Beautiful Performance of “Hallelujah” 

Early this morning, I woke up early and turned on my iPad to go to cnn.com and see if there was any important breaking news. I did not find any such item. But I noticed an entry entitled “Watch H.E.R. perform ‘Hallelujah.’” Although I had no idea of who H.E.R. was, I did open this link  because I have listened to this song many times and always have  found it very moving.

I am glad I did because it was an astonishingly beautiful performance. A little Internet research told me that “H.E.R.“ (“Having Everything Revealed”) since 2016 is the stage name for the 24-year-old Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, who was born in Vallejo, California to a Filipina mother and African-American father. She has produced many records of contemporary R&B music and has received many awards, including NAACP Image, BET and Net Honors this year so far. [1]

This performance appeared on a September 11 CNN television special, “Shine a Light,” hosted by Jake Tapper that paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks and featured discussions with young adults who were affected by that attack and its aftermath and other musical performances by Brad Paisley, Common, and Maroon 5 as well as appearances by Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Eli Manning. [2]

When I listened to H.E.R. sing “Hallelujah” I remembered that it was composed by Leonard Cohen, a Canadian composer and musician and research prompted by H.E.R.’s performance has revealed that Cohen was born on September 21, 1934 and died on November 7, 2016 and was also a poet and novelist. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of  Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and invested as a  Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Cohen’s Lithuanian-born mother was the daughter of a Talmudic writer and his paternal grandfather was the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His family observed Orthodox Judaism and he was described as a Sabbath-observant Jew. He also said, “I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness … A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.” In addition, later in life Leonard was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk[3]

I, therefore, see this song by Cohen as a religious song expressing gratitude and adoration to God with resonance in  both Jewish and Christian and perhaps other religions.[4]

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[1] H.E.R., Wikipedia; H.E. R. Discography, Wikipedia; H.E.R.—official website.

[2] CNN will air 9/11 special “Shine A Light” tonight, cnn.com (Sept. 11, 2021).

[3] Leonard Cohen, Wikipedia; Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah, leonardcohen.com.

[4] Hallelujah, Wikipedia; Wood, What did Leonard Cohen really mean when he sang ‘Hallelujah’?, L.A. Times (Nov. 11, 2016); Kemp, “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” Review: Wide-Reaching Doc Struggles to Chronicle an Icon, IndieWire (Sept. 2, 2021.

U.S. Resettlement of Refugees and Recent Afghan Evacuees

The U.S. currently is engaged in resettling in this country refugees from around the world under previously established international refugee resettlement processes as well as recent Afghan evacuees under newly modified processes for Afghans.

Here is a summary of the legal requirements and administrative procedures for these important developments.

U.S. Resettlement of Refugees

  1. International Legal Protection of Refuges[1]

In 1951 an international conference of diplomats adopted an international treaty to protect refugees (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).

This treaty went into effect or force in April 1954 after its ratification by six states. However, the U.S. did not directly ratify this treaty, but did so indirectly in 1968 when under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson the U.S. ratified a treaty amendment (Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees).

The U.S., however, did not adopt implementing legislation until 1980, when President Jimmy Carter led the adoption of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, which included the treaty’s following definition of “refugee” (with U.S. express addition for “past” persecution):

  • “ (A)ny person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of [past] persecution or a well-founded fear of [future] persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.. . . ”

As of January 20, 2020, there were 146 parties to the Convention and 147 to the Protocol.

  1. International Resettlement of Refugees[2]

After international cooperation on resettlement of specific groups of refugees, 1956-1995, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1995 organized the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement for the UNHCR, nation states and civil society. By the end of 2019, these consultations had established a global resettlement policy and procedures to attempt to provide locations for such resettlement that can provide the services that refugees need. These procedures have resulted in resettlement of over 1 million refugees: 90 percent of whom came from Myanmar, Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and were resettled in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

At the end of 2019, the UNHCR estimated there were 26 million refugees in the world, about one half of whom are under the age of 18. This group is part of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world (the other 53.5 million are forcibly displaced within their own countries and thus not entitled to refugee status).

  1. U.S. Resettlement of Refugees[3]

The U.S. has participated in this international resettlement program under the overall direction of the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Under U.S. law the U.S. President establishes annual quotas for such resettlements. The largest such quota was 200,000 in 1980 when President Carter led the U.S. adoption of the Refugee Act of 1980. In 1999 under President Clinton the quota was 132,631, and in 2016 under President Obama it was 84,994.

For Fiscal 2019 President Trump reduced the number of refugees for resettlement in U.S. to 15,000 and required cities and counties to file written affirmative consents for such resettlements with the State Department, but a federal court held that requirement was illegal. Nevertheless, many states, including Minnesota, granted such consents along with statements about the many contributions by refugees to their states.

President Biden initially said he would maintain the 15,000 quota set by Trump for this fiscal year, but after strong objections by influential Senators and others, the White House on May 3, 2021, stated the it was revising the quota to 62,500 for this fiscal year although it was unlikely that it would meet that number by that year’s end on 9/30/21. President Biden also said that he intends to increase the quota for the next fiscal year to 125,000.

  1. Refugee Resettlement in Minnesota [4]

From 2005 through 2019 the State of Minnesota had resettled 33,189 refugees. The largest numbers came from Somalia (13,674), Burma (8,604), Ethiopia (2,194), Laos (2,042), Iraq (1,290), Bhutan (1,188) and Liberia (1,171).

For Fiscal 2021 (ending 9/30/21), Minnesota had a resettlement goal of 500, but as of 5/12/21 had received only 30. They came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ukraine and Republic of Moldova (Eastern European county and former part of USSR). Because of COVID-19, the goal of 500 probably will not be met.

For Fiscal 2022 (before the evacuation of Afghans), Minnesota expected to have a resettlement goal of 1,900 given President Biden’s stated intent to increase the national total to 125,000.

Such resettlements are coordinated by refugee resettlement agencies in the State: Minnesota Council of Churches (Refugee Services), International Institute of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota and Arrive Ministries.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, where this blogger is a member, is launching its Refugee Co-Sponsorship Team of six to twelve individuals under the leadership of three “champions” with guidance of the Minnesota Council of Churches and anticipates receiving its first refugee family this October.

Our Team’s commitment is for four to six months starting with setting up an apartment selected by the Council with furnishings that it and our Team provides; welcoming the family on their arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and transporting them to their apartment;  helping the family’s orientation to their new neighborhood, city and services; transporting them to various meetings and shopping; assisting school registration for any children and adult ESL enrollment; providing information about various public services and obligations; and helping them find employment. In short, being friends to our new residents. The co-sponsorship ends with a closing ceremony, transitioning the relationship to mutual friendship, rather than a continued helping relationship. [5]

U.S. Resettlement of Recent Afghan Evacuees.

