“How Does Jesus Use Power?”

This was the title of the sermon preached on September 30 by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen.

The Prayer of Confession

As part of the first part of the worship service—Preparing for the Word—Associate Pastor Alanna Simone Tyler led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “Merciful God, by your grace we confess our sin and the sin of this world. Although Christ is among us as our peace, we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. Lord, have mercy on us; heal and forgive us. Set us free to serve you in the world as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.”

The Scriptures

Psalm 82 (NRSV):

“God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, ‘You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.’

Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!”

John 2: 1-12 (NRSV):

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

The Sermon

At “the wedding party in Cana, 2,000 years ago, only the servants know what happens in the kitchen. Not even Jesus’ mother knows, although when the good wine starts flowing late into the feast she must suspect her son is behind it.”

“Jesus’ first miracle isn’t his idea. In fact, that’s true of all the miracles of Jesus. Someone presents him with a problem to solve: stop the bleeding, feed the 5,000, bring back sight, heal disease, cure paralysis, exorcise demons. Jesus is a reluctant miracle worker.At the wedding feast in Cana the wine steward is impressed with the vintage, but Mary’s son keeps quiet about it.”

“’At the wedding feast in Cana,’ I said 20 months ago, ‘Jesus launches a movement, a movement of joyful resistance against the baser impulses that run through each of us and through the principalities and powers of every time and place.’”

“That was then, and this is now, and we’re back at the wedding party where the wine runs out, seeing more signs of the resistance movement that is the gospel. . . . And now this same text shifts from a lesson in hospitality to a primer on the use of power.”

“At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus tries not to exercise power. When his mother learns of the wine crisis, she turns to her son to solve it. He’s a grown man, and in that patriarchal system – as in ours – he’s in a position of power simply by virtue of his gender. His mother knows he’s capable of taking over and managing things, as men do. But he doesn’t rush in. He has no need to be in control.”

“That’s the first lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: start with humility. Don’t be too eager to solve everything with your power. Be more modest. Jesus is reluctant to step in, take over, and make everything right. He’s not interested in the use of power to make himself or anyone else look good. People using power are always tempted to make it so they come out a winner, on top. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When he does finally take action, Jesus exercises power anonymously. He doesn’t need everyone to know what he can do, or what he has done. . . . Jesus doesn’t need to take credit.”

Second lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: do it for the sake of building up the community, for the good of others, especially those who are most vulnerable. Don’t use it to burnish a reputation, or puff up an ego. The gifts Jesus has are considerable, but he knows they aren’t for his own aggrandizement. This is not about him. People using power are always tempted to make it about them. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When Jesus decides to help with the wine he asks the servants to fill the large stone jars with water. Those jars were reserved for one purpose only: for religious rituals, purification rites – not for holding wedding party wine. His choice of religious vessels to hold the wine shows his willingness to rethink tradition if necessary. We’ve always done it that way doesn’t carry much weight with Jesus. Remember when he allowed his followers to glean in the fields and eat on the Sabbath – even though it was prohibited by tradition – because they were hungry? That was the priority for Jesus, not the rules.”

Third lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: use it to change the status quo, if it makes the world a better place. So often power is used to defend the way things are, rather than to imagine the way things might be and then make something new happen. That’s precisely what Jesus does with those stone jars; some look at them and see religious rituals and rules and a prescribed use. Jesus looks at them and sees jars of good wine for the party. 4 Structures and systems inevitably work to preserve the power that built them in the first place. People using power are always tempted to maintain tradition for its own sake, to keep things the way they are. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“There’s a lot to unpack in this little gospel story about a party in Cana long ago. At the wedding feast Jesus shows how to use power humbly, to use it on behalf of the community, and to use it in a way that challenges the status quo.”

“But that’s only the start. He does it again and again. His entire ministry overturns the typical use of power in his time – and, therefore, in our time, if we follow him. When he’s in a superior position relative to others Jesus doesn’t see that as a chance to exercise leverage, but, rather, to listen and learn and bring healing.”

“Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, a foreigner, alone with Jesus, a male stranger from another group, who no doubt represents a threat. What happens? They talk about the water they both need – his, that which is to be found in the well, and hers, the living water of hope. They each ask the other for help. It’s mutual. It’s balanced.”

“Think of the Syrophoenician woman, another outsider. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter and he refuses, saying his own people deserve to be fed first. Then he adds, cruelly, that food shouldn’t be wasted by throwing it to the dogs.”

