canal, exposed by low tide. The troops jumped off, only to discover it was not dry, it was mud. Weighed down by sixty or more pounds of equipment, the soldiers sank above their ankles. They were stuck. Panamanian gunners began peppering them with fire, driving the helicopters away. 

Thirty American soldiers might have died like ducks on a pond had not a miracle occurred. Panamanian men and women who lived along the canal saw what was happening. Dozens of them ran out onto the mud flat and formed a chain to the American troops. They took the soldiers’ heavy gear and passed it hand-to-hand to the shore, enabling the troops to clamber to the bank. Some of these brave Panamanian men and women were hit by the gunfire of their own army.

The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts and the civilian men and women of Panama knew that freedom is worth dying for.

William Manchester won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of President Kennedy. Manchester was a Marine in World War 2 who fought in the battle for Okinawa. In his memoir, Goodbye, Darkness, Manchester wrote, “Among men who fight together there is an intense love.” Wounded, though not badly, Manchester was evacuated to a field hospital, where he later found out his unit was ordered to make another amphibious assault farther up the island. The thought of his friends facing danger without him to help, he said, “was just intolerable... . Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them.” He went AWOL from the honorable safety of the field hospital and rejoined his unit. He was horribly wounded by artillery in the ensuing battle. 

Love is worth dying for. 

More than one million, one hundred thousand American men and women have died in battle. I think they would agree with General William T. Sherman that the just aim of war can be only a more just peace. Probably every veteran has experienced a moment when the imponderable awfulness of what soldiers do makes them stop and give cry to a deep-rooted hope for a better world, populated with better people. Soldiers pray for God to come near when the fog of battle closes in. They see only dimly that out of blood and death there might come a brotherly world.


This hope is not forlorn. In October 1999, some American and Japanese veterans of the battle of Pearl Harbor went to Kyushu, where is the port from which the Japanese fleet had sailed to make the attack. The site is now a peace park. These men, once mortal enemies, gathered to plant cherry trees in honor of their reconciliation. Richard Fiske, who survived the sinking of USS West Virginia, said that as the trees grow, they hoped children would understand what the trees and the park represented, “because,” he said, “if we don’t tell our little ones, our future is none. We give ourselves to them. They carry the future.”

That is why we recognize Memorial Day, not to glorify war, but to pray for peace. Peace is worth dying for yet achieving peace has been the most elusive goal in human history.

Freedom, love, and peace form a trinity of remembrance on Memorial Day. Our honored dead lie slain because they loved their country. They sought to preserve our freedom. And they died in the hope of securing a more just peace. Throughout history, human beings have realized that the ultimate goods attainable have tended to require the ultimate sacrifices possible. 

Maybe you can see where I am going with this. The greatest good attainable for creation is its full reconciliation with God. And that is being brought about by the greatest sacrifice possible, that of God’s own self in the person of Jesus Christ. 

I do not wish to sentimentalize American military dead into Christ figures. Yet we are living off the inheritance of those who gave their lives for us, beginning with the 4,435 patriots who died in battle in the Revolutionary War. What can we do with this inheritance now? We will either squander it or work for its perfection. 

It is the same with our inheritance from the sacrifice of Christ. Our inheritance from Christ is citizenship in the Kingdom of God and the promise of eternal life. Each day we fail to be faithful to Christ, we squander our inheritance. Only by doing the continuing work of Christ to bring all God’s people into God’s family, as brothers and sisters in the family of Christ, do we move on to perfection.

That is something worth more than dying for. It is something worth living for: the peace of Christ, the love of God and the freedom of the Gospel of salvation.

In April 1942, Lt. Col. James Doolittle led sixteen small bombers on the first bombing mission against Japan. Jacob DeShazer was a bombardier on the sixteenth plane. They bombed Nagoya and flew on to China, where they were captured by the Japanese. They were tortured mercilessly. They contracted dysentery and beri-beri because of the deplorable conditions under which they were confined. Three of the crew were executed in October.