The recent turmoil in Afghanistan has resulted  in the U.S. evacuation from that country of approximately 130,000 people (124,000 Afghans and 6,000 U.S. citizens).

Many of the Afghan allies with U.S. special immigrant visa applications and their families who recently escaped Afghanistan were flown from Kabul to Washington, D.C. for their subsequent transfer to U.S. forts in Virginia (Fort Lee),Texas (Fort Bliss) and western Wisconsin (Fort McCoy, which is about 169 miles southeast of Minneapolis). Others were flown to U.S. military bases in other countries for processing and hoped-for transfers to the U.S.[6]

This summary is based upon the cited sources with recognition that this is a very complex and changing situation and readers’ corrections and amplifications are most welcome.

  1. Legal Status of Afghan Evacuees[7]

Most, if not all, of these Afghans have not been through the previously described procedures for resettlement of refugees and have not been determined to meet the requirements for refugee status. (Some articles erroneously refer to them as “Afghan refugees.”)

Instead, they are being vetted by U.S. agencies for meeting the following requirements for Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (“SIVs”):

  • employment in Afghanistan for at least one year between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2023, by or on behalf of the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform activities for U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF; and
  • Have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing threat as a consequence of their employment.

Alternatively some Afghans might be eligible for Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access for Afghans and their eligible family members by satisfying one of the following conditions:

  • “Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a SIV but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators for the U.S. government, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOXRX-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;”
  • “Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement;” or
  • “Afghans who are or were employed in Afghistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization.”

Afghans also could be eligible for “the Priority (P-1) program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement who are referred to the P-1 program . . .  by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy, or a designated NGO.”

However, an Associated Press reporter claims that “the majority will arrive without visas as ‘humanitarian parolees,’ lacking a path to legal U.S. residency and the benefits and services offered to traditional refugees, according to U.S. officials and worried aid groups working closely with the government.” Instead, “Afghan parolees who have arrived at U.S. military bases will be eligible for an ad hoc State Department program that provides limited assistance for up to 90 days, including a one-time $1,250 stipend. But they will not have the full range of medical, counseling and resettlement services available to immigrants who arrive through the U.S. refugee program.”

  1. U.S. Administrative Agencies Involved in “Operation Allies Welcome[8]

On August 19, 56 Senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden calling for “the urgent evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, as well as the full and immediate implementation of [the above legislation] to expand the Afghan SIV program and streamline the application process.”

That message was in accord with the Biden Administration’s desires. On August 29, President Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security to be the lead agency coordinating this resettlement effort and that agency’s Secretary (Alejandro N. Mayorkas) simultaneously appointed Robert J. Fenton, Jr. with 29 years of experience in FEMA large-scale response and recovery efforts to lead the interagency Unified Coordination Group in this effort. He will be working with Jack Markell, a former Delaware Governor and now the White House’s coordinator of “Operation Allies Welcome.”

  1. Resettlement of Afghan Evacuees in U.S. [9]

Operation Allies Welcome is asking the nonprofit organizations that have contracted with the U.S. State Department for resettlement of refugees to also handle the resettlement of the Afghan evacuees. This task is made much more difficult by last year’s shrinkage of these agencies caused by President Trump’s reduction of the quota for such resettlement to 15,000 and the associated reduction of federal financial support for same and by the size and unresolved issues about the Afghan evacuees.

  1. Societal Reactions to Afghan Resettlement [10]

There are general reports about positive reactions to such resettlement from U.S. citizens and organizations.

The State of Minnesota did so in an August 19, 2021, letter to President Biden from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. It stated that Minnesota “in the past . . . has stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home” while acknowledging, “New Minnesotans strengthen our communities and contribute to the social fabric of our state. They are our neighbors.” Therefore, “we [in Minnesota] stand ready to work with you and your administration to welcome [Afghan] families as this effort to provide safety and refuge continues.”

Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has voiced a similar opinion by offering her office’s assistance to American citizens and Afghan allies looking to evacuate that country and by signing a bipartisan letter to the President urging support for evacuation efforts.

In addition, Temple Israel of Minneapolis is embarking on a program to help some of these Afghans to resettle in Minnesota and has enlisted Westminster Presbyterian Church as a co-sponsor for such resettlements. The Temple’s program probably springs from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) as well as a continuous Jewish presence in the territory of Afghanistan from the 8th century CE until the 20th century.[11]

Conclusion[12]

Westminster’s involvement with immigrants is not new in our 160 years. Indeed, the church was established in 1857 by Scottish and Welsh newcomers on land that had been home to the Dakota people for many generations. In 1870 we established our first global mission partnership after our third pastor had visited China and in the 1880s began a formal ministry teaching English and providing support to Chinese immigrants that continued in the 20th century.

Our church also has partnerships with Protestant churches in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.

These Westminster ministries are inspired by various Biblical passages.

The book of Leviticus says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You shall love the sojourner as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34.) (The Hebrew word for “alien” is “ger,”which means stranger in the land, one who sojourns among you.)

Jesus, of course, told stories about heroes who are disliked foreigners, like the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) , or when He welcomes those whom others shun as outsiders, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 1-26) and when He ignores the then current mandate no to pay attention to people living with leprosy or other illnesses (Matthew 8: 1-3).  As our Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen said in his recent sermon, “As Christians, our core conviction insists on hospitality to those deemed other by the world around us—and anyone else known to be the most vulnerable in the community.”

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[1] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of RefugeesRefugee Act of 1980; Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Wikipedia; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: LAW (REFUGEE & Asylum).

[2]  UNHCR, The History of Resettlement (2019).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, About Refugee AdmissionsU.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugee Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 22, 2020); U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct.  2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on the Proposed Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Feb. 12, 2021); Joe Biden Raises Trump refugee cap  after backlash, BBC News (May 4, 2021);UNHCR, UNHCR applauds US decision to increase refugee resettlement (May 3, 2001). Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services.

[5]  Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services; Minnesota Council of Churches, Help Afghan Refugees (Aug. 30, 2021); Campbell, Schulze & Krohnke, Our Refugee Family Co-Sponsorship: An Invitation to Love the Sojourner Among Us, Westminster News (Sept. 2021).

