Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:

Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. For the severest punishment God ever lays on us is to let us have what we want.

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stunning movement of the Lord in Iraq

Despite threat from ISIS, 100 children receive First Communion in Iraq

The first communion Mass in Alqosh was an historic moment for a “frontier town” that has been under threat from the militants of the Islamic State (IS) for a long time. Now it can “hope for peace and normalcy” around these hundred children, said Mgr Basil Yaldo, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and close associate of the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean primate presided over the ceremony that was attended by “all the priests of the city, the nuns and more than 700 people. The faithful were excited because for the first time, the patriarch celebrated communions in the community.” 
Like many other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alqosh too welcomed scores of refugees.
“Life in the area is almost back to normal,” said the vicar of Baghdad. “We hope that soon the whole plain [of Nineveh] can be liberated from the jihadists, and that refugees can return to their villages.” 
The work to secure the area, he added, has “already started and for the past two days Iraqi troops have launched the battle to liberate the villages surrounding Mosul.” 
…Addressing the boys and girls who received the first communion, Patriarch Sako urged them not to abandon their land, the city of Alqosh, but to stay and help in the reconstruction “because there is a (Christian) heritage to be preserved. ” 
The Chaldean primate, Mgr Yaldo noted, also called on young people to “be stronger, come to church and participate in the life of the Christian community as one participates in the life of a family.” 
After the service, the children asked Patriarch Sako some questions. One of them, Mgr Yaldo noted, said that when he “grows up he wants to become a priest to serve the poor and the needy.” 
The patriarch could not hold back his emotion after listening to such words, adding that “it is important to support and share the suffering.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Honey, sorry I am going to have you blown to smithereens."

Saw this on one of my FB feeds and it brought back some memories.

Under the nets are 155mm self-propelled howitzers taking part in the REturn of FORces to GERmany (hence, REFORGER) exercises that took place by US Army Europe from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. This is from the 1986 exercise; I do not know which unit.

The one in 1984 took place in the severest winter Germany had experienced since WW2. I froze my kundingi off. I was a battery commander  in 2d Battalion, 3d Field Artillery, 3d Armored Division. My battalion was stationed in the town of Butzbach, West Germany, about 55 km north of Frankfurt.

At the time, my wife and I lived in a very nice, govt.-contracted duplex in Dorf-Guell, near Giessen, pinned here in this screen grab from Google Earth:

This was a northern Reforger (they alternated north and south in the country), so the town was in the thick of the action. During the exercise one day I pulled into a phone booth to call Cathy. She told me that an aviation unit had set up field operations in the very large fields behind our house. I already knew that was "enemy" territory.

So, artilleryman that I was, I apologized to her that I was going to have her blown to bits. Then I grabbed the grids off my map sets and sent it with target description to 3AD Division Artillery's operations center. From there it got handed off to V Corps Artillery, which moonscaped the field (in an exercise-y sort of way) with 8-inch artillery. Darn shame about my wife, though.

Later I learned that Divarty had actually credited her by name as the target-intel source, though, so she had that going for her at least.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

American generations

Here is a summary of the prevailing characteristics of each American generation born starting in 1900 and ending with the generation born since 2001: "The Six Living Generations In America."

This author, though, says that generational characteristics are not sharp between generations, and hence "here is a 'fuzzy' consensus on the characteristics of each generation" X, Y and Z.

The American Management Association offers its own summaries of the generations related to the workplace, "Leading the Four Generations at Work."

This is a brief summary of "Members of each generation: perceived characteristics."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus does not endorse your candidate

Earlier this month, columnist Richard Fernandez wrote,
The problem may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive the modern world, but whether the modern world can survive without Christianity. The naive assumption of 19th century Marxists was that after belief was abolished, what was essentially a Christian morality would continue to guide the world though without its religious overtones.

They thought that even without God men would not kill or steal or lie or covet their neighbor's wives. Through the operation of some sort of "decency" things would go on much as before, but with electricity and central planning. They thought this because they had lived in an immersive religious system for so long they were no more aware of it than fish notice water.

But as it turned out "decency" was much more fragile than they thought. If the 20th century showed that man unfettered could create monstrous totalitarian belief systems, the 21st is rapidly demonstrating that rather than accept an inner vacuum millions would rather fill it with strange gods if the gods of their fathers were no longer on offer.

Fish may not notice water when it is there. But they do notice it when it is gone.

Perhaps the major challenge of the 21st century is to reinvent Christianity or something like it. Man does not live by bread alone and if that hunger will not be met by God it will be sated by the spirit of darkness.
And so, in a different context than Richard wrote, we come to this year's presidential election. The problem, to paraphrase Richard a little, may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive modern America, but whether modern America can survive without Christianity. 

There is no "Christian" candidate

The naive assumption of many religionists on both side of the American political aisle seems to be that their only one candidate, but not the other, can sustain Christian morality in the national polity.

It beggars words to describe how foolish - indeed, how un-Christian - this belief is. I find it impossible to affirm even in the smallest way that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care a fig about the Christian religion at all, no matter what they claim, and at least Trump has the forthrightness not to claim any particular religion at all. Trump's religion is Trump. There is almost nothing I have seen about his platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. I am dismayed that so many prominent Christian figures have endorsed his candidacy. It is more than merely distressing to observe what even conservative commentators are calling, "The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party." 

That said, exactly what is the actual evidence, not rhetoric, but evidence, that Hillary Clinton cares a fig about Christian religion herself? Sure, she claims Methodist affiliation, but exactly what does that mean when examining her truly dismal, spectacularly failing record as a public official? Claiming a religious affiliation does not confer competence, and even MSNBC's in-the-tank hosts were forced to admit one day that they could think of nothing of note that she had ever accomplished. This is a woman whom FBI Director James Comey, under oath before a Congressional committee, confirmed repeatedly had lied over and over and over about handling highly classified material but just wasn't "sophisticated enough" to know the severity of her actions. So yeah, sure, that plus Methodism qualifies her for the presidency, of course. Hillary Clinton's religion is Clintonism. There is almost nothing I have seen about her platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. As one commentator said, Hillary's real objective is inauguration day. She has no goal beyond then. 