“The woman is furious at this, but her fury empowers her. She finds her voice, much as women today who have kept silent about sexual assault and are now speaking up. It shouldn’t have to wait until the victim gets angry, but the system is stacked against her.. . . “

“The Syrophoenician woman, a foreigner, an immigrant with no authority in that system, persists nevertheless. She challenges Jesus, a man in power presiding over a gathering of other men. . . . You can almost hear the Syrophoenician woman telling Jesus to look her in the eye.”

“She takes him to task and speaks directly and boldly and courageously to him, not letting him get away with a mean-spirited use of power. Jesus listens, and believes her – and he changes his mind and heals her daughter.”

“Think of the men who follow Jesus getting into a debate about who will be first in the coming kingdom – the guys competing with one another. Jesus rebukes them – and then invites little children to come to him, saying only people who become like children will enter the kingdom of heaven. Give up your privilege, he says, let go of your desire for power, and then you will see the light of God.”

“As people of faith we’re called to exercise power in the way of Jesus, in a way that points to the goodness of God, in a way that spreads the light of God, in a way that leads to the justice of God.”

At its best our democracy has the potential to offer light in a grim and gloomy world, and spread the most good for the most people. But we’re not there in so many ways. . . .”

“The noise echoing across our nation in recent years, and in the halls of Congress this week may show, as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said recently, ‘the decline of democracy.’ (https://www.newsweek.com/former-justice-anthony-kennedy-warnsdemocracy-danger-1145017) “

“Or it may be the sound of democracy awakening.”

“It may be the cry of those demanding equity and fairness for people outside the places of wealth and advantage. It may be the demand for an end to mistreatment because of gender or race.”

“ It may be the rustling of the Holy Spirit finally getting our attention. Scripture resounds with the cries of the oppressed.”

“‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked’ God asks through the voice of the poet in Psalm 82”

How long?

“‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan,’ God says.”

“How long will you judge unjustly?”

“’Maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute,’ God says.”

How long will you show partiality to the wicked?

“’Rescue the weak and the needy,’ God insists “

How long?”

“‘Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ (Psalm 82:2-4)”

“The Hebrew poet expresses the heart of our faith and its urgent plea for justice. Jesus, son of Mary, winemaker in Cana, will embody that same call centuries later. Serving humbly. Listening carefully. Building up the community. Challenging the status quo. Sharing power.”

“Today you and I, as people of faith living in this land, are challenged to take up that good work, God’s work in our time. Those whose voices have not been heard and who have been victims of violence and injustice are now insisting that we listen, that those of us who hold privilege and power stop talking and hear their stories, and be changed by them.”

“As a new day dawns, the rising fear we’re witnessing across the country is the response of those – mostly straight white men in power – whose place in America is shifting, is being challenged by courageous women and others demanding to be heard.”

“The true test of the just use of power is who benefits from it. As Jesus makes clear in Cana and throughout his life, those who hold power should not be the ones who gain from its use. There’s no gospel in that, no good news at all.”

“In fact, as Jesus sees it, it’s just the opposite. Those with power are called either to relinquish it or use it to lift up others – especially those who have been excluded and despised, left out and pushed down, battered and abused – and invite them into the very places where they were not previously welcome.”

“Then, and only then, will the world shine with the justice of God. Then, and only then, will the light of goodness fill our lives. Then, and only then, will all God’s people, all God’s people, rejoice.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon uncovered at least six unexpected lessons about the use of power from the familiar story about the wedding at Cana. First, start with humility. Second, do it for the sake of building up the community. Third, use power to change the status quo if it makes the world a better place. Fourth, listen and learn from others, especially those who are being oppressed. Fifth, ask others for help. Sixth, be willing to change your mind.

These are lessons or challenges for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What Does It Mean To Choose Life?”

This was the title of the September 23rd sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Below are photographs of the late 19th century and 21st century entrances to the church.

 

 

 

 

 

The Scriptures

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 (NRSV):

  • “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

John 3: 1-10 (NRSV)

  • “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

The Sermon

“If we glide through . . . worship on Sunday morning or evening and never have any qualms or second thoughts or doubts, either we’re not paying attention or we’ve missed the point altogether. Christian faith, when taken seriously, should be difficult. It should be demanding. It should be challenging. This is deep stuff; it matters. . . .”

“We’re all working on something – understanding Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Trinity, or struggling with personal challenges or systemic injustice. None of us has it all figured out, but we’ve decided to cast our lot with this band of pilgrims called the Christian Church to find our way forward together..  . .”