[6] U.S. Defense Dep’t, U.S. Seeks to Open More Locations to Aid Evacuation From Kabul, General Says, DOD News (Aug. 21, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees arrive, temporarily, in northern Virginia, Wash. Post (Aug. 22, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees begin arriving at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2021); Musa, The United States Needs an Afghan Refugee Resettlement Act, Foreign Policy (Aug. 19, 2021), ; Baghdassarian & Carney, Special Immigrant Visas for the United States’ Afghan Allies, Lessons Learned from Promises Kept and Broken, Lawfare (Aug. 19, 2021),

[7] State Dep’t, Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans—Who Were Employed by/on behalf of the U.S. Government; State Dep’t, U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority Designation 2 for Afghan Nationals (Aug. 2, 2021); Press Release, BREAKING: Senate Passes Shaheen-Ernst Bill to Protect Afghan Allies through SIV Program as Part of Supplemental Spending Bill (July 29, 2021); Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, Public Law 117-331, enacted on July 30, 2021; Assoc. Press, For Afghan evacuees arriving to U.S., a tenuous legal status and little financial support, Wash. Post (Sept. 1, 2021).

[8] Shaheen, Ernst Lead Bipartisan Effort Urging the Administration on Immediate Evacuation & Full Implementation of their SIV Legislation Aug. 19, 2021). Homeland Security Dep’t, DHS to Serve as Lead Federal Agency Coordinating Efforts to Resettle Vulnerable Afghans, (Aug. 29, 2021); Sacchetti, Miroff & Demirjian, Biden names former Delaware governor Jack Markell to serve as point person on Afghan resettlement in the United States, Wash. Post (Sept. 3, 2021).

[9] U.S. Refugee Organizations Race to Prepare for Influx of Afghans, W.S.J. (Aug. 31, 2021). Hackman, Afghan Refugees in the U.S.: How They’re Vetted, Where They Are going and How to Help, W.S.J. (Sept. 3, 2021). Assoc. Press, US faith groups unite to help Afghan refugees after war, StarTribune (Sept. 2, 2021).

[10] Office of Governor Walz & Lt. Governor Flanagan, Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan: Minnesota Stands ready to Welcome Afghan Refugee Families (Aug. 19, 2021); Assoc. Press, Walz extends Minnesota’s welcome mat to Afghan refugees (StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2021). News Release, Klobuchar Announces Office Assistance for Americans and Afghan Allies Evacuating Afghanistan (Aug. 18, 2021).

[11] HIAS Statement on Afghanistan Crisis (Aug. 16, 2021); History of the Jews in Afghanistan, Wikipedia; Oreck, Afghanistan Virtual Jewish History Tour, Jewish Virtual Library; The Jews of Afghanistan, Museum of the Jewish People.  Westminster’s Response to Crisis in Afghanistan (Aug. 8, 2021).

[12] Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen & Rev. David Tsai Shinn, Sermon: Concerning the Sojourner (June 20, 2021). Westminster Presbyterian Church, Global Partners Ministry Team.

 

Witnessing

Witnessing is an important human activity and responsibility.

Sometimes witnessing is a planned activity, like attending or watching and listening to a concert, play, movie, sporting event or a church worship service and then reporting (orally or in writing) what happened to others. Witnessing sometimes, however, is not planned beforehand when you observe something happening in your presence and subsequently tell others what you had observed.

Witnessing by Darnella Frazier [1]

An important example of the latter type of witnessing was provided by Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old high school student, in Minneapolis at the corner of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street on May 25, 2020.

By happenstance she and her nine-year-old cousin walked from their home to the nearby Cup Foods store on that corner to buy some snacks. When they arrived at the store they noticed in the street a Minneapolis police car where a black man (George Floyd) was pinned in pain on the pavement by three Minneapolis policemen. Frazier immediately got out her cell phone and started a video recording of this event and then held her camera steady for over the next ten minutes until the Black man apparently died. She then  posted this video recording on her FACEBOOK page, which immediately was seen by many people around the world.

The next day in an interview by the StarTribune Frazier said she started the video recording ”as soon as I heard  . .  [the Black man] trying to fight for his life. It was like a natural instinct, honestly. The world needed to see what I was seeing. Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.” She hoped that the video can in some way bring about “peace and equality. We are tired of [police] killing us.” It was obvious to her that the officer had “seen how weak [Floyd] was, and he still proceeded. . . . My video proves what really happened.”

Frazier amplified her remarks in March 2021 FACEBOOK postings. “George Floyd was already cuffed on the ground, a knee to the neck when [the] restraint already is absolutely unnecessary. The man was begging for his life and Chauvin did not care. He deserves to go down.” Moreover, I can’t go to sleep in silence, my mind will eat me alive.” Frazier also criticized the falsity of the Minneapolis Police Department’s initial public report of this incident that stated the following:

  • “On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.”
  • “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.”
  • Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
  • “Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
  • “At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.”
  • “The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.”
  • “No officers were injured in the incident.”
  • “Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.”

At Chauvin’s recently concluded criminal trial, Frazier was the fourth witness called by the prosecution and provided moving and emotional testimony about what she observed and did that day. “When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father, I have Black brothers, I have Black friends. I look at that and how it could have been one of them. It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It’s not what I should have done. It’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.” She also testified that Chauvin had a “cold look—heartless. It didn’t seem like he cared.”

In cross examination, defense counsel Erik Nelson was trying to fabricate a scene with bystanders becoming increasingly hostile to the point of creating a potential threat to the officers. Frazier agreed that bystanders were getting louder and angrier, but she added that she didn’t think anyone was ever threatening Chauvin.

After the jury on April 20th rendered its verdict that Chauvin was guilty on all three counts, Frazier said on FACEBOOK, “I just cried so hard. This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety [busting] through the roof. But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES !!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU … George Floyd we did it!! Justice has been served.”

Courage Award for Darnella Frazier [2]

Praise for Frazier’s actions at the scene of the Floyd killing actually started in October 2020, when PEN America, which works to defend and celebrate free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights, announced that it was granting its annual Benenson Courage Award to Frazier. The announcement stated the following:

  • “In May 2020, Frazier documented the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, one of whom—Derek Chauvin—pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck, well after Floyd lost consciousness. Frazier’s video quickly spread across social media and led to a wave of community outrage, a major investigation, and Chauvin’s arrest, as well as the dismissal of [him and] the three other officers. Floyd’s killing, along with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others, drove a wave of activism across the country crying out for racial and economic justice.”

