Unfortunate Ecuador-U.S. Diplomatic Spat

Ecuador and the U.S. are engaged in an unfortunate diplomatic spat.

It started on April 5th, 2011, when Ecuador expelled the U.S. Ambassador and professional diplomat, Heather Hodges. Her sin? Sending a July 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Quito to the U.S. State Department that recently became public by WikiLeaks. The cable recommended the revocation of the U.S. visa of Jaime Aquilino Hurtado, Ecuador’s national police chief. The grounds for this recommendation, said the cable, were multiple reports of his alleged illegal activities, including his possible involvement in schemes to extort bribes from a taxi union, steal public funds and ease trafficking of undocumented Chinese immigrants. The cable also noted that “some [U.S.] Embassy officials believe that [Ecuadorian] President Correa must have been aware of them when he made the appointment” of Mr. Hurtado and that Correa “may have wanted to have . . .[a police] chief whom he could easily manipulate.” Such statements about Correa, said the Ecuadorian government, were “unacceptable, . . . malicious and imprudent.”

Later President Correa said that the leaked cable indicated that the U.S. Embassy has informants in Ecuador’s police and armed forces. “This is espionage,” he said.  Not true, I say. Normal diplomatic practice for the U.S. and all other countries, I assume, is to be informed about the activities of the other country and to talk with various officials in its government. The leaked cable, in my opinion, reflects that normal practice. Note too that in the reports from Ecuador there is no claim that the statements in the cable are untrue.

Two days after Ecuador had declared the U.S. Ambassador persona non grata, the U.S. did the same with respect to the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, who also is a professional diplomat.  The only stated ground was to protest what the U.S. saw as the unjustified Ecuadorian expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador.

This U.S. expulsion Of Mr. Gallegos was totally unjustified, in my opinion. Ambassador Gallegos has an impressive record of service to his country and the world community. He chaired the U.N.’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, granting recognition to the struggles and rights of the more than 650 million people with disabilities. In addition to degrees from the Central University of Ecuador, he holds a M.A. degree as a Humphrey Fellow Scholar from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy-Harvard University. An U.S. NGO regarding Latin America said that Ambassador Gallegos capably performed his duties as Ambassador to the U.S. with “a lowered voice, an incisive mind, and an abiding sense of humor, which he needed.”

I recently heard Ambassador Gallegos speak at a meeting in Minneapolis honoring Silvia Ontaneda as the new Consulate General of Ecuador for Minnesota. By his remarks and manner anyone could tell the Ambassador was a wonderful man and honorable diplomat. He indeed exhibited a calm manner, incisive mind and sense of humor.

I hope that this spat will not interfere with improving commercial and other relations between the two countries.

Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Supports U.N. Security Council on Libya

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), this week expressed her support of the recent U.N. Security Council’s actions on Libya.[1]

On February 26, 2011, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, which among other things, referred the Libyan situation since February 15, 2011, to the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, directed the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the Court and Prosecutor and invited the Prosecutor to make periodic reports about his actions in this matter to the Council.[2] This action, Robinson said, was unusual, but demonstrated the usefulness of having a permanent international criminal court that could be called upon in ongoing situations involving the most serious crimes of international concern and that could help to stop those crimes before they become worse. She also recognized, on the other hand, that the referral might complicate efforts to get Colonel Gadhafi and others to abdicate power by fleeing to another country because of the possibility of criminal charges by the ICC.

Less than three weeks later, the Council, 10 to 0 (with 5 abstentions), approved Resolution 1973, which authorized U.N. members to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya by establishing a no-fly zone, but excluding a foreign occupation force.[3] Robinson asserted that this action was a proper exercise of the emerging international principle of the duty or right to protect or humanitarian intervention because of the imminent threat by the Gadhafi regime to kill many of its own people, especially in Benghazi. She also cautioned against expanding these military measures into intervention on the ground.

In addition, Robinson applauded this year’s “Arab Spring.” The uprisings in the Middle East included many women and demonstrate, she said, that men and women all over the world want human dignity, freedom and human rights as well as a decent living. The desire for human rights is indeed universal. It is not some Western set of values that is imposed on other societies.