All that said, I will emphasize that in fact a presidential candidate's religion is a matter of low importance to me. I want a president who is a Constitutional originalist, religious denomination irrelevant. But we pretty much gave that up a century ago when we elected the proto-progressive Woodrow Wilson. And so here we are:

The dens of thieves that run our country

Now that I've got past that rant, let me ask, "What would Jesus do with national American politics?" Probably this:
Jesus at the Republican National Convention, or maybe the Democrat one. 
Hard to tell since they are both dens of thieves.
How bad has political thievery become? James Bessen of Boston University Law School says it is so deep that political lobbying is now the second-largest influence on profits for America's large companies. 

Government gets bigger and more powerful, which lures companies into viewing Washington as a profit center, which then leads to more policies that expand the size and power of the federal government, which leads to further opportunities for rent-seeking behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's 4.5 billion of your dollars and mine. This is why Elon Musk's company, Tesla, never has to sell even one electric car at profit and he still becomes wealthier and wealthier. Our taxes pay his profit. This is crony capitalism at it worst (or best, if your name is Elon Musk). 

What kind of national economic model is this? Tom Wolfe once observed that, "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Yet Wolfe surely knows that before fascism was anything else, it was a national economic regime. Its features were not exactly original; what was novel was the inclusion of Marxism and whole-country integration by its modern originator and premier practitioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State.... ..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
It was further explained in 2010 by the "Classic Liberal" blog
A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life. ...
Feel familiar? It ought to: this has been the economic policy of both parties for at least the last 50 years, with different emphases by one party or the other. American federal polity long ago became centrally located on a less-lethal version of Lenin's question, "Who? Whom?" For Lenin, the question was about who would die and who would live. But for both the Republicans and the Democrats it is about money and power:
  • Who will receive the largess they will use tax dollars to provide?
  • Whom will be the class they plunder to get it? 
  • And how will they spend it to suborn, corrupt or crush so they can keep power?
That is not merely the primary principle of American federal governance today, it is almost the only principle there is. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the American Left is not socialist at all; it is fascist, which began in and never departed from Leftism. (Mussolini had been an active member of the Communist International before resigning to start the Fascisti party.) The Republicans are fascist, too, just not as much. But give them 15-20 years and they'll catch up.

How to vote

So to my fellow Christians who will vote this November I say: Vote for the candidate of your choice. Vote your conscience. Vote your convictions.

But do not pretend for one second that it is even possible to vote the Gospel this November. 

John Wesley had some excellent advice:

Fellow clergy, please: 

Your presidential candidate is not going to inaugurate the eschaton. Not even the Millennium. Not even a decent mimic of anything Jesus imagined the Kingdom of God to be, nor even the faintest shadow. There is no divine endorsement - none whatever - of even a single word in the platforms of either the DNC or RNC.

I am not so dismayed that millions of American, Christian laypersons may think this. I do not think that all do, perhaps not even most, anyway. But I am dismayed that there are a large number of Christian clergy, especially of my own United Methodist denomination, who (to judge by their own online posts) actually seem to think that Christian discipleship actually equates with voting for one party and necessarily excludes ever voting for the other. In fact, one of my UM colleagues told me bluntly before the 2000 election (so this has been going on awhile) that is was not possible for a Christian to vote for any Republican candidate and that voting for a Republican was certain proof that the voter was not Christian.

Whenever someone claims that supporting this candidate or that one is based on Christian imperatives, that person instantly loses credibility with me. Zip, gone, vamoose, nada. Because what is really being said is that corrupted political ideology (which is all of them) suborns Christianity and that the work of Christ necessarily is done through the corrupt organs  (which is all of them) of a corrupt political party (which is all of them). And never is this more so than this year and this year's candidates.

I neither demand nor expect that any American political party will ever base its platform on the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be done anyway. But I long for a day when Americans will awaken again to the supremacy of Christ over the self.

I pray our polity this year is not a bellwether of the years to come. If so, we as a people are too very close to losing our goodness. God help us.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Orlando: The No Fly List and firearm purchases

I am writing this in response to the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting of the Pulse nightclub on June 12. Since then, many political leaders in America and many of my colleagues in ministry have offered various commentary, but the topic for this post is the insistence of many of them that persons listed on the TSA's "No Fly List" (NFL henceforth) should be prohibited from buying firearms.

That they should be so prohibited, by the way, was a specific point Preisdent Obama made during his Oval Office address to the nation after the Islamist mass murders in San Bernadino, Calif. in 2015.  The quote is:
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
If we are going to debate this and other topics, it is necessary that we all understand what the terms are we are debating and what they mean. So what exactly is the No Fly List?

The NFL is nothing but a list of names that is used to prevent persons with a matching name - or even a similar name - from boarding an aircraft inside the United States. That is to say, the NFL is itself only names and nothing else - no secondary identification such as date of birth, place of residence, color of hair, height, etc.

When you make an airline reservation, either online or on the phone, the reservation system compares your name to the names on the list. If there is a match or if your name is merely similar to a name on the list, your reservation will succeed and you will be sold a ticket, but you will not be permitted to board the aircraft when you go to the airport. In fact, you will not even know your name, or a similar one, is on the NFL until you attempt to check in.

And you may not ever fly again until you prove - to the government's satisfaction, not yours - that you are not the person whose name is the real subject of the listing.