This award was presented at a virtual ceremony on December 8, 2020, by Spike Lee, the famous Oscar-winning film director. He said, “I’m so proud of my sister. She documented the murder of George Floyd, our brother, King Floyd. And that footage reverberated around this God’s earth, and people took to the streets all over this earth. Not just the United States of America, and it wasn’t just Black people either. Everybody took to the streets. My sister, I commend you, and you deserve  . . . the PEN/Benenson Courage Award. The [important] word is courage!”

Ms. Frazier accepted the Award with these comments: “ I would like to say thank you for honoring me with this PEN/Benenson Courage Award. I never would imagine out of my whole 17 years of living that this will be me. It’s just a lot to take in, but I couldn’t say thank you enough for everything that’s been coming towards me. Thanks to Mr. Lee for presenting this, and I appreciate that. Thank you for the PEN/Benenson Courage Award.”

Then followed thank you’s for her courage from attendees, including Meryl Streep, Anita Hill and U.S. Senator Cory Booker.

Other Praises for Frazier [3]

Many others have praised Frazier for her courage and quick-thinking on May 25th.

Her recording this video was praised at a June 11, 2020, press conference by Minneapolis Police chief Medaria Arradondo, “I am thankful, absolutely, that this [police encounter] was captured in the manner it was. [In similar situations, he encouraged others,]“Record, Record, absolutely. Record, call . . . a friend. Yell out. Call 911. We need a supervisor on the scene. Absolutely, we need to know that. So the community [should[ play a vital role and did two weeks ago.”

Chauvin’s conviction brought immediate praise for Frazier. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said, Frazier’s taking “that video, I think many folks know, is maybe the only reason that Derek Chauvin will go to prison.” The NAACP in North Carolina, the state where Floyd was born. stated “The video shot by a high school student will go down in history. Not even many of Chauvin’s police colleagues, could argue against Ms. Frazier’s film.” Oprah Winfrey tweeted, “I’m grateful to the witnesses and their testimonies. Grateful to Darnella Frazier. Grateful to every juror for seeing and acknowledging what the world saw on that tape. Thank you God for real!”

Michelle Norris, a Washington Post columnist and a Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, states Frazier “was the witness George Floyd needed on May 25, 2020. She was the witness we all needed—the public, the police, a country still grappling with racial codes that are stitched into the fabric of our governing institutions. She is the hero of this story.”

Norris continued, “Her bravery is a reminder that we too must not look away, and not just in the most wicked moments of bias but also in the small things that grease the runway toward larger prejudice. We must not look away when we see the softer kind of oppression that masks itself in offhand comments, and jokes, and the denigration and dismissal of ‘those people.’”

“And when I say ‘we,’ I am also talking about our public servants and especially our law enforcement officers who know too well that there are those in their ranks who ‘police’ from a dark and dangerous perspective. They know that some officers are guided by prejudice and proceed from warped beliefs. Those officers debase the entire profession.”

Conclusion

 Seven other bystanders to the killing of George Floyd testified in the Chauvin trial, including Judeah Reynolds, who is Frazier’s nine-year-old cousin. As Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said in his closing argument, all of these bystander witnesses “were a bouquet  of humanity.”[4]

All of the bystanders testimony was  applauded by two prominent journalists. For Frank Bruni, the New York times columnist, these witnesses are “tormented by their memories of Floyd’s last minutes” and Floyd’s and their sense of “helplessness” of not being able to stop what was being done to Floyd. The Chicago Tribune’s columnist, Heidi Stevens, called these bystanders “stone catchers” or people who stand up and intervene when someone’s been wrongly accused and condemned. (This phrase is based upon Jesus rebuking men who were ready to stone to death a woman caught in adultery by asking them who is without sin to cast the first stone, which prompted all the men to drop their stones and walk away and upon Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative coining  the phrase “stone catchers.” [4]

This reference to the Bible should remind those of religious faith of our calling to be witnesses and give testimony. This is not easy. You have to give your account of what happened and your belief as to what it means. The person has to stand and say what he or she believes about God.

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[1] Walsh, For first time, Minneapolis teen opens up about her viral George Floyd arrest video, StarTribune (Mar. 12, 2021); Minneapolis Police Department, Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction (May 25, 2020); Paybarah, How a teenager’s video upended the police department’s initial tale, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2021); Bogel-Burroughs & Arango, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed George Floyd’s arrest, testifies at the trial, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2021);  Assoc. Press, [Video] ‘He Was Suffering’: Teenager Who Filmed Floyd’s Arrest Testifies at Trial, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2021); Watch the replays” Day 2 testimony of witnesses Donald Williams and Darnella Frazier, StarTribune (Mar. 30, 2021); Xiong, Walsh & Olson, Teen who recorded George Floyd’s death reveals trauma, pain in testimony, StarTribune (Mar. 31, 2021); Jackson, Derek Chauvin trial shows people who film police violence later struggle with trauma, StarTribune (April 2, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 4, 2021); Knowles & Belia, Darnella Frazier, teen who filmed Floyd’s arrest, celebrates Chauvin’s guilty verdict: ‘Justice has been served,’ Wash. Post (April 21, 2021); Yan, A teen with ‘a cell phone and sheer guts’ is credited for Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction, cnn.comm (April 21, 2021); Fowler, You have the right to film police. Here’s how to do it effectively—and safely, Wash. Post (April 22, 2021).

[2] See note 1 supra. See also Walsh, Minneapolis teen ‘humbled’ to receive national Courage Award for filming George Floyd’s killing by police, StarTribune (Oct. 29, 2020); PEN America, Darnella Frazier, Dec. 8, 2020); Walsh, Minneapolis teen receives prestigious award for recording George Floyd video, StarTribune (Dec. 10, 2020).

[3] Norris, Opinion: Darnella Frazier is the hero of this story, Wash. Post (April 21, 2021). This blog has frequently commented about Bryan Stevenson’s amazing legal representation of death-row inmates and others. See also Sullivan, By bearing witness—and hitting ‘record’—17-year-old Darnella Frazier may have changed the world, Wash. Post (April 20, 2021.).

[4] The other bystander witnesses were Alyssa Funaru (17 years old), Kaylynn Gilbert (17 years old), Genevieve Hansen, Donald Williams II, Christopher Belfrey and Charles McMillian. (Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 4, 2021). Bruni, Listening to Those Who Saw George Floyd Die, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2021); Stevens, ‘The world needed to see what I was seeing,’ StarTribune (April 23, 2021)..