Mary Robinson is also the former President of Ireland (1990-97). In 2002 she founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative that aimed “to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.”[4] After that organization finished its work in 2010, Robinson founded The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice for “thought, leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.”[5]


[1] Robinson’s remarks at the University of Minnesota and on Minnesota Public Radio are available at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/04/08/midmorning1; http://cce.umn.edu/LearningLife/Listen-to-Past-Events/index.html (forthcoming).

[2] U.N. Security Council, 6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/28/PDF/N1124528.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1970 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/58/PDF/N1124558.pdf?OpenElement.

[3] U.N. Security Council, 6498th meeting (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/PRO/N11/267/18/PDF/N1126718.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1973 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/268/39/PDF/N1126839.pdf?OpenElement. The five Security Council members that abstained were Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation.

[4] Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, http://www.realizingrights.org.

[5] The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice, http://www.mrfcj.org.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Growing up in the small Iowa town of Perry, I was an active member of the local Methodist Church. I was president of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), and our pastor, whom I respected, encouraged me to go into the ministry.

Once I went to college, however, I soon convinced myself that all religions were antiquated superstitions that were of no use to an intelligent, hard-working person like myself. This not uncommon sophomoric rebellion lasted for the next 24 years.

Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary

In 1981 I could admit to others and myself that I did not have all the answers and that there was an inner emptiness in my life. I started attending and then joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (http://www.ewestminster.org). A friend was a member there. I worked downtown, and the church was open to the downtown community, especially through its Westminster Town Hall Forum, which brought notable people to speak on key issues in ethical perspective. This was a church, I came to understand, that respected intellect as an important aspect of religious faith and life. Its mission statement provides that “In response to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, [its mission] is:

• to proclaim and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ;
• to gather as an open community to worship God with dignity and joy, warmth and beauty;
• to nourish personal faith through study, prayer, and fellowship;
• to work for love, peace and justice;
• to be a welcoming and caring Christian community, witnessing to God’s love day by day;
• to work locally and beyond with our denomination and the larger Christian Church; and
• to be a telling presence in the city.”

I have been and continue to be an active member of Westminster, serving as an elder and member of various committees. Most recently I have been chairing its Global Partnerships Committee that supervises our partnerships with churches and other organizations in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, and Bethlehem. This is one way we endeavor to fulfill the Biblical injunction from Apostle Paul: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28)[1] In other words, we are all brothers and sisters without the artificial distinctions that so often divide us from one another.

My Christian Faith

Jesus was a human being who had a special, if not unique, relationship with God the Creator.

By his life and by his death, Jesus demonstrated to the people of his time and to all people of all time how we as His brothers and sisters should live our lives.

The first foundation of my Christian faith is Jesus’ encounter with a clever lawyer in Luke 10:25-37. The lawyer asked Jesus a trick question as to what the lawyer had to do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer did not really want to know the answer; instead, the lawyer wanted Jesus to give an answer that could be twisted to incriminate him. Jesus ducked the question and instead responded with another question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then said the lawyer had answered correctly and that he would live if he did exactly that.

The lawyer, however, would not let it end there. He then asked what he thought was another trick question of Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Again, the lawyer did not really want to know the answer; instead he wanted Jesus to provide an answer that could also be twisted against him. Again, however, Jesus did not answer directly, but instead told the Parable of the Good Samaritan without the punch line identifying the good neighbor. Once again Jesus asked the lawyer to fill in the blank, this time to identify the good neighbor in the story. The lawyer did just that by saying, “The one who had mercy on [the man by the side of the road].” Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 29-37)

Parenthetically as a lawyer myself I have to say that the lawyer in this passage was clever, but not clever enough. The really clever lawyer would not have let Jesus refuse to answer the question. Instead the lawyer would say something like “I am not here to answer questions. My job is to ask the questions. Yours is to answer my questions.” And if this encounter were in a courtroom, the lawyer would ask the judge to instruct the witness to answer the question.

Returning to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the lessons of this story for me is that your neighbor whom you should love as yourself is anyone and everyone and that they can appear when you least expect them. That sets forth a daunting assignment. I have never met this challenge and never can.

That leads to the second foundation of my Christian faith. God knows that we fail and yet forgives us. The most powerful statement of God’s forgiveness comes in another story by Jesus, The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-31), http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015&version=NIV.  As an only son and as a father of two sons, I see myself in this story as the older, resentful son as well as the younger, lost son and more recently as the father.