“Nicodemus, the Pharisee in the story from John’s gospel this morning, is . . . honestly facing his questions about faith. But . . . Nicodemus isn’t willing to air his questions publicly. Instead, he sneaks out to visit Jesus late at night. He doesn’t want to be seen by those who think they have religion all figured out and buttoned down, and for whom Jesus is not relevant. . . .”

“The particular point Nicodemus wants to talk about with Jesus is the teaching that we all must be “born anew,” or “born from above.”

“Just how is that supposed to happen?” the pragmatically-minded Pharisee asks . . .  .“We’ve all been born once; shall we all somehow go back into the womb? . . . “

“Nicodemus brings his questions and asks Jesus to explain faith in a way that makes sense to him, that meets him at his points of doubt. But Jesus looks beyond the immediate questions and tells Nicodemus that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not something that can be – in our terms – scientifically proven. It’s like trying to control the wind, Jesus says, which blows when and where it will.”

“ Faith is a matter of the Spirit at work in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting-over, the experience of being born anew, if we embrace it. . . .”

“Faith is a gift given by God that we’re free to receive, or not. It’s the same decision the writer of Deuteronomy describes centuries before this gospel text.”

“’Today,’” God says in Deuteronomy, ‘I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.’ This is the deciding point.”

“Choose life.”

“What does it mean to choose life?

“For the writer of Deuteronomy it means deciding, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God would desire, to pursue God’s commandments. Centuries later, that same text is burning in the mind of a lawyer who asks Jesus which of those commandments is the greatest. Jesus responds by saying there really are only two, from which all the others hang: love God and love neighbor. “

Choosing life means choosing to love, deciding to put God and the well-being of others at the very center, practicing generosity and kindness to all, and trusting in a higher purpose, a greater good, an unnamable source of light beyond us.”

“Choosing life is not only an individual decision. It’s the choice of the community of faith to love God, together, and to love neighbor, together.”

“Nicodemus the Pharisee went to Jesus under cover of darkness, trying to find his way home to a God who would love him so fiercely, so completely, so unconditionally, that his life could begin again. Born anew. Turned around and starting over.”

“He trusted that Jesus could lead him on that path. What, or who, do we trust like that?”

“In the 19th century in Denmark Søren Kierkegaard argued with those who insisted on a strictly rational approach to life that rejected the notion of any source beyond observable reality. He used the phrase – now commonly known – leap of faith to name what we take when we choose to trust God. We span the perceived gap between human reason and faith in a God we can never fully know. . . .”

“But you’ve learned something valuable about Christian faith along the way, something each of us would do well to remember: faith is a gift – the wind blowing – our response is what matters. What do we decide? What do we choose? . . .”

“Together we have chosen life.”

Reflections

I too continue to work on understanding Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, personal challenges and systemic injustice. I have not figured it all out, but have decided to cast my lot with this band of pilgrims at Westminster to find my and our way forward.

I concur that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not scientifically provable. instead it is a matter of the Spirit working in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting over.

This sermon provided another answer to the question, “What Is Jesus for Us Today?” that was posed in the sermon on September 9.

Therefore, everyone is faced with an opportunity to choose life, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God desires, by loving God and neighbor.

 

 

 

 

 

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

This was the title of the September 16th sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Below are photographs of the church’s late 19th century sanctuary and its Westminster Hall in the 21st century addition.

 

 

 

 

Scripture Passages

 Deuteronomy 30: 11-14 (NRSV)

“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

John 1: 1-14 (NRSV) 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The Sermon

“One of the chief purposes of religion is to create communities of memory. . . . We come to worship to remember, to tell the story again and again, to rediscover and re-claim what our forebears in the faith found to be true about life. We come to address big questions, as they did: Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of life? How did it all begin?”

“The gospel of John opens determined to respond to such questions. . . . ‘In the beginning,’ he says, ‘Was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’”

“This is the story of Jesus, son of Mary, but told through a cosmic lens, with echoes of a deep memory of the beginning of all time. . . .’He was in the beginning with God,’ John says of Jesus, the Word. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. . . .’”

“The gospel of John connects the genesis of the Messiah with the origins of earth itself. ‘What has come into being in him was life,’ John says of the Word, ‘And the life was the light of all people.’”

“This Jesus, as presented by John, breaks free of the limitations of a certain time and a definite place. The Word, in John’s view, is universal, the source of light and life for the entire human family, indeed, for all creation. . . .”