Pandemic Journal (# 40): The Latest on the COVID-19 Pandemic   

As of the end of February 2021, the word had recorded 114,681,354 COVID-19 coronavirus cases and 2,542,827 deaths.  The statistics for the U.S. were 29,255,365 cases and 525,778 deaths. For the State of Minnesota, 485,000 cases and 6,551 deaths. [1]

Now good news about the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Worldwide, 244 million vaccine does have been provided with 53.5 million people fully vaccinated. For the U.S.: 75.2 million doses and 24.8 million fully vaccinated. For the State of Minnesota, 1.39 million; and 454,000 fully vaccinated people.[2]

Last week another vaccine, this one by Johnson & Johnson, joined vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna that have been approved for use in the U.S.[3]

Moreover, the numbers of new cases and deaths are decreasing in Minnesota and many other parts of the U.S. although there is concern that the numbers might be increasing again.[4]

This blogger and his wife are thankful that they have not contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus and by the end of this week, as senior citizens, both of us will have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. We also are thankful that our immediate family members have not contracted the coronavirus and pray for their continued good health and eventually becoming eligible for the vaccinations.

I also continue to find comfort and spiritual renewal in this stressful Pandemic by attending virtual worship services and adult education programs at my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian.

Biblical Text for Recent Worship Service

The lives of the 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 were memorialized in the February 28th worship service at Westminster.

The Biblical text for the day  was from the Christian Bible’s Old Testament’s Book of Lamentations (1: 1-4), which generally is thought to have been written by the Prophet Jeremiah to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Here is that passage:

“How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.”

The Sermon, “Listening to Lament” [5]

 The sermon, “Listening to Lament,”  by Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen, featured the lighting of 50 candles and the naming of 50 Americans, chosen at random, each to honor 10,000 of the 500,000 deceased.

The Pastor emphasized that each of these people had unique lives that will be missed by their relatives and friends and that lamenting their dying was important for all of us. He recalled he and his wife’s visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which has the names of the 58,318 Americans who were killed during that war engraved on a granite wall, and observing people standing near the names of their loved ones on the wall and crying.

The Pastor also said that this honoring the 500,000 was also an occasion to express gratitude for their lives, to acknowledge the resilience of their survivors in many ways, to recognize and help the many partners each of us as individuals and as a community of faith have, to continue to be engaged in efforts to improve the justice of our health system and access to medical care and vaccines and to say thanks for the generosity of many people helping others and our communities of faith.

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

[1] COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,worldometer.

[2] Vaccine doses overview, Our World in Data.

[3] Weiland & LaFraniere, F.D.A. Clears Johnson & Johnson’s Shot, the third Vaccine for U.S., N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2021).

[4] Snowbeck, Minnesota’s COVID cases are down, but for how long?, StarTribune (Feb. 27, 2021); Cunningham & Hawkins, Global coronavirus numbers edging back up after weeks of decline, says WHO, Wash. Post (Mar. 2, 2021); Greve, CDC chief warns of ‘potential fourth surge’ and warns US to keep Covid rules, Guardian (Mar. 1, 2021); Reuters, Decline in Coronavirus “May Be Stalling,’ C.D.C. Director Warns (Video),N.Y. Times (Feb. 26, 2021).

[5] The video and bulletin for the service are online. The text of this sermon will be added to the Westminster website.

Pandemic Journal (# 39): Amanda Gorman’s Poetic Reference to Micah 4: 1-5

The last Pandemic Journal entry discussed Amanda Gorman’s beautiful inaugural poem, which was referenced in this morning’s sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church with a cryptic comment that the poem had references to the Book of Micah, a book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.[1]

After the service, a quick examination of the Book of Micah found  verses 4:1-5 and the poem’s following passage: “Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.”

Here is that passage from Micah (NRSV):

“In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.”

“Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

“He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;”

 “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”

“For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
forever and ever.”

In other words, the poem’s title (“The Hill We Climb”) refers to Micah’s prophecy that the Lord’s house shall be established “as the highest of the mountains” and that “peoples shall stream to it [so that God ] may teach us his ways  and that we may walk in his paths.”

Then God “shall beat their swords into plowshares , and their spears into pruning hooks, Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Thereafter, all the people “shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”

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

[1]  The bulletin for today’s Westminster service is on the church website, and the recording of the service will be added later this week.

Pandemic Journal (# 38): Gratitude for Peaceful Presidential Transition

On January 17, this Journal prayed for a peaceful Presidential Transition and Nation after the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the January 13th impeachment of Donald Trump. [1]

Now gratitude is in order for the January 20th peaceful inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris and the first days of their administration.

The Inauguration[2]

 As required by Article II, Section I, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Biden stated,  “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Then as President, Biden delivered a moving inaugural address that provided, in part, the following:

“We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

“So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”

“We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.”

The “American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On ‘We the People’ who seek a more perfect Union. This is a great nation and we are a good people. Over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go.”

“We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain.”

“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”

“To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.”

“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.”

“History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.”

“And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

“The world is watching today. So here is my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example. We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.”

“Before God and all of you I give you my word. I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I will defend our democracy. I will defend America. I will give my all in your service thinking not of power, but of possibilities. Not of personal interest, but of the public good. And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness.”

“So, with purpose and resolve we turn to the tasks of our time. Sustained by faith. Driven by conviction. And, devoted to one another and to this country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.”

The First Days of the Biden Presidency[3]

On the first days of the Biden Administration, he signed 30 executive orders, presidential memoranda and agency directives primarily focused on addressing the Pandemic as well as some of the  following topics:

  • Reinstated U.S. ties with the World Health Organization;
  • Reinstated U.S. into the Paris climate accords;
  • Revoked plan to exclude noncitizens from 2020 census;
  • Bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and called for Congress to enact legislation to make it permanent;
  • Ended aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants;
  • Ended ban on travel to the U.S. from predominantly Muslim and African countries;
  • Halted construction of U.S. border wall with Mexico;
  • Revoked permit for Keystone XL pipeline;
  • Terminated the recently created 1776 Commission and its report on U.S. history;
  • Extended federal moratorium on housing evictions;
  • Paused federal student loan interest and principal payments;

Other Comments on the Inaugural[4]

Beautiful singing at the Inaugural was provided by Lady Gaga (“National Anthem”), Jennifer Lopez (“This Land Is Your Land” and “American the Beautiful”) and Garth Brooks (“Amazing Grace”).