The ACLU has long been highly critical of the No Fly List and some of its chapters have challenged the law and its processes in court. The ACLU explains:

In 2004, The Washington Post reported,
U.S. Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy said yesterday that he was stopped and questioned at airports on the East Coast five times in March because his name appeared on the government's secret "no-fly" list. 
Federal air security officials said the initial error that led to scrutiny of the Massachusetts Democrat should not have happened even though they recognize that the no-fly list is imperfect. But privately they acknowledged being embarrassed that it took the senator and his staff more than three weeks to get his name removed. 
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said Kennedy was stopped because the name "T. Kennedy" has been used as an alias by someone on the list of terrorist suspects. ...
"That a clerical error could lend one of the most powerful people in Washington to the list -- it makes one wonder just how many others who are not terrorists are on the list," said Reginald T. Shuford, senior ACLU counsel. "Someone of Senator Kennedy's stature can simply call a friend to have his name removed but a regular American citizen does not have that ability. He had to call three times himself."
In fact, Sen. Kennedy publicly made the same point as ACLU Counsel Shuford. But note that even though Kennedy picked up a phone and called DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to get his name removed, it still took three weeks. In fact, though, "T Kennedy" was not removed from the list, the DHS just issued instructions that Sen. Kennedy would not be delayed. I would submit that us peons will not enjoy that advantage of present DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson answering the phone personally when you or I call him.

The ACLU explains their continuing, serious concerns and legal actions regarding the No Fly List at some length here. And in 2014, Reuters reported, "Federal judge rules U.S. no-fly list violates Constitution."
The U.S. government's no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights violates their constitutional rights because it gives them no meaningful way to contest that decision, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, ruling on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon by 13 Muslim Americans who were branded with the no-fly status, ordered the government to come up with new procedures that allow people on the no-fly list to challenge that designation.
And speaking of the DHS,
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) disclosed that a congressional investigation recently found that at least 72 people working at DHS also “were on the terrorist watch list.”

“Back in August, we did an investigation—the inspector general did—of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security,” Lynch told Boston Public Radio.
It should be noted that the No Fly List and the Terror Watch List (TWL) are two distinct lists that have different purposes. Being placed on the TWL does not automatically place that name on the NFL and FBI Director James Comey is on record saying that it should not do so.

There is a long list of "false positives" on the No Fly List at Wikipedia article on the topic. A few examples:
  • U.S. Representative, former Freedom Rider, and Chairman of SNCC John Lewis (politician) (D-GA) has been stopped many times.
  • David Nelson, the actor best known for his role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, is among various persons named David Nelson who have been stopped at airports because their name appears on the list.
  • In February 2006, U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) stated in a committee hearing that his wife Catherine had been subjected to questioning at an airport as to whether she was Cat Stevens due to the similarity of their names. [Cat Stevens was a pop singer who converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978, and that name was placed on the NFL.]
  • After frequent harassment at airport terminals, a Canadian businessman changed his name to avoid being delayed every time he took a flight.
  • Abe Mashal, a 31-year-old Muslim and United States Marine Veteran, found himself on the No Fly List in April 2010 while attempting to board a plane out of Midway Airport. He was questioned by the TSA, FBI and Chicago Police at the airport and was told they had no clue why he was on the No Fly List. Once he arrived at home that day two other FBI agents came to his home and used a Do Not Fly question-and-answer sheet to question him. They informed him they had no idea why he was on the No Fly List.
There are many other such examples. So secretive are the NFL's processes that last year the left-of-center Huffington Post published,
Earlier this week, The Intercept published a 166-page document outlining the government's guidelines for placing people on an expansive network of terror watch lists, including the no-fly list. In their report, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux highlighted the extremely vague and loosely defined criteria developed by 19 federal agencies, supposedly to fight terrorism.

Using these criteria, government officials have secretly characterized an unknown number of individuals as threats or potential threats to national security. In 2013 alone, 468,749 watch-list nominations were submitted to the National Counterterrorism Center. It rejected only 1 percent of the recommendations.

Critics say the system is bloated and imprecise, needlessly sweeping up thousands of people while simultaneously failing to catch legitimate threats, like Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
HuffPo went on to explain seven ways you can wind up on the list:
  1. You could raise "reasonable suspicion" that you're involved in terrorism. "Irrefutable evidence or concrete facts" are not required.
  2. You could post something on Facebook or Twitter that raises "reasonable suspicion."
  3. Or somebody else could just think you're a potential terror threat.The guidelines also consider the use of "walk-in" or "write-in" information about potential candidates for the watch list. 
  4. You could be a little terrorist-ish, at least according to someone.
  5. Or you could just know someone terrorist-y, maybe.
  6. And if you're in a "category" of people determined to be a threat, your threat status could be "upgraded" at the snap of a finger.
  7. Finally, you could just be unlucky.
UCLA Constitutional Law Prof. Eugene Volokh wrote in The Washington Post,
"... wouldn’t the argument [against the proposal] be that these are just “suspect[s],” and we don’t deny constitutional rights based just on suspicion? If you think you can prove someone is a terrorist, lock him up. If you have probable cause to think he’s a terrorist, and think you can develop proof beyond a reasonable doubt, arrest him. Even if you have only suspicion, follow him, ask people about him, and so on. But if you don’t have enough to prosecute or even arrest someone, you can’t take away his constitutional rights, even if you suspect he’s a terrorist (or if you suspect he’s a drug dealer or a gang member or whatever else).
In another article, Prof. Volokh points out that while many people say that the Second Amendment does not secure the right of individual persons to keep and bear arms, President Obama has himself said that it does. According to, on January 16, 2013, President Obama said:
Let me be absolutely clear.  Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.
Another point: I think the question is reasonable that if someone is threatening enough to bar from flying and from buying a gun, shouldn't they be arrested? If not, why not? As the ACLU says,
Until the government fixes its unconstitutional new [as of 2014] process, people on the No Fly List are barred from commercial air travel with no meaningful chance to clear their names, resulting in a vast and growing group of individuals whom the government deems too dangerous to fly but too harmless to arrest.
And the solution apparently is to change that to, "too dangerous to fly, too dangerous to buy a gun, but still too harmless to arrest."