The other five men suffered a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. One died. A year later the four survivors began to receive a slight improvement in their treatment. The Japanese gave them a single copy of the Bible, which DeShazer had never read. DeShazer waited six months to have his turn to read it. He read it cover to cover more than a dozen times. DeShazer credited his survival to accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ from that lone Bible.

In 1948, DeShazer was sent back to Japan to testify in war crimes trials of his captors. He stayed for thirty years, preaching the Gospel around Japan. He established a church in Nagoya, the city he had bombed. 

One man who learned of DeShazer’s witnessing was named Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida converted to Christianity in 1949 and met DeShazer the next year. Fuchida became an evangelist, preaching in Japan and all over the world. He lived a few years in the United States before retiring in Japan.

Do you recognize the name, Mitsuo Fuchida? On December 7, 1941, he had commanded the air armada that attacked Pearl Harbor. In 1952, after becoming an evangelist, he said in an interview, “Christianity has opened my eyes, and I hope through Christ to help young people of Japan” to learn to love their former enemy, America. Speaking in 1959 at Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn, he said that after the war he had observed American missionaries in Tokyo feeding the starving and teaching the “ways of Christ.” Such forgiveness, he said, made him want to know more of the Christ “they professed to love.” One of his talks was called “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary – My Testimony.” 

Mitsuo Fuchida and Jacob DeShazer

Mitsuo Fuchida, who had bombed Pearl Harbor, died in 1976. The man who had bombed Nagoya, tortured POW Jacob DeShazer, conducted his funeral in Japan.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, we come before you as part of your global family, thankful for your generous love and abundant blessings. May we honor your holy name by living up to the inheritance of your salvation, as we bear the name of your son, Jesus Christ our savior, with passion for his work of reconciliation of all the world. 

May your vision of peace and justice be realized and enacted among nations finally at rest from war, among families at peace with each other, and hearts that find their rest in you. Lead us to that day when every tear is dried, every life is fulfilled and the law of love is written on our hearts.

We thank you, Lord, for the lives of all those whose sacrifices have made our freedom possible. We beg your grace for our country and your wisdom to guide each of our citizens. Let us not squander the freedom we have been given by those who died to preserve it. 

Remove from human beings the arrogance of power, our trust in anger, our reliance on weapons, and our love of violence. Chasten us with humility and strengthen our trust in you. Make us agents of your peace in all places. Amen.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

What happened to Jesus' body?


The entire Christian religion stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. With no resurrection, we could follow Christ’s teachings and ethics and live fairly good, decent lives. But in the end, Paul says, it wouldn't matter. In the end there would loom before us the cold desolation of the grave and our loss to eternity. If Christ is not raised, we have put our faith in a falsehood. We have begged for God’s grace on the basis of something untrue. We are still trapped by our sins and have no way out. Truly, if Christ is not raised, we would be pitiful. 
 
But in fact, Christ was raised from the dead. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection is the central event in all human history. The resurrection is God’s ultimate saving act in the world. All gifts of grace from God are intended to bring us to believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised and to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. Having made that confession, God’s grace leads us to live as Easter people.
 
We are redeemed by God's grace through our faith in Christ because God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s self. Saving faith is in the living person of Christ. 
  • Jesus’ teachings are not the object of our faith. All of Jesus’ moral and ethical teachings are found in the Jewish scriptures. 
  • Jesus’ miracles are not the object of our faith. 
  • The accounts and testimony about Jesus in Scripture are divinely inspired, but the Bible is not the object of our faith. 
  • The Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ himself as the risen one.
This faith is not merely acknowledging that the resurrection happened. The apostle James observed that even hell-bound opponents of God acknowledge the truth about God. Merely assenting to the truth of the claims of Christianity isn’t the point. Saving faith is to stake one’s life on the Christian claims. It is to place the person of Jesus Christ at the center of one’s own identity, the center of one’s relationship with God and others.

One of the historical facts of the first Easter is that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. On that day, Mary Magdalene saw Jesus. He had been transformed from a broken, bloody, ravaged, and shattered corpse into the glorified Risen Lord. At first, Mary did not recognize him, mistaking him for a cemetery caretaker. Jesus was raised bodily from death, but it seems that the same fleshly body that went into the tomb was not the very same body of the risen Lord. 
 