The meaning of these two stories for me is captured by the third foundation of my Christian faith, the following statement by my personal saint, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero:

“The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.”

“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is            another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”

“No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings        wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.”

“That is what we are all about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.”

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a  future that is not our own.”

Reflections on Pre-Law Education

After six years of pre-legal education, three years of law school, 35 years of practicing law and eight years of teaching in a law school, I have developed many thoughts about preparing for law school and a legal career.

First, there is no one best way to prepare for law school and a legal career. There are all kinds of legal practice and careers, and some types of pre-law might be useful for one type of career, but not for another. For example, in recent years intellectual property law (copyrights, patents and trademarks) has been a “hot” area of practice, and a background in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering or computer science often is very helpful to lawyers in that area. But such background would not be especially useful to other lawyers. Gaining a competence in a foreign language (especially Spanish or Chinese or Japanese or Arabic) will be very useful for a U.S. lawyer specializing in legal work for foreign clients or for U.S. clients doing business abroad. Selection of an undergraduate major and courses depends, in part, on what excites the student and the student’s abilities.

Second, it is tempting for an undergraduate to take law courses (e.g., constitutional law) in the hope that it would give the student a “leg up” in law school. But I believe this temptation should be resisted.

Third, one of the most important type of undergraduate courses for someone who wants to be a lawyer is a course that focuses on careful reading and interpretation of original texts, rather than pre-digested text books about a subject, e.g., literature courses and original historical research. Why? Because a lawyer is always reading and interpreting the original text of statutes, regulations and cases. While there are particular methods of interpreting such legal texts, the challenge of doing the same with other types of texts is very useful for the budding lawyer.

Fourth, also extremely important are courses that require a lot of expository and argumentative writing that is analyzed by someone who is skilled in evaluating and teaching such writing. On the other hand, there is less utility in writing poetry, short stories or novels.

Fifth, the following other undergraduate courses would be useful to most lawyers:

  • U.S. history;
  • U.S. government;
  • statistics;
  • basic accounting that is the foundation for understanding financial statements;
  • micro-economics;
  • speech or debate or courses that develop oral presentation skills;
  • computer usage; and
  • logic.

Sixth, I spent the first semester of my junior year at American University on the Washington Semester Program. It was very informative about U.S. government. I highly recommend it or similar programs.

Seventh, outside undergraduate courses, an individual has many other ways to learn more about legal careers in an effort to decide whether he or she wants to go to law school and pursue a legal career. Introduce yourself to one or more attorneys in the town and ask them what they like and dislike about their work and their suggestions on preparing for law school and a legal career.. You might even get a part-time job offer. Attend trials in the community. Go to larger cities and observe arguments in the appellate courts. Scan general periodicals about the U.S. legal profession. The American Lawyer is a monthly publication that comments on major trends in the law and large firm developments. The National Law Journal is a weekly publication about the law and legal profession. The American Bar Association Journal is the monthly publication of the American Bar Association. Obviously at some point an individual would visit a law school and attend some classes.

Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony”

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s former Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults (1988-93), Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence, has published Preaching as Testimony (Westminster John Knox Press 2007). (See http://www.amazon.com/Preaching-Testimony-Anna-Carter-Florence/dp/0664223907.)

Current and prospective ministers are the primary audience for this book. After all, it is about preaching and creating better sermons.

But it is also addressed to lay Christians because we all are called to testify as to our religious faith and our faith in God and Jesus Christ. As Florence says, “the distinctive witness of Christianity is that God is manifest in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God shows us and calls us to share the news with others. God shows us and calls us to claim the freedom we would like to be. God calls us to testify.” (p. 64 (emphasis added).) To the same point, “Everyone in the faith community is included in the call to preach whenever and wherever there is hunger for freedom. Everyone in the faith community is capable of proclaiming jubilee, either in the pulpit or out in the world. Our stories of encountering God are meant to be shared and must be shared.” (P. 108 (emphasis in original in italics; emphasis added in bold).) For this purpose, she defines “testimony” as “a narration of events and a confession of belief: we tell what we have seen and heard, and we confess what we believe about it.” (p. xiii)