Finally, let's revisit the president's quote from his 2015 Oval Office address, specifically these sentences:
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? 
By now I hope the reader can see that imprecision of language is one of the greatest obstacles we have in coming not merely to agreement, but in even speaking cogently to one another. And the president's language here was inexcusably imprecise because the No Fly List is not a list of terrorist suspects, which should be abundantly clear from the sources I have cited above. There is such a thing as a federal terrorist watch list, but that is not the list the president was referring to. Or was it? We really do not know.

Update: The 8-year old.

Update: The Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian:
Dr. Patrick Stephen Hackett is a veterinarian — not a terrorist.

Try explaining that in the airport security line.

Hackett, a lifelong resident of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area, was named Outstanding Practitioner of the Year in 1992 by the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association. He serves as president of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley.

He’s on the no-fly list.

Hackett has never been arrested and never traveled to the Middle East or other centers of terrorist activity, but he found out more than a decade ago he’s on the federal watch list because he shares the same name as notorious Irish Republican Army terrorist Patrick Joseph Hackett, who was jailed in the 1970s for planting bombs in Britain.

The difference should be easy to spot. The terrorist is missing an arm and a leg — blown off when a bomb exploded prematurely — while the Knoxville veterinarian has all his limbs intact.

“I don’t know how I got on the list, and I don’t know how to get off the list,” Hackett said.
And note that the actual terrorist and the veterinarian do not in fact have the same name.

Update: Huffington Post writer Chris Weigant argues
But I have to say, while all this seems laudable at first glance, the underlying (and bipartisan) disdain for the United States Constitution is extremely worrisome. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Second Amendment here, but rather the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Here are the relevant clauses: “No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law....” (Fifth Amendment); and “...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law....” (Fourteenth Amendment). ...

If we’re going to have a No-Fly List and a Terrorist Watch List to provide security for American citizens, then we need to codify such programs by passing a constitutional amendment which clearly spells out the limits and scope of such programs. To me, there is simply no other constitutional way to achieve this goal.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that such pre-emptive security measures are inherently a bad thing. And I’m certainly not arguing that suspected terrorists should be able to easily acquire high-powered weapons. I’m not “pro-terrorist” in any way, shape, or form. Just to be clear.

But I am arguing that what we’ve got now is blatantly unconstitutional. And it appears nobody else is even willing to make such an argument, at the moment. 
Well, I am.

See also, "America's terrorist watch list, explained."

Sunday, May 29, 2016


On Memorial Day we remember the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country or who have died since their time of service. We should be careful to distinguish between this day and Veterans Day, a day set aside to pay tribute to those serving now or who have served and are still living.

While giving honor to more than one million, one hundred thousand American men and women who died in battle, we draw up short of honoring war itself or glorifying it. General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union commander who devastated vast swaths of Georgia and both Carolinas during the Civil War, wrote to his wife at war’s end,
I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even the most brilliant success is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.
Yet while the dead whom we honor today would almost certainly agree with General Sherman's sentiments, they also knew that it is untrue that nothing is worth fighting for. Teddy Roosevelt earned wartime honors in the Spanish-American war and then received the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese war. Roosevelt put the tension between our desire for peace and the sometime necessity of war this way:
[M]y disagreement with the peace-at-any-price men, the ultra-pacifists, is not in the least because they favor peace. I object to them, first, because they have proved themselves futile and impotent in working for peace, and second, because they commit ... the crime against morality of failing to uphold righteousness as the all-important end toward which we should strive ... To condemn equally might which backs right and might which overthrows right is to render positive service to wrong-doers. . . . To denounce the nation that wages war in self-defense, or from a generous desire to relieve the oppressed, in the same terms in which we denounce war waged in a spirit of greed or wanton folly stands on a par with denouncing equally a murderer and the policeman who, at peril of his life and by force of arms, arrests the murderer. In each case the denunciation denotes not loftiness of soul but weakness both of mind and morals. – America and the World War
But I am not exploring today the topic of just or unjust wars. This post is about courage.

Every member of the service who faces battle knows about fear. But there are ample opportunities in the military to be in fear in either peace or war.

One fearful day for me was on Sicily drop zone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on July 1, 1987. A C-130 approached to drop off a Sheridan armored reconnaisance vehicle, flying about five feet above the ground. The chutes deployed but the C-130 hit the ground flat on its underside. It was about 75 feet away from me. The pilot gave the engines full throttle, trying to get back into the air, but the landing gear was buried in the sand and the tail assembly had almost been severed by the impact. The plane ran into a wooded ravine where it blew up.

My friend, Maj. Baxter Ennis, was with me. Like many of the other soldiers present, we ran into the flames because in the military you never abandon your comrades. There was fire and smoke everywhere, not only from the burning jet fuel; the forest was on fire, too. The heat was extremely intense. We finally left, having accomplished nothing. This is that crash:


Two flight officers in the cockpit were severely burned but lived. Four crewmen and a soldier were killed. I had never met them. I didn’t even know their names until the news media broadcast them. But I don’t think two weeks at a time has gone by since then that I don’t think of them, and think of that day.

The pilot’s was Captain Garry Bardo, Jr..
The navigator’s was First Lieutenant John B. Keiser, III.
The loadmaster’s was Technical Sergeant Timothy J. Matar.
The assistant loadmaster’s was Airman First Class Albert G. Dunse.
The soldier’s was Staff Sergeant Douglas Hunter.

These are some names I am remembering for Memorial Day.

William Manchester won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of John. F. Kennedy. Manchester fought on Okinawa as a Marine sergeant. He wrote of single-handedly entering a building to take out an enemy sniper: “There was a door which meant there was another room and the sniper was in that—and I just broke down. I was absolutely gripped by fear that this man would expect me and would shoot me.”