When Mary talked with the risen Lord, she knew he was still Jesus. His identity continued from his life into his resurrection. But the embodiment of his resurrection, the Christ, was not the same as his embodiment as Jesus.
 
In fact, it is not obvious why the tomb was opened. Was it to let Jesus out? The risen Jesus didn’t have any problem entering locked and shuttered rooms where the disciples had gathered. Probably the tomb was opened to let the women and Peter and John in so they could confirm that death had no hold on their Lord.
 
So: what Was Jesus’ resurrection? It was not simply the reanimation or resuscitation of a lifeless body. Compare the resurrection of Jesus with the resuscitation of Lazarus in John 11. There, Jesus stood at the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb, wherein Lazarus has lain for four days. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” 
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (vv. 43-44).
That is what a resuscitated corpse was like. But Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb on Friday but on Sunday the tomb was empty. The grave wrappings they had put on Jesus’ body were still in the tomb.
It would seem that identity, not materiality, carries over from this life to the resurrected life, but that is not easily grasped, as even Paul saw.
 
So what happened to the body of Christ? The Bible does tell us: 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it1 Cor. 12.27
 
No one of us dares claim that he or she is the body of the risen Christ, but we do declare it together as a church. Jesus of Nazareth was God embodied on earth. The Christian church is Christ embodied on earth. If this claim is true, then within our church we should be able to see, hear, feel and do what Jesus did. So let’s look at what Jesus did, and see whether we embody them now.
 
Jesus pointed to God. If there is anything that always bursts forth in the life of Christ, it is Jesus’ extraordinary God consciousness. Jesus did not know God as some cosmic clockmaker who wound the universe up and then went on vacation while creation runs on its own. For Jesus, God was Abba, Father. Actually, it really means “Daddy.” Jesus knew and declared a God of incredibly close relationship to human beings.
 
Jesus proclaimed the Word of God. In his preaching and teaching, Jesus’ overriding message was to return to God. God is to be worshiped and praised, but just as importantly, God is to be honored. To honor God calls for more than worship and praise. It requires a reorientation of life and society. It is a call to justice and reconciliation.
 
Jesus suffered and died. He did not turn away from doing God’s will even at the cost of his life. Jesus’ suffering was not the point of his ministry, but it was unavoidable to carry out his ministry, because the entrenched powers of the world opposed the godly life Jesus proclaimed.
 
Jesus shared his table with his friends. There are one hundred references in the gospels to Jesus eating. In Jesus’ community, table fellowship was one of the chief signs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew that it is not possible to cross swords with someone who shares your bread. It is at table that families are formed, which is why our fellowship meals are literally godly gatherings.
 
Jesus befriended the poor and the marginalized. Some people in his day had been discarded by society’s mainstream. Widows, the poor, prostitutes, sinners of every stripe and women generally found that all doors were shut to them. Jesus took them in and made them citizens of his kingdom. He brought in the powerful and privileged, too. He left out no one, even a thief hanging on the next cross over.

Jesus healed the sick. People came to Jesus when they had no other hope. They sought Jesus and Jesus sought them. In God’s grace and God’s power, Jesus healed them.
 
Jesus prayed. Jesus was a person of continual inquiry and confession with God. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. Prayer is the most intimate speech a human being can have. It is to pull open one’s soul before the ultimate keeper of the soul. Jesus prayed in gladness, in action, in love, in despair, in agony and in the last breath of life. There was no circumstance or occasion that Jesus did not pervade and surround with prayer.
 
There are many more things Jesus did, of course. I’m not trying to make an exhaustive list. When the Christians in Corinth read Paul’s letter reminding them that they knew Christ had been raised, I think some recollections of Jesus’ life like this must have been remembered. And in remembering, they saw in themselves the risen savior, because they did, however imperfectly, what Jesus did.
 
The church points to God. The church calls the world to God and reveals God as one who can be known and admitted into close relationship with every human being. The church proclaims the word of God and worships God. The church honors God in its work for justice and reconciliation. The Word and work of the church calls society to live as God intended.
 