“In the beginning was the Word, with a capital W. If we search the lines of Genesis for that Word, and listen carefully, we will hear it in the ancient story of God’s handiwork, in the repeated refrain and it was good.”

“The creator completes a day and delights in the emerging earth’s splendor and declares it to be good. The division of time into night and day. That was good. The splattering of stars across the dome of darkness. That was good. The pushing up of mountains and the shaping of hills through which rivers began to flow. That was good. The first green plants stirred to life by the warmth of the sun and the nourishment of water. That was good. The  animals, the fishes and the birds. All of that was good. And then the ones formed in the creator’s own image, the earthlings. That was good.”

“The word at the start of the story is good, and that goodness permeates all creation and links it, links us, to the Creator. Julian of Norwich said that we should think of ourselves as made not by God, but ‘of God.’ Everything springs from the same, one source.”

“When the Word becomes flesh all life takes on new meaning and is woven into a singular whole. The Creator and the creation share the same matter, the same life. . . .”

“The Word of John’s gospel is not so distant that we might not discover it for ourselves in our time. Here the writer of Deuteronomy – many generations, centuries before John – anticipates the fourth gospel. ‘Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.’”

“God says through the writer of Deuteronomy. ‘No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.’”

“We need not cross the sea or ascend to the heavens or climb a mountain or recite the Bible to encounter God’s word. . . .”

“That’s essentially what John tells us in the gospel: ‘And the Word’ – the Word placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time – ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.’”

“Jesus is the living memory of the goodness of God.”

“The church is the community in which that memory resides and is carried along. And so the church gathers to remember and reaffirm the baseline of what it means to be human. All our efforts at justice and equity, all our attempts to end racism and alleviate poverty and eliminate disparities begin with that good word – that God word – about every human being, that each of us bears the word of God – the love of God, the image of God, the life of God – within. Each one of us.”

“The world is acting as if it had no memory, no remembering of ancient truths, no recollection of insights beyond those of our own immediate invention. What are the deep, abiding affirmations about life? They’re found in the religions of the world; for us, they’re found in the pages of scripture, in the stories that have been passed down over the ages, and in the communities that have conveyed those texts and those stories along…that there is a creator…that the creation is good…that each member of the human family bears the creator’s image…that God’s love comes to life in Jesus…that God has already given us all we need to live just, peaceful, and sustainable lives.”

“When we remember that, then the Word becomes flesh not only once, but over and over again, in your life and in mine, as we let the light that was placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time shine in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

“A hospital chaplain told me recently about a visit she made to an older patient who had just survived a ‘Code Blue’ – meaning she had almost died. . . The chaplain talked with her about her experience and their conversation turned to a familiar passage from Isaiah:

  • ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.’ (Isaiah 40:31)

“‘That’s the Word of God made flesh!’ the woman who had nearly died said from her hospital bed, with a spark of light in her eyes. That’s the Word of God made flesh. She had remembered . . . . that the Word of God – the same Word present at creation – is within each of us.”

“A few days ago I met a young woman whose company had worked on our wonderful new addition.. . . I invited her to Sunday morning worship. She smiled and said, “I’m busy every Sunday morning. I volunteer with a woman with a debilitating disease. She needs help. So I go every Sunday morning to do laundry for her, and clean house, make meals and visit.” That’s the Word made flesh. It may not be what we think of as traditional church, but it is certainly the goodness of God coming to life. Serving others as an act of worship on a Sunday morning – if that’s not church, what is?”

“What happens when the Word becomes flesh? The light of God, present at the beginning, that light breaks into the world anew. The love of God takes root in our communities and begins to grow. The justice of God becomes more visible. God’s dream for the earth comes a little closer.”

“That happens most fully in Jesus, but it also happens in each one of us. The light of God shines in the world through us, and through communities like this one.”

“When the Word becomes flesh we remember. We remember the goodness of God visible in all creation and planted deep within our hearts.”

By the grace of God and by how we live, we – you and I – help bring that Word to life, give it flesh, in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon gave me a new perspective on this familiar passage from the Gospel of John.

When we remember that there is a creator, that the creation is good, that each member of the human family bears the creator’s image, that God’s love comes to life in Jesus and that God already has given us all that we need to live just, peaceful and sustainable lives, then the Word becomes flesh not only once, but over and over again in your life and mine, as we let the light that was placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time shine in the world. (Emphasis added.)