Fear in danger hardly needs justification. It is not fear that needs explanation, but courage. As one veteran wrote, the reasonable thing in battle would be to run away. Whence comes the courage to stay, much less courage to heroics? Were they truly willing to die for their country? I don't think so. There's an old story that goes back probably to the Civil War of the young soldier whose commander asked him, "Are you willing to die for your country?" The young man answered, "Certainly not. But I am ready to die, unwilling."

What is courage? Courage is not simply the absence of fear. Indeed, many men who have been awarded the highest decorations for bravery in battle admit they were frightened the entire time.

No, courage is not the lack of fear. One facing real danger without fear is either a fool or ignorant. As someone once wisecracked, "When everyone around you is losing their head and you’ve kept yours, then you don’t understand the situation."

So, then, is courage the mastery of fear? The will to act despite danger and the fear of it is necessary for courage to come forth. But even that falls short as a workable definition. Courage, like fear, is mostly an emotional response to the danger. Courage is not unthinking, but it is usually uncritical. Courage is an act of will but more than that. Courage is an act of being.

Many soldiers have done heroic acts and later said they were hardly in control of themselves. The ancient Greeks called this state katalepsis, "possession," and even the Spartans tried to train their soldiers never to fall under this condition. Audie Murphy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for action in this condition after his best friend was killed. In this state there is no conscious fear and heroic deeds seem reckless more than courageous.

Without fear there is no courage, but fear and courage are not opposites. Courage is the opposite of cowardice, not of fear. Courage and cowardice are opposite sides of the same coin, but what is the obverse side of the coin of fear?

Again we consult ones who have seen both sides of the coin. William Manchester suffered a non-life-threatening wound on Okinawa that sent him to the honorable safety of a field hospital. There he learned that his unit would make an amphibious assault further up the island. Manchester explained in his book, Goodbye, Darkness, that the thought of his friends facing danger without him to help them “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 hospital, joined his unit was blown nearly to bits by Japanese artillery in the ensuing battle.

Military service, especially in battle, is steeped with the convictions of deepest emotion. In battle there is fear and courage, anger and compassion. There is resignation and determination. There is hope and despair. The chief emotion of the battlefield, unlikely as it may be, is love. When patrolling deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, soldiers stay where flies the angry iron not for country or flag or other abstractions. In the final sense they fight for their friends. One Iraq veteran wrote,
I've found the hard way that war is not glamorous. You quickly lose the idea of being a man fighting for his country when you have to carry your comrade who has been wounded in a gun fight. That nobility is lost quickly. ... It's not about fighting for the flag, it's about fighting for my life and fighting for my buddies' lives. These men I am lucky enough to serve with, I have become so attached to it's like they are my brothers.
The opposite of fear is not courage. It is love. The apostle John wrote (1 John 4:16-18),
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
John was not writing of the battlefield, of course, but of why disciples of Jesus Christ should have no fear of the judgment of God because God loves us and we love God. God's love is perfect to begin with. It's our love of God that must be perfected. The more perfectly one loves God the less one fears God.

In the Old Testament, the admonition to "fear God" mostly means to hold in reverential awe rather than to be actually afraid. The New Testament uses fear that way, too. But Jesus warns us that God is to be feared in the usual sense of the word. In Luke 12:5, Jesus said, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."

He's talking about God and the judgment of God. What insures us against the judgment of God and therefore against the fear of hell's punishment is love. A misconception among church people is that it is God's love for us that removes this fear. To the contrary, it is our love for God. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."

Love displaces fear just as oil displaces water. It is not just the fear of God that is banished by love for God. It is the fear of most anything life can throw at us. I am not confusing fear with concern or caution. It is reasonable to maximize one’s chances for good outcomes in danger or times of uncertainty. That is one thing, but to be gripped by fear is another. Love drives out fear as long as we remember that there is nothing in this life or after it that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and that, as Paul put it, the sufferings of this world do not compare with the glory that God has in store for us (Rom 8.18).

The opposite of fear is not courage. It is love. "Perfect love drives out fear." Love displaces fear just as oil displaces water. Yet there is a paradox here. If love drives out fear, then is love the only source of courage? “Among men who fight together there is an intense love,” Manchester explained. His story of leaving the field hospital is a love story. Yet it was a fear story, too. His fear, as he also admitted, was that his friends would be in danger and unless he was with them he would not be able to do anything about it. Here his fear for his friends’ safety was not driven out by his love for them, his fear for them and love for them combined to evoke courage. Love and fear, two sides of the same coin. Manchester’s courage was born of both fear and love to place himself in danger to protect his comrades.

Former Marine and author Steven Pressfield put it this way in Gates of Fire:
What can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. ... But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. ... 
When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. That is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. The truth is too holy, too sacred for words.
Anita Dixon, of Wichita, Kan., whose son Army Sgt. Evan Parker was killed while serving in Iraq in 2005, kisses the graves in section 60, where many of the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, among flags placed in preparation of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. on Thursday May 27, 2010. 'I'm putting a kiss on the graves because they're all brothers,' says Dixon, ' the military is a family.' says Dixon. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Whether they served in peace or war, the men and women we memorialize today were not so impoverished of spirit that they were unable to surrender the pleasures of life. They deemed that their love of country and duty to freedom were of greater value and more important imperative, so they reckoned that if dangers must be faced, they would face them in the most desirable way, by placing their own mortal bodies "between their loved homes and the war's desolation."

Because of their sacrifice we go safely to our homes. Henceforth we should stand in humility when their names are read. This date should never go by but that on it our fallen shall be remembered.

The prophet Micah wrote that the time will come when God will judge between all the peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. All people will be at peace, and no one will make them afraid (Micah 4:3-4).

Let us pray that day comes quickly. Until then may the Lord watch over those who serve today, to make them instruments of justice, enablers of peace, and finally to see them safely home.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Enslaved by The Crowd?