The amazing star of the program was Amanda Gorman, a beautiful, miling 22-year -old,  the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate and Harvard graduate from Los Angeles in a stunning yellow coat and red hat reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb” that went as follows:

  • “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
    The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
    We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
    We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
    and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
    And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.”
  • “Somehow we do it.
    Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,
    but simply unfinished.
    We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
  • And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine,
    but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
    We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
    To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
    And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”
  • “We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
    We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
    We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
    Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
    That even as we grieved, we grew.
    That even as we hurt, we hoped.
    That even as we tired, we tried.
    That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
    Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”
  • “Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
    If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
    That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.”
  • “It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
    It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
    We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
    Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
    This effort very nearly succeeded.
    But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
    it can never be permanently defeated.”
  • “In this truth, in this faith, we trust,
    for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
    This is the era of just redemption.
    We feared it at its inception.
    We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
    but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
    So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’”
  • “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
    A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
    We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
    Our blunders become their burdens.
    But one thing is certain:
    If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.”
  • “So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
    With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
    We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
    We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
    We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
    We will rise from the sun-baked south.
    We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.”
  • “In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
    our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
    When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
    The new dawn blooms as we free it.
    For there is always light,
    if only we’re brave enough to see it.
    If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

The Benediction

The Inaugural was concluded by a moving benediction from Rev. Silvester Beaman, a pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware and a longtime friend of the President.

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

[1] Pandemic Journal (# 37): Praying for a Peaceful Presidential Transition and Nation, dwkcommentareis.com (Jan. 17, 2021) .

[2]  White House, Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (Jan. 20, 2021); Sanger, A Call for Unity to a Nation Facing a Pandemic and Division, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021); Lleibovich, Washington Breathes an Uneasy ‘Sign of Relief,  N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021).

[3] Sullivan, Hickey & O’Key, Here are 30 executive orders and actions Biden signed in his first three days, CNN,com (Jan. 22, 2021); Kavi, Biden’s 17 Executive Orders and Other Directives in Detail, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021).

[4] Watch Lady Gaga Perform The National Anthem At Biden’s Inauguration YouTube (Jan. 20, 2021); Garth Brooks sings ‘Amazing Grace’ for Biden Inaugural, YouTube (Jan. 20, 2021); Pareles, At Biden’s Inaugural Events, the Music was Earnestly Reassuring, N.Y. Times (Jan. 21, 2021); The Hill We Climb: the Amanda Gorman poem that stole the inauguration show, Guardian (Jan. 20, 2021); Gabbart, “An Inspiration to us all’: Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem stirs hope and awe, Guardian (Jan. 20, 2021); Rash, Amanda Gorman composes a poetic inauguration, StarTribune (Jan. 22, 2021); Bykowicz, Poet Amanda Gorman Has Star Turn Reading ‘ The Hill We Climb’ at Biden Inauguration, W.S.J. (Jan. 20, 2021); Alter, Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, asks, ‘Where can we find light’ in Inauguration Day recitation, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021); Wang & Merry, Amanda Gorman reads poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden inauguration, Wash. Post (Jan. 20, 2021).

Pandemic Journal (# 37): Praying for a Peaceful Presidential Transition and Nation

My last Pandemic Journal of January 2, recorded being pleasedthat Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the U.S. presidential and vice presidential election in early November with the largest number of popular votes in U.S. history, 81,283,485, which was 7,059,741 more than those for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. The Electoral College [vote on December 14] was 306 to 232. Nevertheless, the country has been subjected to the unjustified outrage of Trump and some Republicans with ridiculous lawsuits challenging the results in some states, all scornfully dismissed, many by Trump-appointed federal judges. Next week, on January 6 there will be a joint session of the Congress to tabulate the results of the Electoral College, which some Republicans are planning to use to mount other ridiculous challenges, which should fail, thereby making it almost official for the January 20th inauguration of Biden and Harris. But even that important cause for celebration is subject to the risk of armed violence instigated by Trump supporters at the urging of Trump himself.” [1]

Unfortunately that fear was corroborated by Trump’s January 6th inciting his supporters’ insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that caused five deaths, the threatening the lives and safety of Senators. Representatives, staffers and others and interrupting the Congress’ confirmation of the results of the Electoral College.  The Congress, however, in the early morning of January 7th was able to resume its constitutional responsibility to confirm the Electoral College votes for Biden and Harris. [2]

A week later, the House on January 13th voted  232 (including 10 Republicans) to 197 to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection, contrary to his constitutional obligation. Now we pray for the Senate’s upcoming trial and conviction of Trump, including a bar on his ever again holding public office. [3]

Now we also await the January 20th inauguration of Biden and Harris on the western porch of the U.S. Capitol while the Capitol grounds are blocked off to the public and surrounded by U.S. National Guard forces. There also have been threatened demonstrations by Trump supporters around the country, including the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. We pray that there will no violence on this important day at the U.S. Capitol and around the country and that Trump before he leaves office will not issue additional pardons, including to himself and members of his family.[4]

In the meantime, my spirits were lifted this morning by attending via ZOOM a joint worship service of my church, Westminster Presbyterian, and our partner, Liberty Community Church, the first and only African American led Presbyterian congregation in Minnesota. The moving sermon, “Living the Dream,” by Rev. Gregory J. Bentley was filmed and recorded at his church, Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama; he also served last year as Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA).[5]

The music at the worship service also was inspiring. The Offertory, “Raise Up,” and the Postlude, “Diamonds of the Soul,”were composed and sung by Joe Davis, Westminster’s Artist-in-Residence, along with Imani Waters, vocalist, and Nil Adjetey Mensah, bass. [6]

At the service we joined in singing  three  African-American spirituals: “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” “Guide My Feet” and “We Shall Overcome.” The last  had especial meaning because of its use during the Civil  Rights movement of the 1960s and its reminders that once again we need faith and persistence to overcome today’s problems. Here are its lyrics:

  • “We shall overcome,; we shall overcome; we shall overcome some day.”
  • “We’ll walk hind in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand someday.”
  • “We are not afraid’ we are not afraid; we are not afraid today.”
  • “God will see us through; god will see us through; God will see us through today.”

The Refrain, of course, is the following: “O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day!”

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[1]  Pandemic Journal (# 36): Perspectives on the Years 2020  and 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 2, 2021).

[2] E.g., 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, Wikipedia; Fandos & Cochrane, After Pro-Trump Mob Storms Capitol, Congress Confirms Biden’s Win, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2021).

[3] E.g., Second impeachment of Donald Trump, Wikipedia.

[4] E.g., Feuer & Benner, Inaugural Security Is Fortified in D.C. as Military and Police Links Are Eyed in Riot, N.Y. Times (Jan.  14, 2021); McDonald, Rhyne & Laffin, Capitol Under Lockdown Ahead of Inauguration (Video), N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2021); Schmidt & Vogel, Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan.17, 2021).