By the grace of god and by how we live, we help bring the Word to life, give it flesh, in the world. (Emphasis added.)

This sermon also gave one answer to the question posed in the prior Sunday’s sermon, “What Is Jesus For Us Today?”that was discussed in a prior post.

 

U.S. at U.N. Condemns Cuba’s Imprisonment of Political Opponents 

On October 12 the State Department announced that on October 16 the U.S. will commence a campaign “Jailed for What?” about the continuing plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. This will take place in the U.N. Economic and Social Council and will be led by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Representative to the Council and will also involve  Ambassador Michael Kozak of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro; Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of the Institute of Race and Equality; former Cuban political prisoner Alejandro Gonzalez Raga; and others.[1]

The Department’s release stated, “The estimated 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.] and many other democratic governments support. Holding the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom are key components of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum of 2017.”

Cuban Protest

When the Council met on the 16th to consider this U.S. initiative, about 20 Cuban diplomats and supporters staged a noisy protest. [2] They shouted, chanted “Cuba si, bloqueo no [Cuba yes, blockade no]” in protest against a decades-old U.S. trade embargo that will be the subject of an October 31 resolution in the U.N.. General Assembly. They also banged their hands on desks to drown out the U.S. presentation.

U.S. Presentation

Nevertheless, U.S. Ambassador Currie and others, including OAS Secretary-General Almagro, persisted. The Ambassador’s prepared remarks were the following:[3]

  • “A few weeks ago, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel came here to the United Nations and painted a rosy picture of his country as a paragon of solidarity, democracy, and human rights. But to the more than five thousand Cubans who were arbitrarily detained for political reasons in 2017, this is a sick joke.
  • More and more, Cuban repression relies on raids of activists’ homes and offices, short-term detentions, and public denunciations known as ‘repudio.’
  • At the same time, reputable NGOs report that well over 100 Cubans currently languish in jails or under house arrest as political prisoners. The Cuban government tried, convicted, and sentenced many on arbitrary charges like ‘contempt’ of Cuban authorities or ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ – bogus legal constructs meant to deny human beings of their most basic rights to free thought and expression.
  • In the case of independent journalist Yoennis de Jesus Guerra Garcia, it was the specious charge of illegally slaughtering livestock, which police found after he ran several press accounts critical of local authorities.
  • However, their real transgression was to protest, criticize the regime, question the irrevocable character of socialism in Cuba, or exercise their freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Cuban constitution.
  • Cuba’s political prisoners are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.]and many other democratic governments support, and that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The urgency of this injustice is exemplified by the grave state of health of Cuban democratic activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga, who spent 62 days on a hunger strike in protest of his unjust imprisonment. We welcome his long overdue release and return home.[4]
  • President Trump is taking action to hold the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom.
  • Today, we come to the [U.N.] to remind the world that today, in Cuba, there are political prisoners. They come from all over Cuba, these men and women – activists, lawyers, workers, from different faiths and walks of life.
  • They are united in their quest to speak out for a better, freer, more democratic Cuba for themselves and their children. And their imprisonment is not only a violation of the fundamental freedoms all of us cherish, but it is also a human tragedy.
  • We are grateful for the participation today of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who has championed the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the Americas, including for Cuba’s political prisoners.
  • We welcome Carlos Quesada, a civil society activist whose organization works side by side with activists in Cuba and other Latin American nations to enhance their ability to promote and protect the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people.
  • We are especially honored to have with us today Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a Cuban journalist and former political prisoner, who will tell us his firsthand experience of the horrors of the Cuban prison and justice system.
  • And we will hear from Miriam Cardet, whose brother, Eduardo, is currently serving a three-year sentence in a Cuban jail. Eduardo is a leader in the Christian Liberation Movement who criticized Fidel Castro in November 2016. Several days later, he was arrested. Though witnesses at the scene say authorities beat him during his arrest, it is Cardet who was sentenced for assault
  • The ‘Jailed for What’ campaign will draw attention to the cases of specific political prisoners.
  • We urge our partners to join with us in calling on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners.
  • Many Member States in the [U.N.] call themselves friends of Cuba. The [U.S.] is proud to call ourselves friends of the Cuban people.”

Afterwards Currie said, “I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing. You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior. It has no place here in the United Nations.” She added that the U.S. would raise objections to this protest with the proper U.N. authorities.

Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the event, and on Tuesday she described the event as a “political comedy. Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it. On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.”