You do not know it, but you are a slave. You are not enslaved by a central authority, but by the Crowd. Their opinions determine what you can say; their product-buying choices determine what’s on the market; their government preferences create a “window” of acceptable ideas and anything else is excluded. This is tyranny by the Crowd…

Jonathan Peter Wilkinson

"JPW works as an Operations Research Analyst. This line of work has trained him to view the world in a systemic fashion. In solving the System Identification Problem of modern society, he discovered that the system was not truly designed to make us happier or more successful. Secondly, an unflinching evaluation of the ongoing outputs of the current system show its marked decline in quality and success."
(From "Upward Exit," mild language alert)

And this by Roger Simon:
As far back as 1979, Christopher Lasch published a now famous book The Culture of Narcissism that described the American behavioral patterns as largely narcissistic. According to Lasch, our family structure had produced a personality type consistent with “pathological narcissism.” We were constantly seeking attention from the outside world, making us a nation of insecure weaklings forever in search of validation to tell us we were alive, to give us a raison d’être.
(From "Moral Narcissism and the Least-Great Generation")

But none of this, not The Crowd nor the "attention of the outside world" can bring us happiness or meaning and purpose in life. Happiness is a false goal, anyway. As Buddha is supposed to have said, "There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path."

And modern psychologists agree with the saying attributed to Lao Tzu, "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present."

Compare to Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 25:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ... And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? ... Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."
Jesus proclaimed that he brought freedom. And so he did, but not the freedom to do anything we want. The freedom he gives is freedom from the chains that bind us from seeking holiness: sin, The Crowd, the seeking of approval from the world.

Christian writer Owen Strachan pout it this way: "Whatever else Christian freedom means, it fundamentally means that we are free to be holy. There is no barrier to godliness. We have all we need for it through the Word and the Spirit (2 Peter 1:3)."

Freedom is also a choice. But Christian freedom is not merely about making choices, it is focused on making the right choices. Choosing rightly is more important than merely having the ability to choose at all. As colleague of mine emailed me this morning, when each day begins he knows that,
For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice.

Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.

I choose love. No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I choose joy. I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical… the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace. I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I choose patience. I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite Him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

I choose kindness. I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

I choose goodness. I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

I choose faithfulness. Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.

I choose gentleness. Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I choose self-control. I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful-ness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
And that rest will be easy.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Organizational maturity is a death sentence

When I was an artillery officer on the staff of XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, NC, in the latter 1980s, it fell to me to be assigned as the escort officer for Miss North Carolina to the anniversary dinner of the Fayetteville chapter of the Association of the US Army, or AUSA. It was a community-relations gig.

Tough duty, I know, but it had to be done so I just rubbed my artillery insignia, tossed down a cup of coffee and headed off to the trenches.

I'll say not a word about the truly stunning woman at my arm as we entered and dined (for I was and still am married to one) but will relate what led me in the next few days to develop my theory or Organizational Maturity.

After the meal came the business part of the dinner meeting. Then as now, AUSA says it's purpose is "to support all aspects of national security while advancing the interests of America's Army and
the men and women who serve. AUSA is a private, non-profit educational organization that supports America's Army - Active, National Guard, Reserve, Civilians, Retirees, Government Civilians, Wounded Warriors, Veterans, and family members."

Um, not that night.

The entire discussion of the post-prandial meeting was taken up by devoted talk that chapter was threatened with losing its status as the largest chapter of AUSA in membership numbers.

"How to get more members? What do we do with members who are enrolled but don't pay their dues? How do we replace lapsed or deceased members? How do we reach the young people?"

Etc, etc, etc.

Not one word about the troops. Not. One. Word.

And so here is Don's Theorem of Organizational Maturity:

Every organization that does not directly depend on profit-loss models to stay operating eventually abandons its founding purposes and focuses inward, concerned first with keeping itself going and then with sustaining its membership's comfortableness.

This is the special threat to volunteer organizations. It is always a sign of the organization's decline.

It works like this:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"10 Things You Should Know about the Resurrection"

10 Things You Should Know about the Resurrection

I would quibble a little with number 2 on the list, "Belief in Jesus's physical resurrection is the defining doctrine of Christianity." I mean, he is definitely on target here, as I insisted in seminary class one day.

My quibble is certainly not with the assertion that resurrection is at the very core of Christian faith - and not just the resurrection of Jesus! - but with his words, "physical resurrection."

That is not how the New Testament describes what happened, for its strong implication is that Jesus's physically dead body of Friday evening was reanimated or resuscitated in the tomb and departed from it.

But there are no passages in the New Testament that say that. In fact, distinctly from it. In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul says carefully,
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” ... The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
The women on that first Easter morning encountered the empty tomb, had no idea what happened to the body. To this day we still cannot explain what happened to the corpse. 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.

After all, when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, he had been transformed from a broken, bloody, ravaged and shattered corpse into glorified Risen Lord. Yet she did recognize him, though it took some prompting on his part.

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.

So resurrection is not simply the reanimation of a lifeless body. What happens to our earthly body seems to be unimportant. It would seem that identity, but not materiality carries over from this life to the resurrected life, but that is not easily grasped, as even Paul saw.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Five Confounding Facts About Jesus' Resurrection