[5] A recording of the ZOOM service and the its bulletin are available online.

[6] Pandemic Journal (#29): Current Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 20, 2020) (account of Joe Davis at an earlier Westminster worship service).

 

Additional Reasons for Loving Dave Brubeck’s Music  

After publishing the post about Dave Brubeck and other jazz musicians, I remembered that my church, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian, has used Brubeck music in at least two of our worship services. These are additional reasons for my love of his music.

On September 2, 2012, our church organist, Melanie Ohnstad, played an organ prelude “Swing Five,” which uses the rhythms of Brubeck’s “Take Five” and which was composed by a contemporary German composer, Johannes Matthias Michel.[1]

On December 6, 2015, Westminster’s church choir sang “God’s Love Made Visible,” a sacred jazz piece in 5/4 time by Brubeck. The words by his late wife, Iola Brubeck, started with the religious meaning of Christmas:

  • “God’s love made visible! Incomprehensible! He is invincible! His love shall reign! From love so bountiful, blessings uncountable made death surmountable! His love shall reign! Joyfully pray for peace and good will! All of man’s yearning He will fulfill. Praise him for ev’ry day! Open your hearts and pray. His love shall reign!”

After an interlude of words about the secular activities of the season, the music returned to the religious theme:

  • “ God gave His Son to us to dwell as one of us. His blessing unto us! His love shall reign! To Him all honor bring, heaven and earth will sing, praising our Lord and King!
  • His love shall reign! Open all doors this day of His birth, men of good will inherit the earth.
  • His star will always be guiding humanity through eternity!
  • His love shall reign!”

This choral piece is from a longer sacred work by Brubeck: “Fiesta de la Posada” (Festival of the Inn), which Brubeck said was an outgrowth of his absorbing and observing “Mexican folk music all my life.” That “ethnic music reflects those qualities I most admire in people… dignity in moments of tragedy, infectious high spirits in moments of joy, and an unshakeable religious faith made evident in a strong sense of one’s own worth and a deep respect for the shared values of one’s own group — family, church, village. These qualities, I think, are universal to people with a strong communal sense” that he “tried to capture in the simple retelling of the Christmas story” in “fiesta de la Posada.”

I also discovered that Brubeck had some Presbyterian connections and had played this piece and others at the national meeting (General Assembly of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ) in 1997.[2]

Thank you, Dave Brubeck, for these contributions to works for religious communities.

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

[1] Jazzy Music at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 5, 2012).)

[2] Brubeck, A Note from the Composer, davebrubeck.com; Buchanan, A tribute to Presbyterian-friendly Dave Brubeck, PCUSA News (Dec. 14, 2012.

Giving Thanks for Refugees and Other Immigrants 

On Thanksgiving Day 2020 I give thanks for the courage and fortitude of immigrants in my own family and of refugees and other immigrants in the U.S..

Personal Ancestral Immigrants

My earliest immigrant ancestor, to my knowledge, was William Brown (my seventh maternal great-grandfather), who left England as a young boy before 1686 to come to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, eventually settling in Leicester, MA, where he was one of its early settlers and officer of the town in various capacities. [1]

His grandson (my fifth maternal great-grandfather) was Perley Brown, who was born on May 23, 1737 in Leicester, MA, where later he was a Minuteman and then fought for the colonists in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was killed in the Battle of White Plains, NY under the command of General George Washington.[2]

My first maternal great-grandparents, Sven Peter Johnson and Johanna Christina Magnusson (Johnson), were born and married in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S. sometime before 1881, when their daughter (my maternal grandmother), Jennie Olivia Johnson (Brown), was born on February 28, 1881, in Ottumwa, Iowa.[3]

My paternal first great-grandfather, Johann N. Kroehnke (John Krohnke) was born on November 26, 1839 in Holstein, Prussia and emigrated to the U.S. circa 1867 and denounced Allegiance to the King of Prussia (William I?)  when he applied for U.S. citizenship in Davenport, Iowa on October 9, 1867 and received his U.S. naturalization papers on March 7, 1871. He settled in Benton County, Iowa, where he met Elizabeth Heyer, who was born October 13, 1847 in Krofdorf, Prussia?, but the dates of her arrival in the U.S. and obtaining U.S. citizenship are unknown. The two of them were married on December 26, 1871 in that same Iowa county. Thus, she is my first paternal great-grandmother. [4]

To determine whether there are additional immigrants in my family tree, I need the assistance of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.[5]

Refugees and Other Immigrants

I also give thanks for the courage and fortitude of the millions of refugees and other immigrants who have come to the U.S. and who have become U.S. citizens, a few of whom as a pro bono lawyer I helped obtain asylum as their first step for obtaining U.S. citizenship. I thank them for helping me learn about their personal histories and later introducing me to the moving experience of U.S. naturalization ceremonies, when they obtained their U.S. citizenship. (I also was the pro bono attorney for an Afghan man for his interview for U.S citizenship.)[6]

One such ceremony was in Minnesota in February 2016 when U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank before swearing in the new citizens, said, ““We are a better country now than we were five minutes ago. We are better with you than without you.”  The Judge  added that three of his five daughters were naturalized citizens.[7]

Ed Collins of Wilmington, Delaware recently wrote about his attending such a ceremony 35 years ago at San Francisco’s Masonic Temple at the invitation of a friend from college. Collins said he “was stunned upon arrival to see around 150 applicants and 300 or so friends and relatives in the auditorium. A judge led the ceremony supported by a military color guard and a small military band. The judge spoke eloquently about the duties of citizenship as well as its privileges. All joined in lustily singing a number of patriotic songs. Finally, the judge led the applicants in swearing allegiance to the U.S. and then pronounced them citizens of the U.S.”[8]

Collins added, “An amazing roar of cheering, applause, laughing and crying swept the room. I have never seen such a large display of emotion and total joy. That moment led me to understand the value that these good people placed on U.S. citizenship. I urge every American to attend a naturalization ceremony at least once. You won’t look upon U.S. citizenship the same way again, and you won’t take your citizenship for granted.”

Even more inspiring was the December 2015 naturalization ceremony at Washington, D.C.’s Rotunda of the National Archives Museum, where the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are permanently displayed on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The welcome of the new citizens was given by President Obama. Here are some of his remarks that day:[9]

  • “To my fellow Americans, our newest citizens. You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”
  • “Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”
  • “And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
  • “We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.”
  • “We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.”
  • “And the biggest irony of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’”
  • “The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.”
  • “That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”
  • “That’s our great inheritance — what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey — to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.”
  • “You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”
  • “Thank you.  May God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.”