Cuba’s Formal Opposition to the U.S. Initiative

Meanwhile in Havana the Cuba foreign Ministry released the following lengthy statement against the U.S. campaign:[5]

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba rejects in the strongest manner the defamatory campaign against Cuba on human rights, launched on October 16, by the [U.S.] government at the headquarters of the [U.N.]
  • As already warned, this action is part of the sequence of declarations against our country made in recent weeks by high-level officials of the United States government, which show growing hostility towards Cuba and the Cuban Revolution.
  • It is striking that it takes place only two weeks before the vote by the UN General Assembly on the draft resolution entitled ‘Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government against Cuba.’
  • This type of action pursues the objective of making pretexts to maintain and intensify the blockade,which constitutes a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban women and men.
  • The government of the United States has no moral authority whatsoever to criticize Cuba.Instead of worrying about the alleged ‘political prisoners”’who, they claim, would exist in Cuba, they should do so for the violations of human rights that take place in their own territory. In our country there are no political prisoners since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
  • A country whose electoral system is corrupt by nature and has a government of millionaires,destined to apply savage measures against low-income families, the poor, minorities and immigrants cannot speak of human rights and democracy . A country in which, in electoral campaigns and political processes, there are no ethical limits, hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted. In which money and corporate interests are what define who will be elected.
  • In the [U.S.], the right to vote is denied to hundreds of thousands of Americans because they are poor. In nine states, those who have legal bills or judicial fines to pay cannot vote. In Alabama, more than 100,000 people with debts were removed from the voters lists in 2017. The information media are the preserve of corporate elites. An extremely small group of corporations controls the content that the public consumes, while any version or discrepant opinion is annulled or marginalized.
  • It is a shame that in the richest country in the world about 40 million people live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty and 5.3 million in conditions of absolute poverty. The life of the ‘homeless’ is miserable. In 2016, 553 742 people spent their nights outdoors in the [U.S.].
  • The design and application of policies has been hijacked by the so-called ‘special interests,’ that is, corporate money. The lack of education, health and social security guarantees, restrictions on unionization and terrible gender discrimination are everyday practices.
  • American women are clearly discriminated against in the workplace and continue to receive lower wages than men for doing the same jobs. The poverty, health and safety problems of children are worrisome. People with disabilities suffer violent abuse. Sexual harassment and widespread rapes motivate multiple complaints and protests. The murders of LGTBI people increased during 2017, in a context of continued discrimination against this group in state and federal legislation.
  • In the [U.S.], the average wealth of white families is seven times higher than the average wealth of black families. More than one in four black households had a net worth of zero or negative. The unemployment rate of blacks is almost double that of whites.
  • The government of the [U.S.] should answer for the 987 people who died during 2017 at the hands of law enforcement agents using firearms. According to these data, African-American people, who make up 13% of the population, accounted for almost 23% of the victims.
  • There is systematic racial discrimination in the application of the law and in judicial bodies. Black male offenders were sentenced, on average, to sentences that were 19.1% longer, than those offenders who were in similar situations.
  • Hate crimes based on race reached a record in recent years and only in 2016, a total of 6,121 hate crimes occurred in the [U.S.].
  • Violent crimes have been increasing. The government of that country, at the service of the arms lobby, does not exercise effective control over them, which caused a continuous increase in homicides, even among adolescents.
  • The [U.S.] should put an end to the separation of migrant families, and to the imprisonment of hundreds of children, even in cages, separating them from their parents. While the United States turns its back on the human rights mechanisms of the [U.N.], Cuba maintains a high level of activity and cooperation, which has earned it respect in the relevant organs of the Organization and among the member states.
  • The [U.S.], which was the promoter and support of the bloody military dictatorships in our region, with the complicity of the OAS, has declared the validity and applicability of the Monroe Doctrine as an instrument of foreign policy, in total disregard of the Proclamation of America. America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.
  • In the Cuban archipelago, the only prisoners who are deprived of their rights and dignity, tortured and confined for long periods, without legal basis, courts of justice or due process, are the ones maintained by the [U.S.] government in the detention center. arbitrary and tortures in the Guantánamo Naval Base that illegally occupies part of our territory.
  • In the Monday session of the Commission of Socio-Humanitarian Affairs of the General Assembly of the [U.N.], the Permanent Representative of Cuba, Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, presented the denunciation of this provocation that received the express repudiation of 11 countries. The Ambassador of the [U.S.] to the ECOSOC, was left without arguments and in absolute isolation.
  • The Coordination Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, summoned in an emergency, met with the presence of 91 delegations, of which 17 intervened expressly in opposition to the slanderous maneuver.
  • The Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela were there in solidarity with Cuba. As was seen in the television images, the Member States and the other guests, almost without exception, declined to participate in the farce on Tuesday, which was attended by ‘representatives’ of alleged ‘non-governmental’ organizations. . . .
  • Fulfilling scrupulously the requirements published by the Department of State, 22 representatives of 9 US non-governmental organizations that advocate the end of the blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba were registered to participate. Curiously, all but one were prevented from attending by the undemocratic hosts. Other guests were expelled from the room.
  • The journalists, who ended up being the majority of those present, showed faces of fun or resignation, in the case of those intended to please the owners or publishers of the profitable disinformation industry.
  • It is of special concern that the anti-Cuban “event” was allowed to take place in the great headquarters of the [U.N.] Organization and that it was held on World Food Day, precisely by the State that votes against the The right to food” Resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
  • To do so, the rules governing the use of [U.N.] rooms and services have been violated, which make it clear that ‘only events that are consistent with the purposes and principles of the [U.N.] and are justified by their relevance to the work of the Organization.’The Department of State of the [U.S.] intends again to use the facilities of the [U.N.] as its private preserve. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces that an action of this nature cannot be considered in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Organization, nor relevant to its work, when it is specifically directed against the independence and self-determination of a Member State, and in the framework of a campaign of hostility and threats against Cuba, repudiated by the international community.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs respectfully requests from the General Secretariat of the [U.N.] a rigorous and urgent investigation of what happened, of whose result it informs the General Assembly in a timely and appropriate manner so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent these aggressive acts against sovereign States. “ (Emphases in original.)

