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.

The Abominable Rules of the U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate by virtue of the “great compromise” of 1787 is inherently undemocratic with every state having two Senators regardless of population. Given the addition of more states into the Union and the changes of population since then, the Senate is even more undemocratic today.

Piled on top of this institution is an arcane and even more undemocratic set of Senate rules which are not required by the Constitution and which we are hearing more about these days: cloture, reconciliation, the Byrd rule, etc. One of the spectacles in the last Congress was Senator Coburn’s “requiring” that Senator Sanders’ proposed amendment for a single payer system for health care be read aloud and thereby delaying real work by the Senate. Another in the last Congress was Senator Shelby’s “hold” on 90 or so nominees.

In short, the U.S. Senate rules are a major source of Americans’ frustration with our national government. I think they are unconstitutional in that they impose a de facto super majority requirement on nearly everything, far beyond the constitutional imposition of such a requirement. The Senate needs to wake up from its pompous meanderings! Change your rules that make the Senate an abomination!

At the start of this Congress there were modest changes to these Rules. But they were not enough. The Senate should operate by majority rule. The only exceptions should be when the Constitution requires a supermajority (two-thirds) vote for overriding a presidential veto or consenting to the ratification of treaties or for proposing constitutional amendments or for expelling a member.

Adventures of a History Detective

Ever since my high school days in the 1950’s, U.S. politics, law and history have fascinated me. From the start, I was passionate about civil liberties, especially freedom of speech.

Joe Welch & Joe McCarthy

This interest was sparked by watching the Army-McCarthy hearings on my parents’ new TV set in the spring of 1954. The hearings were high drama, and the lawyer for the Army, Joe Welch, was a charming Bostonian, so I thought. I was appalled by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on civil liberties and free speech and thrilled by Welch’s courageous defense against McCarthyism.

Three years later, in the fall of 1957, my freshman year at Grinnell College, I discovered that Welch in fact was from an even smaller Iowa town (Primghar) than mine (Perry) and that he was a Grinnell graduate, Class of 1914. I learned this when I heard Welch speak at the College’s Convocation “American Culture at Mid-Century.” But I was too timid as a first-semester freshman to speak to Welch directly.

Burling Library Grinnell College
Edward B. Burling

In 1959, the College’s new library was being built and was named “the Burling Library.” A substantial amount of the funds for the building was donated by another Grinnell graduate and lawyer from another small Iowa town (Eldora), Edward Burling (Class of 1890). While attending American University that Fall on the Washington Semester Program, I met Mr. Burling at his office to thank him for the new library. After an interesting conversation, he invited me to a Sunday afternoon at his cabin on the Potomac River. Little did I know at the time that such a Sunday afternoon had become a famous Washington institution. I do not recall our conversation that day, but I do remember how Burling, then 89 years old in a wool plaid shirt, vigorously chopped wood on a beautiful fall afternoon.

As I continued my education and started my own career as a lawyer, I had no time to do anything about my interest in these two men. But in the spring of 1982 I took a sabbatical leave from my law firm to teach a course about law at the College. In my spare time I examined materials about Welch and Burling in the College Archives. (See Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 26, 2011).)

Somehow I learned that the Boston Public Library had a collection of Welch papers, and while on a business trip to Boston in 1985 I had spare time to examine those papers. This was my first digging into original historical documents, and I was thrilled to be touching and reading such documents and attempting to make sense of them. (This was more fun, I thought, than my more common project of reviewing documents produced by an adversary in a civil lawsuit by “A” against “B” to recover a substantial sum of money.) Among the interesting documents in the Welch collection were letters between Welch and Burling after the conclusion of the Army-McCarthy hearings that were discussed in my paper about Burling, which was excerpted in The Grinnell Magazine (Edward Burnham Burling: Grinnell’s Quiet Benefactor (Summer 2009)).

I returned to Boston in the summer of 1986 to attend the Harvard Law School’s Summer Program for Lawyers. While there, I visited the Boston offices of Hale and Dorr, Welch’s former law firm, and interviewed Fred Fisher, the lawyer who had been attacked by Senator McCarthy, and James St. Clair, the lawyer who assisted Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings and who later represented President Nixon in the litigation over the White House tapes. I also searched the Harvard Law School Library and found references to Welch in some of its collections of papers regarding the Sacco-Vanzetti case, which was discussed in my paper about Welch, which also was excerpted in The Grinnell Magazine (Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie’s Offstage Hero, Joseph Welch (Summer 2006)).

I also discovered in Harvard’s collection of the papers of Learned Hand, an eminent federal judge and one of my legal heroes, that he and Burling had been law school contemporaries and life-long friends. This spurred my interest in Burling as I read the extensive correspondence between them, another topic of my paper about Burling.

While in the Boston-area that summer I also visited the Kennedy Presidential Library, but failed to find any documents about Welch in the papers of Robert Kennedy, who had been a lawyer for the McCarthy committee in 1954. The time at the Library, however, was not wasted when I found oral history interview transcripts of two men that I knew.

  • Donald “Duke” Norberg had been the Chairman of Iowa’s Democratic Central Committee, for whom I had worked in the summer of 1960 on a Grinnell Program in Practical Politics grant. I fondly recall seeing then Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in Des Moines to woo the Iowa delegates before the Los Angeles Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention.
  • Frank Coffin had been a Democratic Congressman from Maine who was defeated in his run for Governor of Maine in 1960 because of the anti-Catholic vote prompted by JFK’s being the presidential candidate. Coffin recalled President Kennedy’s introducing him to Jackie Kennedy at an inaugural ball as the man whom Kennedy had pulled down to defeat. In the Kennedy Administration Coffin was in charge of the U.S. Agency for International Development and later was appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. (I had met Coffin in the early 1980’s when we both were on the University of Chicago Law School’s Visiting Committee, and in 1984 Judge Coffin participated in a liberal arts seminar for lawyers that I organized at the College.)