What would the church be like today if Jesus had died an old man in bed?
A.   It would look almost the same as it does now. Sunday schools, worship, hymns and ministries would be much the same. 
B.   We’d all be Unitarians. Except that even Unitarians discuss Jesus's resurrection stories. If Jesus died in bed, those stories wouldn’t have been told. So perhaps we’d be Unitarians-Lite. 
C.   What church? We’d all be either pagans, Jews or Muslims.
This was actually a discussion topic in a theology class when I was at Vanderbilt. My answer was C: “What church? Without the shock and discontinuity of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection there would be no church at all.”
This frankly did not much impress the TA leading the session, who scoffed at the whole idea of Jesus’s bodily resurrection and who thought that Jesus’s teachings were an excellent vehicle to promote  Marxism – she said this  – and so my insistence on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus garnered me only a B in the class. It was the proudest B I ever got (except seventh-grade algebra).
But I still insist that without Jesus’s resurrection, “we got nuthin.” That Jesus’s teachings are excellent hardly need be said, but they are all found in the Jewish Scriptures. If you built a religion only on Jesus’s teachings you would wind up with a variant of orthodox Judaism, differing only in perhaps having comparatively lax dietary laws and lacking the ideological rigidity of Jesus’s day, a rigidity that is not much found among Orthodox Jews of today, by the way.
Some Orthodox Jews I have spoken with admire Jesus’s teachings and interpretation of the Torah. Jesus broke no new ground there. Jesus simply expressed God’s previously-revealed truths in a compelling manner. So a religious movement based just on Jesus’s ethical and moral teachings would be definitively Jewish, not very different from the Judaism of his time, and certainly nothing to motivate twelve men to give their lives evangelizing the whole world in Jesus’s name. I mean, why bother?
But the TA’s discussion highlights one of the most confounding historical facts about Jesus and the resurrection story: The Church came into being suddenly and with an enormous fervor that finally brokered regime change of the Roman empire itself. 
If Christianity started as nothing but a minority Jewish movement centered on an executed and still-dead messianic leader, why did it succeed when all the other messianic movements of the day failed? No one has ever explained that.
There are at least five historical facts that must be accounted for either to affirm the resurrection or to deny it. These facts are not dependent upon the Scriptures being inspired by the Holy Spirit. These are objective facts that can be independently verified by anyone taking the time to do so.
The first fact I just talked about. It is the sudden and immediate founding of the Church following the death of the man called Jesus of Nazareth. We don’t even have to bring up the Day of Pentecost. That the church began with the power and beliefs that it did has never been explained on any basis that leaves Jesus, like John Brown, “a molderin’ in his grave,” especially since absent Jesus's resurrection, there is nothing left but ordinary Judaism. 
What must be explained is not why the first Christ-followers were Jews (who else would they be?), but why they were Jews who insisted their Messiah had been executed and then raised by God from the dead. 
The reason this is critical is because the long existing Jewish concept of the Messiah had never included his execution and resurrection. The Messiah was conceived of as a political figure and deliverer from foreign occupation and domination, first by the Greeks from about 250 BC and then by the Romans, after which the Messiah would re-establish the throne and lineage of King David.
That many people hoped Jesus would be this kind of Messiah is seen in his joyous greeting as he entered Jerusalem on the day Christians call Palm Sunday. They lay their cloaks on the road in front of him, a sign of highest respect and honor. They waved palm branches, a symbol of Judean nationalism, as Jesus entered the city riding in on a colt (Matthew says a young donkey). This was seen as fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which said, 
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
As a member of the line of King David, Jesus had a rightful claim to the throne of Judea. The throne was occupied by Herod Antipas, a Roman vassal who was not even really Jewish. The people despised Herod almost as much as Pilate. They wanted to be free of him as well as of the Romans.
The Jews wanted a Jewish King with a legitimate claim to the throne who would rule justly. They thought that Jesus was their man. His works of mercy and compassion were well known, as was the amazing power with which Jesus did them. Luke says that "the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen."
Nor was Jesus's potential Messiah-ship missed by the Jewish high council, the Temple/Priestly Sanhedrin, headed by the High Priest, Caiaphas. John 11-12 record that he certainly saw Jesus as a potential leader of insurrection against Rome, which caused him great concern that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, would lay waste to Judea when Jesus made his move. This was not at all an unjustified fear, except that Jesus never intended to lead such a revolt. 
All of this is to emphasize that when Jesus was executed, his appeal to the people would have died along with his body. There had been other would-be Messiahs before who fared as badly at it as Jesus did and whose followers promptly and permanently dissipated, fearing for their own lives - and Jesus never tried to be such a Messiah in the first place. (Now we see that when Jesus's disciples fled and hid when Jesus was arrested, they were just playing to type, for they knew that Jesus was a goner for sure and they would be next if they didn't get out of Dodge.) 
In fact, the Gospels record that by the day of Jesus's execution, public sentiment was swinging heavily against him. Even if the priests did hand pick a crowd to yell to Pilate to crucify Jesus, they had no difficulty finding people willing to do it. 
So why would the Jesus movement not merely survive his death but actually accelerate afterward? Jesus was an abject failure in every aspect of Messiah-ship as conventionally conceived. And yet, almost instantly after his death, not only were more and more people, quickly numbering thousands in fact, counting themselves as Christ followers, they also completely re-wrote what "Messiah" meant at all. 
Donald Juel discusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:
The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliverer from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive. 
Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming an executed Messiah to other Jews: 
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor.1:21‑22). 
Non-Christian historian Bart Ehrman wrote, 
Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened.
There is no historically-grounded explanation for this sudden and enormous change that leaves Jesus dead after Good Friday. The only explanation that has evidence behind it is that Jesus was crucified, died and was raised from death, was then seen risen by numerous people who had known him in life, and these facts impelled a wrenching re-evaluation of what being Jewish actually meant at all.

There are at least four other historical facts that either to affirm or reject Jesus's resurrection must account for. The question is not whether these historical facts are actually facts. The question is what explanation actually explains, actually accounts for all of them?
Two – Jesus’s tomb was discovered empty on the Sunday after he died on the cross.
Three – The first person to claim that Jesus rose from the dead was a woman.
Four – Many other people also said they saw Jesus risen from the dead, especially Paul and James the brother of Jesus, called James the Just.
Five – The apostles who proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection were killed for doing so, except John, who died in exile. None recanted even when it would have saved their lives.
Note that none of these facts rely on supernatural authority. They are historical facts documented as well or better than accounts of other ancient figures or events. Let’s take a closer at each.