Conclusion

The raucous Cuban protest at the U.S. event was undiplomatic and rude and should be condemned. The lengthy formal statement from the Cuba Foreign Ministry also tested the limits of diplomatic norms, but it could have been submitted at the event without the spectacle of the Cuban protest.

================================

[1] State Dep’t, U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor To Launch Campaign on Cuba’s Political Prisoners at the United Nations (Oct. 12, 2018); Assoc. Press, US: Cuba’s Political Prisoners Are ‘Affront’ to Democracy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2018).

 [2] Reuters, At U.N., Cuban Diplomats Shout Drown U.S. Event on Political Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuban Diplomats Disrupt UN Meeting Called by US on Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018).

[3] U.S. Mission to the U.N.,  Remarks at a U.S. Event Launching the “Jailed for What?” Campaign Highlighting Cuba’s Political Prisoners (Oct. 16, 2018)

[4] On October 15,  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga was released from a Cuba prison after his 62 days on hunger strike. He asserted that he had been tortured five times in prison. (Released  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga after 62 days on hunger strike, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 16, 2018.)

[5] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Ministry rejects defamatory campaign to justify the blockade, CubaDebate (Oct. 16, 2018).

The Canonization of Oscar Romero

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis at the Vatican canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Vatican’s press release briefly stated the following:

  • “Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived.  He was an outspoken voice for the poorest people of his country, so got caught up in a conflict between the military government and guerilla groups that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.”
  • “Thirty five years later, he was declared a martyr of the Church, killed out of hatred of the faith, and was beatified on May 23rd[1]

Pope Francis, who wore the bloodstained rope belt that Romero wore when he was assassinated, canonized Romero and Pope Paul VI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before about 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man whom many Latin Americans consider a hero. Back in El Salvador’s capital, tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed. Below are photographs of the crowd at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis and of  photographs of Romero and Pope Paul VI hung on the exterior of St. Peter’s.

 

 

 

Pope Francis’ Homily

In his homily Pope Francis said that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”

The homily was based upon Hebrews: 4: 12-13 (NRSV): “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The passage from Hebrews “tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . . It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.”

“The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the ‘man’ who ‘ran up to him’ (cf. Mk10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: ‘What must I do to have eternal life?’”

“Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me’ (v. 21).”

“To you, too, Jesus says: ‘Come, follow me!’ Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.”

Again Jesus says: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor.’ The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.”

“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? “

“Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from ‘complacency and self-indulgence’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”

“This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – ‘went away sorrowful’ (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart.”

“On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spread’ joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song’ (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.”