The church suffers and sometimes dies. It is almost incomprehensible that the Christian faith and its works flourish where its persecution is greatest. While we in America don’t suffer for our faith, our brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China, North Korea, and many other places are being imprisoned or killed today because they proclaim Christ.
 
We share our table with one another. More than that, we share our food with the hungry. The works of Christian relief agencies have staved off starvation in Bangladesh, Africa and South America. In any American city today, Catholic and Protestant missions are all that stand between many poor people and terrible hunger.

The church brings in the poor and offers comfort to the sinners of the world. We are all sinners, yes, but there are many people who have become so entrapped in sin and fallenness that the secular world would just drop them from sight. But inside prisons and drug-rehab centers, in the lives of the chronically homeless, we find the church.

The church heals the sick. It was not an atheist association that built Baptist Hospital or St. Thomas hospital. Around the world, medical relief missions work to inoculate children, conquer disease and improve preventive medicine practices in third world countries. Mother Theresa’s order of Sisters of Mercy was the last hope for countless thousands of the lowest caste of Indians suffering in the gravest crises. It is no coincidence that Mother Theresa was a disciple of Jesus Christ and not of some pagan deity or secular humanism.
 
The church prays. We remain in continual confession and inquiry before God. In the sum of our prayers we bare the world’s soul. We overcome life’s tragedy because we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that no thing that exists or can be imagined can block us from approaching God with confidence in his mercy.

There is one thing left. Jesus loved. Jesus was the supreme lover of all time. It is in this love we find Christ’s greatest presence. Without this love we are lost and empty; with it we are a holy people, fit for God’s works. Our love does not evoke the sappy sentimentality of simple romanticism or the giggly goofiness of erotic titillation.

Our love is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or proud, it is not rude or self-serving or easily angered. Our love keeps no record of wrongs. Our love protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Our love never fails. In our faith we have hope, but our love is greater than faith or hope. Our love reaches out instead of turning in. It builds up rather than knocks down. It values and cherishes rather than degrades or derides.

The Corinthians knew, and we know too, that this love does not—could not— come from ourselves. It is far greater and deeper than anything we could bring forth. We know we did not have this love or live this life until we encountered the Gospel and took the chance that maybe the most fantastic of all tales could really be true: that the tomb really was empty and that Jesus really does live. 
 
The Corinthian Christians are long dead, the apostles have turned to dust. But generation after generation of Christian people have suffered, healed, prayed and proclaimed, all on a single declaration, that Christ is raised.

What happened to Christ’s body? Well, look around you, look around. Here it is, all of us together.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Methodist Conference May Not Separate - Unless It Does

US Conferences Can’t Leave the United Methodist Church, Rules UMC's Judicial Council (Link)

While the denomination’s Book of Discipline has provisions for individual churches wishing to leave the United Methodist Church with their properties, there’s nothing within church law that would allow an annual conference — one of the United Methodist Church’s 53 regional networks of churches and ministries within the United States — to do the same, according to the denomination’s Judicial Council.

The Judicial Council ruled Tuesday (May 10) that only the General Conference, the denomination’s global decision-making body, can determine the process and conditions for annual conferences to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.

And the General Conference hasn’t done that.

“There is no basis in Church law for any annual conference to adopt stopgap policies, pass resolutions, take a vote, or act unilaterally for the purpose of removing itself from The United Methodist Church,” Decision 1444 reads.

I am an ordained, retired UMC minister. In the UMC a conference is basically the same as a Catholic diocese - a defined geographical area with the churches therein under the leadership of a bishop. An "annual conference" is simply a convention of clergy and elected lay delegates of the conference, meeting once per year. The Judicial Council is exactly right that there is no provision in the UMC's canon law, The Book of Discipline, that permits a conference to depart the denomination. However, individual congregations have been permitted to depart the denomination, with conditions, since 2019. 