Fact Two: Jesus's tomb was found to be empty on the Sunday after his crucifixion.
All accounts of the day include this fact. Since multiple attestation is a bedrock principle of historical inquiry, historians, and not only Christian ones, consider this fact to be solidly established.
This fact was so confounding to the apostles’ opponents that the Gospels record that within days or sooner of the first Easter, those opponents admitted they could not explain the empty tomb nor could they produce Jesus's body themselves, so they spread the story that the disciples stole the body. Yet there is not a scintilla of evidence that the disciples did so.
But let us stipulate for argument’s sake that somehow three or four disciples managed to sneak undetected past an armed guard of soldiers at the tomb, roll away a one-ton stone without making noise, enter the tomb without being noticed, and trundle away Jesus’s corpse without being seen, leaving the stone rolled away without the soldiers subsequently noticing. (Sure, let’s say that is exactly what happened.)
That leaves us with the inexplicable fact that the disciples did exactly nothing afterward. They did not start telling people that the tomb was empty and they had seen Jesus alive again. The disciples did not originate the Easter story at all. Instead, we butt against historical fact number three:

Fact three: The original testimony of Jesus's resurrection was given by a woman, Mary Magdalene.
When Mary discovered the tomb was open and empty, she thought someone had taken the body, not that Jesus was risen. So she asked a man she assumed to be a groundskeeper where Jesus’ body was. The man identified himself as Jesus. If Jesus was still dead, why did this man say he was Jesus? There is absolutely no reason for it. If Jesus was still dead, then this conversation is almost as vexing to explain as the resurrection itself. And of the disciples had stolen the body as they were accused of doing, when Mary told them, “I have seen the Lord,” would not they have simply replied, “Um, no, we have Jesus in back room here”?
Instead, at least two of the disciples rushed to the tomb to confirm her claim. Soon, all the disciples told the world that the empty tomb and Jesus's resurrection were first discovered and proclaimed by women. However, women were universally considered by both first-century Jews and Romans alike to be unreliable witnesses of anything, resurrection or not. Dr. William Lane Craig explained it this way:

When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what's really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discoverers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, 'Let the words of Law be burned rather than delivered to women' and 'blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.' Women's testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren't even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of Law. In light of this, it's absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women... Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb - Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that - like it or not - they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing.This bespeaks the historicity of this tradition rather than its legendary status.

If you were going to make up a story in the first century to use to change the world, you would not say that the original announcers of your claim were women.

Fact four – Many other people also said they saw Jesus risen from the dead
These accounts are dated to very soon after Jesus’s death. In First Corinthians, Paul wrote that he was taught about Jesus's resurrection from others (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), acknowledged today to be Peter and James. Paul says specifically in 1 Cor. 15.11 that all the apostles agreed that Jesus appeared to them after his death. Jesus’s own brother, James, never followed Christ until after Jesus’s death and then James became the first bishop of the Jerusalem church.
Because Paul first persecuted Christians, he knew they were proclaiming Jesus as risen long before he converted. We don’t know how long except that it was long enough for Paul to have developed a fearsome reputation among Christians; Acts 9 says he “breathed murderous threats” against them. Historians agree that after Paul’s conversion, Peter and James tutored Paul about Jesus and his resurrection only about five years after the crucifixion. But since they taught Paul, their knowledge must be much earlier. One of today’s most highly-regarded historians of the era is non-Christian Professor Bart Ehrman, who dates such Christian teachings to practically the same date as the date of Jesus’s death. Skeptics have never explained these facts in a way that leaves Jesus dead.

Fact five – The apostles who proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection were all killed for doing so, except John, who died in exile. None recanted even when it would have saved their lives. We know recantation would have saved them because Roman officials’ letters of the day say so.
Several of the accounts of the deaths of the apostles date to several decades after they would have died of old age anyway, so historians today do not give equal weight to all the accounts of their martyrdom. But the martyrdom of these apostles is historically sound:
James was the first apostle to be killed. He was slain by Herod Agrippa in either 44 or 45.
Peter was sentenced to crucifixion. He told the Romans he was unworthy of dying the same death as the Lord, so he was crucified upside down in Rome in 64.
Paul was beheaded by order of Nero outside Rome in 67.
Here are the apostles whose martyrdoms are not quite as well attested but still reliably so: Andrew and Thomas, both executed in 70; Matthew, beheaded in the 60s; James the Lesser, cast down from the Temple’s heights in 63; Simon the Zealot, crucified in 74.
Now we know that people will die for all kinds of crazy reasons, but consider that these apostles did not die for something they had been indoctrinated in since infancy, such as kamikaze pilots were. Another important distinction is that the apostles devoted their life work to Christ but did not give up their lives for Christ: their lives were taken from them by force. The apostles suffered death rather than recant their testimony of what they had seen with their own eyes.
Furthermore, what was their payoff? They didn’t personally profit in any way from their preaching. Indeed, their lives were made very difficult by it. The apostles were already faithful Jews. If Jesus was not actually raised, saying that he was raised would have added nothing to their faith and would have benefited them in no way in this life or the next. So what’s the point? Have fun explaining that in a way that leaves Jesus's body lying in the tomb. Jesus dead and still buried would have been entirely useless to the apostles to found any kind of religious movement.
What compelled the apostles to evangelize the ancient world was one thing and one thing only: Jesus Christ “was crucified, dead, and buried; The third day he rose from the dead.” None of the apostles ever stopped being Jewish but they came to understand that the fullness of God and God’s salvation-righteousness was revealed in the person, work, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Next week I will explain as fairly as I am able the skeptics’ explanations. They fall into four main categories:
  • The main players on Good Friday and Easter botched the job.
  • Science proves Jesus’s resurrection is impossible.
  • The accounts of Jesus’s resurrection are mythical of a kind common in the ancient world.
  • The apostles were either deluded or they mounted a deliberate conspiracy of falsehoods.
Update: An excellent discussion of the criteria used by historians to assess reliability: "Surprising Scholarly Agreement on Facts That Support Jesus’ Resurrection"