Conclusion

In my first trip to El Salvador in April 1989 I started to learn about Oscar Romero and his courageous denunciations of human rights violations by the Salvadoran government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. For these acts he was assassinated while he was saying mass in a small, modern and beautiful chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital across the street from his small apartment. As a Protestant Christian I came to regard Romero as my personal saint. Thus, I treasure the Roman Catholic Church’s formally recognizing him as a saint.[2]

====================================

[1] Vatican, Bl. Oscar Romero: A martyr of the option for the poor, Vatican News (Oct. 14, 2018); Vatican, Booklet for the Celebration: Holy Mass and Canonizations (14 Oct. 2018); Vatican, Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis (Oct. 14, 2018); Zra, Óscar Romero, Archbishop Killed While Saying Mass, Will Be Named a Saint on Sunday, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Assoc. Press, Pope’s Canonization of Paul VI, Romero Personal, Political, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Sherwood, Salvadoran priest óscar Romero to be declared saint by Pope Francis, Guardian (Oct. 11. 2018); Winfield & Aleman, Pope makes El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI saints, Wash. Post (Oct. 14, 2018); Pavoledo, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI Are Made Saints, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2018).

[2] Previous posts have discussed my discovery of Romero and various legal proceedings about his assassination. (See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR. A website totally devoted to honoring Romero and promoting his beatification and canonization is Super Martyrio. There also are frequent posts about Romero in the blog El Salvador Perspectives.

U.S. Protests Cuban Detention of Democratic Activist   

On October 4, the U.S. State Department issued a protest of the Cuban government’s detention of Tómas Nuńez Magdariaga, a democratic activist.[1]

The U.S. said that he “had been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest against his wrongful imprisonment,” that “his health is in a critical state, and that the authorities have denied his family the opportunity to see him.”

The statement added that Nuńez was  “a member of Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, on false charges and convicted him in a sham trial, during which they denied him the opportunity to present witnesses in his favor.”

As a result, the U.S. condemned these practices “in the strongest terms, and calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Nunez, whose life hangs in the balance, and all political prisoners in Cuba.”

Similar protests were made by the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Senator Marco Rubio and  the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The Commission added that there were at least 224 arbitrary short-term detentions for political reasons. [2]

Apparently a critical prosecution witness against Nunez was Aldo Rosales Montoya. However, Rosales recently submitted an affidavit to the court that his trial testimony was false and done on instructions from Cuba’s State Security. As a result, Rosales has been accused of perjury.[3]

===============================================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, The Wrongful Detention of Tomas Nunez Magdariaga in Cuba (Oct. 4, 2018).

[2] The Secretary General of the OAS reiterates the demand for freedom for Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 1, 20180;

 

 

The Human Rights Commission denounces the ‘disturbing situation of Tomás Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 3, 2018).

 

[3] The accuser of Nuńez Magdariaga reiterates before the Prosecutor’s Office that he committed perjury, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 5, 2018)

Continued Violence in Cameroon

As discussed in previous posts, since 2016 Cameroon has been experiencing violence, and a de facto civil war, between its dominant Francophone citizens and its minority Anglophones. That violence has been continuing.[1]

Now thousands of people in the English-speaking areas are fleeing to the French-speaking capital of Yaoundé. One of those people, Pamela Njoke, and her two young children waited four hours in her hometown of Bamenda to get on a packed bus to go to the capital. She said, “People are dying everywhere. It is horrible.”

There also are bloody  battles between the government and Anglophone separatists seeking to form a new nation they call Ambazonia. An estimated 400 have been killed and thousands displaced. One of the leaders of a group of separatists has asserted that the October 7 national presidential election is banned in the Anglophone regions and any attempt to conduct the election will result in “military” action against such attempts.

On September 27 the separatists attacked a prison in the northwestern part of the country and freed 100 inmates.

The government also is fighting Boko Haram militants in the north of the country with additional abuses on both sides,. On September 30 President Paul Biya on a re-election campaign stop in the Far North region asserted that Boko Haram had been defeated in the country.

All of this violence and disruption are expected to suppress voting in the October 7 presidential election.

================================

[1]  Essomba & Searcey, Thousands Flee in Cameroon as Separatists Battle for a New Nation, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cameroon Lurches Toward Election Amid Separatist Conflict, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2018); Reuters, Cameroon Separatists Free 100 Prison Inmates Before election, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2018); Assoc. Press, Boko Haram Has Been Repelled, Cameroon’s Leader Declares, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2018); Reuters, As Cameroon Votes, Thousands Are Silenced by Violence, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2018).