Consider, though the U.S. Supreme Court's 1869 case, Texas v. White. Chief Justice Salmon Chase wrote in the majority opinion that no provision in the Constitution permits a state to secede. Yet Chase wrote that states may nonetheless secede in two ways. One was by consent of the other states (Chase did not say how) and the other was simply that it declares secession and makes it stick.

In other words, a state may not secede from the Union - unless it does! And that is exactly where we are in the UMC with US domestic conferences and their potential departures. A conference may not depart the denomination - unless it does. (Overseas conferences already have existing ways to leave the UMC.)

For the record, I do not support any conference attempting to withdraw, and I cannot imagine how such a motion in my own conference would even come before the delegates for a vote. However, I have read that two or three US conferences have taken some steps toward separation. 

If a conference decides to withdraw from the denomination and is not compelled to remain, then its withdrawal becomes fait accompli. And since compulsion will not, of course, be by physical force, that leaves only persuasion or court order. Persuasion will not work, it is too far gone for that. And courts' histories on accepting cases about a church's or denomination's internal affairs is that they don't. The courts deal with US law, not UMC canon law.

There are legally enforceable real-property trust clauses that would have to dealt with for a departure. Briefly, conferences hold their real property in legal trust for use by the denomination. But if a conference does not contest them, there is nothing else to stop it. 

On May 1 of this year, the Global Methodist Church formally began as a new denomination. Its main founders are former United Methodist laity and clergy who would have remained in the denomination at least until the announced UMC General Conferences had taken place. A General Conference is the only body that has authority to set denominational policy, rules, and procedures. 

One was scheduled for May 2020, at which the first item of business was to have been a vote on a "Protocol" shepherded by the UMC's bishops to permit and fund "breakaway" churches and conferences, disabling the trust clauses so that those churches could keep their real property. (There were other matters, but I want to keep it simple here.) 

However, the meeting venue canceled the 2020 GC because of Covid. Some time later, the GC was rescheduled for late August of this year. Then in March of this year, "the Commission on General Conference announced it was postponing the meeting again — this time to 2024. Though COVID-19 numbers have dropped in the United States, the commission said, delegates living outside the country are having trouble getting visas to travel to the in-person gathering."

And so the GMC's organizers and backers went forward. That said, despite the Judicial Council's recent ruling, conferences are already leaving the UMC. But they are doing it one church at a time, over time. As I said, The Discipline does specify how local churches can sever from the UMC, and they are doing it at an increasing pace. In Florida, for example (not where I live) more than 100 individual churches have left the UMC, which is 20 percent of all the churches in the conference. We will probably see this at an increasing pace. 

So, by the time of the 2024 GC, votes relating to departing the denomination may be more pro forma than substantive, although funding will still be addressed (probably vigorously).

See also:

Bishop Schnase offers prophetic assessment of UMC

Death throes of the Blue Model church

Friday, May 13, 2022

Evil never draws boundaries - here is proof


From former senior NYT reporter Bari Weiss:

The House Pro-Choice Caucus has just released official new language guidance: “Choice” is categorized as “harmful language” when talking about abortion. Yes, as the battle of a lifetime heats up, the House of Representatives’ Pro-Choice Caucus announced that their own name is problematic. Instead of “choice,” the better word is “decision.” They’re getting this from a Planned Parenthood document that argues that the word “choice” implies freedom that many black women don’t have.

From that same document: Instead of saying “pro-choice,” the new preferred phrase is: “Pro-abortion.” Yes: pro-abortion. Is this a joke? It is not.

Dems also have formally dropped the quite effective phrase “safe, legal, and rare,” since rare implies there’s anything wrong with copious abortions. Again, that’s real. Where activists once made huge inroads talking about abortion as a private, difficult choice a woman sometimes needs to make, they now argue it’s not a choice, that it’s not about women, and anyway the act should be celebrated.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Evil knows no limit

As someone commented at the tweet, "As an atheist I don't believe in gods and devils, but I'm having to think deeply on the nature of evil these days."

This is what abortion supporters want to protect: 

What not to do under gunfire

Originally posted in May 2017 Here is security-camera video of the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday [ in 2017 - DS ], for...