Conclusion

Given the recent frequent negative comments about immigrants, especially in the rural areas of the U.S., it would be instructive to have such naturalization ceremonies broadcast live in all parts of the states where they occur. Another source of information and inspiration for all current U.S.  citizens is the recent widespread statements of governors justifying their support for resettlement of refugees in their states. [10]

Pope Francis also provides a religious justification for welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees and other immigrants.[11]

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

[1] Carol W. Brown, William Brown: English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts and His Descendants, c. 1669-1994, at 1-4 (Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] Id. at 17-27.  See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Watertown, Massachusetts, 238 Years Ago (April 20, 2013); The American Revolutionary War’s Siege of Boston, April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 (July 27, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 (July 30, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Campaign for New York and New Jersey, March 1776-January 1777 (Aug. 13, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island), August 1776 (Oct. 8, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of Harlem Heights, New York, September 1776 (Oct. 10, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of White Plains, October 1776 (Oct. 12, 2012). George Edwin Brown and Jennie Olivia Johnson Brown, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 17, 2013); n.1 supra at 267.

[4] Hansen, The Heyers From Krofdorf to Keystone at 9, 19 (Amundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, IA 1977).

[5] Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS.org.

[6] Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer, dwkcommentaries.com (May 24, 2011).

[7] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy (June 7, 2015); Minnesota Welcomes New Citizens (June 8, 2015); Another U.S. Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony (Feb. 18, 2016).

[8] Collins, Letter: A U.S. Naturalization Ceremony to Remember, W.S.J. (Nov. 23, 2020). Collins was prompted to write his article by reading another about a recent naturalization ceremony attended by Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty. (McGinty, More Green Card Holders Are Becoming U.S. Citizens, W.S.J. (Nov. 13, 2020).)

[9] President Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens with Inspiring Challenge, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2015)(contains full text of Obama’s speech).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (December 31, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.7, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020).

[11] Pope Francis Reminds Us to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).

 

 

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All)

On October 3, in Assisi (Italy) at the tomb of Saint  Francis, Pope Francis released his lengthy (287 paragraphs) Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All).”[1]

Here are this lay person’s overview of this important document and summary of the instantaneous reactions thereto from E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist on U.S. national politics and a Roman Catholic, and from other journalists.

Overview of the Letter

The title of the Encyclical– “Fratelli Tutti”—was used by Saint Francis to address “his brothers and sisters” and to propose “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” The Letter’s guiding light is Saint Francis’ call “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’”

The Letter has an introduction “Without Borders” before exploring the following eight chapters:

  • One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World;
  • Two: A Stranger on the Road;
  • Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World;
  • Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World;
  • Five: A Better Kind of Politics;
  • Six: Dialogue and Friendship in Society;
  • Seven: Paths of Renewed Encounter; and
  • Eight: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.

The Letter concludes with the following two prayers:

A Prayer to the Creator:

  • “Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.”
  • “May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.”

An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:

  • “O God, Trinity of love,
    from the profound communion of your divine life,
    pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
    Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
    in his family of Nazareth,
    and in the early Christian community.”
  • “Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
    discovering Christ in each human being,
    recognizing him crucified
    in the sufferings of the abandoned
    and forgotten of our world,
    and risen in each brother or sister
    who makes a new start.”
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
    reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
    so that we may discover anew
    that all are important and all are necessary,
    different faces of the one humanity
    that God so loves. Amen.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s Reactions [2]

E.J. Dionne Jr. published an intriguing column about this lengthy Papal Encyclical Letter, only one day after it was published.[2] Here is a summary of what Dionne had to say, which will probably spark this blogger’s comments after he carefully and prayerfully studies the Encyclical Letter.

According to Dionne, this Letter only a month before the U.S. presidential election criticizes many aspects of current politics that are found in the U.S. and other countries:

  • It criticizes persons who advocate “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”
  • It criticizes advocates of an ““every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”
  • “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”
  • It denounces those who speak of “empty individualism,” a “narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and “a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
  • The Pope “cited his earlier condemnations of “a ‘throwaway’ world” that lacks respect for the “poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.” And he denounced human trafficking as a “perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”
  • The Pope had 12 references to capital punishment as “inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”
  • The Pope criticized the world’s inability “to resolve problems that affect us all” like the COVID-19 pandemic and  “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.” Moreover, ““God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. … If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”
  • “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” This is “a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.”

Other Reactions [3]

Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau Chief, and Stefano Pitrelli of that Bureau who covers Italy and the Vatican, lead with this statement, “Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a ‘permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.’ In some countries, leaders are using a ‘strategy of ridicule’ and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to ‘dominate and gain control.’”

Harlan and Pitrelli believe that the encyclical “amounts to a papal stand against tribalism, xenophobia, and the dangers of the social media age.” They also point out that this is only the third encyclical by Pope Francis. The first was “Lumen Fidei” (the Light of Faith) which was issued in 2013 soon after he became pope and was written mostly by Benedict XVI. The second, “Laudarto Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) in 2015 addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development.

The New York Times’ Rome Bureau Chief, Jason Horowitz, opened with Pope Francis’ criticism of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as “exposing our false securities” and “inability to work together.” This was accerbated by the forces of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism.” The document also “calls for closeness to the marginalized, support for migrants, resistance of nationalist and tribal populism, and the abolition of the death penalty.” Hindering “the development of universal fraternity” were economic inequality, sexism and racism.

The Wall Street Journal’s article on the encyclical is by Francis X. Rocca, who is its Vatican correspondent based in Rome. He says the document offered the Pope’s “prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, and “echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.” He also notes for non-Catholics that papal encyclicals are “one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing.”

Conclusion

As a Protestant (Presbyterian) Christian, I plan to give this Encyclical Letter careful and prayerful study and then offer my reactions to the Letter and to the comments by Dionne and  other journalists.

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[1] The Holy See, Encyclical Letter: FRATELLI TUTTI of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship (Oct. 3, 2020).

[2] Dionne, The Pope’s unexpected election message, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020).

[3] Harlan & Pitrelli, Pope Francis’s new encyclical is a papal warning about a world going bad, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020); Horowitz, Pope Criticizes Lack of Unity in World’s Response to Coronovirus, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020); Rocca, Pope Francis Says Covid-19 Pandemic Shows Limits of Market Economics, W.S.J. (Oct. 4, 2020). See also Pepinster, How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election, Guardian (Oct. 6, 2020).

 

 

 

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