When I returned those transcripts to the library desk, I noticed a transcript of an interview of Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly), and a brief glance revealed an account of her fatalistic view of history.

This research prompted a request to a law school classmate and friend at Covington & Burling, the Washington, D.C. law firm started by Mr. Burling, for additional information about him, and my friend sent me a copy of the firm’s history. I also have been assisted in my research by another Grinnellian, James Burling (Class of 1972), who is not related to “my” Burling, but who is a partner in Welch’s law firm, Hale and Dorr.When I retired from the active practice of law in the summer of 2001, one of my future projects was to review all of the information that I had gathered and write articles about the two gentlemen, and I mentioned this project in an essay about retirement that was posted on the Internet by another law school friend as part of materials for a lawyers’ seminar.

In 2005 I was inspired to finish these papers when I received a totally unexpected call from Professor Roger Newman, the biographer of Hugo Black and a member of the faculty of Columbia University. Newman said that he was the editor of the forthcoming Yale Biographic Dictionary of American Law and asked if I would be interested in writing short biographies of Welch and Burling for that book. Newman said he had discovered my interest in these men from the just mentioned essay on the Internet. I said that I would be glad to do so and retrieved my materials, did additional research and wrote the two 500-word biographies. (This Biographic Dictionary, which was published in 2009 by Yale University Press, was the first single-volume containing concise biographies of the most eminent men and women in the history of American law who have devised, replenished, expounded, and explained law. See Yale University Press, The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (ISBN 978-0-300-11300-6), http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300113006.)

These sketches, however, barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about Welch and Burling. As a result, I did additional research, including examination of several collections of original papers at the Library of Congress. While I was spooling through microfilm of the papers of Felix Frankfurter, I came across his file of correspondence with Albert Einstein. I paused and saw Einstein letters auf Deutsch in small, precise handwriting.

Two other subjects of my history detective adventures are more personal. My maternal great-great grandfather, Charles Edwin Brown, was a Baptist missionary to the Iowa Territory and then the State of Iowa from 1842 until the late 1800’s. One of his sons and my great-uncle, William Carlos or “W.C.” Brown, started working on the railroad as a section hand at age 16 and worked his way up the corporate ladders to become president of the New York Central Railroad in the early 20th century. I have done some research on their lives and written essays about them.

I have not been in a position to even attempt to research all the original and secondary sources and to write complete biographies of these men, but my work on much shorter articles made me realize and appreciate the work that has to be done to produce a major biography of a historical figure such as the one of Andrew Carnegie by my Grinnell History Professor, Joe Wall.

Although I was a history major at the College, I did not do any independent historical research or paper and instead obtained a good background in European and American history. Because I did not do any independent paper, I did not learn historical research methodology at the College, a lacuna I now regret.

Instead, I learned such techniques from being a litigation lawyer. Defining the problem or issue was the first task. You then develop an ever evolving plan to gather relevant evidence or original sources. You start with the documents and interviews of your client. They suggest other possible sources. Library (and now Internet) research provides more information and leads. They are pursued with other research and interviews using publicly available information plus information available through the formal discovery process under the rules of civil procedure. The lawyer also has the right and opportunity to compel witnesses to be examined under oath for further information. (Historians do not have this advantage.) All of the resulting information has to be evaluated for admissibility into evidence and to be synthesized into a hopefully persuasive story as to why your client should win the case.

I enjoy this investigative process, whether as a lawyer or as a history detective. There is the thrill of  the hunt for original papers about my subjects and being so easily diverted by coming across things like the Frankfurter-Einstein correspondence and the Grace Kelly oral history interview. I also enjoy the challenge of putting all of the pieces of research into a good story and writing it all down on paper. Through all of this lies an interest in finding out what happened.

My work as a lawyer and as a history detective has made me somewhat nostalgic for one “road not taken:” continuing my work as a history major into graduate school and becoming a historian.

 

My Political Philosophy

I am a liberal Democrat in the U.S. political context. In the words of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, I believe that our federal government was created and continues to exist so that “We the People of the United States [can] . . . form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

My overall political philosophy also draws sustenance from our 1776 Declaration of Independence: “all men [and women] are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Similar language is found in Article 1 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the U.N. General Assembly: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”[1]

Taxes are, as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “what we pay for civilized society.”[2] Yet, according to another great federal judge, Learned Hand,

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as
possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the
treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.
Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister
in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone
does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any
public duty to pay more than the law demands.”[3]

In short, every citizen has a patriotic duty to pay the taxes that are imposed by the laws.

This political philosophy recognizes that there always are things that can be and should be improved in our society and that this requires constant attention to the way things are and what they could be. This approach runs the risk of overestimating the benefits of change and underestimating the costs of change.

Genuine conservatives, in my opinion, are skeptical of grandiose theories and applying them to a society. This is an important and legitimate point of view. This approach, however, runs the risk of underestimating the benefits of change and overestimating its costs. At its extreme, this can be a Panglossian “this is the best of all possible worlds.”


[2] Compania General De Tabacos De Filipinas v. Collector of Internal Revenue, 275 U.S. 87, 100 (1927) (Holmes, J., dissenting).

[3] Gregory v. Helvering, 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934), aff’d, 293 U.S. 465 (1935).