Sermons in this approach begin with what she calls “living in the [lectionary’s Biblical] text” and then testifying about that encounter with God’s Word. Such preachers “go to the text to live in it, to encounter it, to get inside the passage itself and experience what the text is saying to them. The sermon is the aftermath of that encounter: we tell what we have seen and heard in the text, and what we believe. We offer our testimony.” (p. 133)

For “living in the text” or “attending to the text,” Florence provides practical exercises. During all of these exercises, the person should listen for ideas of what the text means.  1. Write the text in hand in a journal. 2. Write a small copy of the text to fit in your pocket. 3. Memorize the text.  4. Underline words and phrases in the text that stand out for you. 5. Read the pocket-sized text when you have spare time and share it with friends or strangers for their reactions. 6. Read the pocket-sized text somewhere you do not usually frequent, “dislocate” the text. 7. Imagine possible or impossible subtexts for the texts; what were the actors in the text saying to themselves. 8. “Block” the text as a play; how the actors in the text (and bystanders) locate and move themselves; have a dress rehearsal of this drama with volunteers. 9. Throw your whole body into the text. 10. “Push” the text with a partner; explore different interpretations and react to the other’s interpretations. 11. Read the text with someone with different characteristics (gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.). 12. Search for other Biblical texts that appear to be contrary to the text at hand. 13. Draw images that are prompted by the text. 14. Study the commentaries on the text. (pp. 135-43)

The next step for the preacher, according to Florence, is describing this encounter with the Word of God. Again she offers exercises. 1. Make a list of images in the text and see what words or pictures they evoke and write them down.     2. Rewrite the text in your own words. 3. Rewrite the words in the slang of young people. 4. Write a character sketch of someone in the text; imagine what that character is thinking. 5. Put yourself into the shoes of one of the characters in the text and imagine that person’s monologue about what is happening. 6. Create a dialogue for two of the characters in the text and have two people read it aloud. 7. Write a short dramatic scene from the text and stage it or “text-jam” it. 8. Write a series of short letters based on the text. 9. Read the text and pray in its words and images before you go to sleep and in the morning write down any dreams you had about it.  10. Write journal entries about the text. 11. Rewrite the text as you wish it were. 12. Ask yourself what you would say about the text “if only you could.” (Pp. 143-50)

Florence also argues that long before women were “authorized” to preach, they testified as to their encounters with God and were really preaching, and three such women in America are discussed. (Pp. 1-58) In addition, Florence summarizes theories of Biblical testimony that have been offered by contemporary theologians. (Pp. 59-108)

Anna received a B.A. in 1984 (History with Theatre Studies) from Yale University and M. Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1988 and 2000. After leaving Westminster, she was a Teaching Fellow and Instructor at Princeton Seminary until 1998 when she joined the faculty of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. She is now its tenured Peter Marshall Associate Professor of Preaching. (http://www.ctsnet.edu/FacultyMember.aspx?ID=14)

Jesus on the Rich and the Poor

Jesus had many things to say about the rich and the poor. One of these messages is the following from Luke 6:17-26:

And[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all              Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast     of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were             troubled with unclean spirits were cured.19And all the crowd sought to touch [Jesus], for power came out from him and healed them all.

And[Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor [now], for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you [now] and when they[now] exclude you  and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of         the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven;  for so their fathers did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich [now], for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you [now], for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Emphasis added.)

As I was reflecting on these verses, I saw first that Jesus was speaking to a “great multitude of people.” There obviously were all sorts of people in the crowd. Some were rich. Some were poor. Some presumably were in the society’s elite. Others were not. There is also an emphasis on the immediacy and temporariness of the conditions of poverty, wealth, hunger and fullness. This is seen in my highlighting of the word “now” and inserting that word in other places. This is also apparent in the introduction in Luke 4 that talks about Jesus’ being “famished.” He was famished at a specific moment in time that passed once He had eaten.

A common approach to these verses sees the world as divided into two permanent camps: those who are materially well off, on the one hand, and the poor, on the other hand. But emphasizing the temporariness of these conditions gives this passage added power.  Sometimes, each of us is hungry physically or spiritually. We need to remember that these situations may be temporary, that there will be a better tomorrow. Sometimes, on the other hand, each of us is satisfied, physically or spiritually. We need to remember that it may be different tomorrow. “Sic transit gloria mundi.” All of us are in this together. All of us are dependent on the grace of God.