“Do You Love Me?”

This was the title of the October 21 sermon by Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. [1] Below are photographs of Rev. Brouwer and of the church’s front entrance.

 

 

 

 

Preparing for the Word

The following Prayer of Confession was led by Executive Associate Pastor Meghan K. Gage-Finn with the congregation’s responses followed by silent prayers of confession:

  • One: O God, we confess that we need to approach the world differently, and, with your help, turn our judgments into acts of grace.
  • All: Help us to show grace to one another, and ourselves, O God.
  • One: As we pray, and name those things we are not proud of, we encounter all of the insecurity and fear that keeps us from loving ourselves and one another.
  • All: Help us to trust in your forgiveness, O God.
  • One: The Spirit leads us to seek and name the truth; in turn we can begin to reconcile, and heal wounds kept invisible.
  • All: Help us to rely on your Spirit, O God.
  • One: Injustice continues, and because of our privilege we are able to tune it out, and leave those who suffer in our wake of ignorance.
  • All: Help us to pay attention and engage in the work of justice and peace, O God. 
  • One: We come together to confess, to support one another in the hard work of being honest, and to marvel at the gift of God’s grace.

Listening for the Word

The Scripture: John 21: 1-19 (NRSV):

“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’  They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.”

“When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, “’Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

 The Sermon:[2]

“For the disciples in our text for today, going fishing wasn’t really an option- more of a necessity, as they needed to eat. But, we find them, too, with a sense of longing, because at this point they were grieving Jesus’ death. And so, they return to the Sea of Tiberius to do some fishing. Maybe they also just needed something to do something that felt familiar and brought back good memories. Tiberias, or more commonly called the Sea of Galilee, was near where the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 had taken place and where the Sermon on the Mount happened. It’s also where Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm. So, the disciples got out of town and headed to the beach, a place of memories. And while it might have seemed like a good idea to begin with, after fishing all night long and catching nothing, they were left even more emotionally, spiritually and physically worn out–maybe even ready to give up.”

“At a very low moment, scarce of food and hope, Jesus appears on the beach, at first unrecognizable. They see him from a distance, with the fire already going, preparing fish and bread for them. He tells the disciples to put the net in the water one last time and pull up some fish. And they do and [obtain an] abundance of fish. Then, the best thing ever happens. . . . . One of the disciples recognizes that it’s Jesus and Peter is so excited he jumps awkwardly and half-naked into the water, filled with abundance and joy that his friend is back.”

“I love Peter’s response. He doesn’t stop to check himself for appropriateness. He doesn’t try to make sense of the situation. Peter is unabashed in his eagerness to meet Jesus on the beach and it’s almost as if he loses his mind a little bit. He loves Jesus in an uncalculated, inexplicable way. And Jesus loves them, too.”

“I heard someone say once that this scene is so simple it’s hard to know what John is getting at. But, maybe that’s the point. It’s an encounter of abundant love  — no more and no less. It’s a memory the disciples had that John decided to write down. And they probably left some parts out — how the fire on the beach warmed them after a long, cold night on the boat, the crackling sound of the fire and the smell of the smoke as it cooked all of the fish, the nourishment of good bread and protein after hours of hunger, and the safety and communion they felt in Jesus’ presence. What a welcome, simple meal, after so much betrayal and death.”

“In many ways the story from John’s Gospel is one of scarcity and fear, which does not seem far from where we are today. A basic meal of plentiful fish and bread and a God who shows up when hope seems lost stands in stark contrast against the forceful and scary regimes of Jesus’ time.”

“The disciples’ initial lack of recognition of Jesus is a good reminder to me that scarcity can keep us from seeing abundance. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, when it feels like everything is wildly and irreversibly out of control. For the disciples it was grief over Jesus’ torturous death and the loss of a future for the people of Israel. For us it’s the partisanship and vitriol and lack of truth or accountability. I will admit, it is sometimes hard for me to imagine where God is showing up these days.”

“In the same way Jesus showed up resurrected on the beach of the Sea of Galilee and fed the disciples, the Body of Christ (the Church)—[according to William Cavanaugh, a professor who studies Catholicism in the Global South]–must continue to show up and disrupt history and stay visible. In the disciplined act of showing up, we [are formed by] the church . . . into a body that is not disappeared, but seen and heard and countercultural and subversive. It’s an act of resistance to all that tries to dominate us. In our showing up we declare that scarcity does not have the final word, and there is, in fact, abundance to reveal.”

“When the disciples are bringing their boat in to meet Jesus on the beach, he tells them to put their nets down just once more to see what they can pull up. It’s a really quick moment in the story that I’ve already glossed over, but John takes the time to mention that 153 fish are pulled out of the lake.”

Again, I don’t fish, but can you imagine taking that much Walleye out at once? On a little boat? With a net that, as the story says, has questionable ability to hold them all? It’s a crazy amount of fish. But, even crazier is that Jesus greets them in his resurrected body. Now, I know this is hard for all of us to wrap our minds around, but try to suspend your disbelief for just a moment, and imagine it. The raw wonder of it. The God we have shows up in a body and eats. It’s real and messy — think of all the sand in the food. But, this is the posture of abundance. Eating together in the midst of grief. Showing up for a meal when all seems lost.”

“And Peter, he not only says he loves Jesus, but he shows up, too. When he hears it is Jesus standing on the shore, he lets nothing stand in his way — not his own knowledge, not a boat, not feelings of fear or regret, not a sense of unworthiness, scarcity or anything else. It is less about him, he seems to realize, and more about Jesus and the meal he has prepared and the love that is offered, and finally, what he can offer others.”

“And so we must go and do as Peter did, without fear or rhyme or reason, with illogical joy and love. God shows up and so must we.”

“Thanks be to God.”

 Reflections[3]

The setting of this encounter is important. The Sea of Tiberius was also known as the Sea of Galilee, where so many important events in Jesus’ life had occurred. This was news to me.

Peter and the others clearly were grieving Jesus’ crucifixion and perhaps were feeling abandoned and as a result perhaps were turning away from being His disciples and instead returning to their previous occupation of fishing.

Sensing all of this, Jesus out of love for them appears on the shore to make their breakfast and produces the large catch on the last try.

Jesus then challenges Peter three times with the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me? “ Peter’s repeated response, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” shows that he did not understand why Jesus was asking despite the clues provided by Jesus —“Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “ Feed my sheep.” These responses are telling Peter to return to being His disciple, rather than fishing. That is how Peter and everyone else should demonstrate love for Jesus —by their acts of love for others–not mouthing words of love to Jesus.

Previously, I must confess, this passage did not mean much to me. Jesus asking the same question of Peter the second and third times, I thought, was being rude after Peter gave a  correct and truthful answer the first time. The passage also shows this was not a conversation. If it had been, after Peter’s first answer, then Jesus would have said something like, “Well, as I think you know, you need to demonstrate your love for me by tending to our flock. Help the people.”

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[1] The bulletin for this service is available on the church’s website.

[2] Sermon, Do You Love Me? (Oct. 21: 2018).   This extract deletes the pastor’s personal observations that parallel those of the disciples.

[3] This blogger would appreciate comments from biblical scholars about the validity of his reactions to this biblical passage.

Robots Replacing Farm Workers 

Prior posts have described the overall shortage of labor in the U.S. today, especially in agriculture.[1] Now these shortages have prompted several firms in this industry to introduce robots and other automation into their businesses.[2]

For example, Taylor Farms of Salinas, California, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, recently unveiled a fleet of robots designed to replace humans. Its smart machines can assemble 60 to 80 salad bags a minute, double the output of a worker. In the process it creates higher-skilled positions that can attract younger, educated workers.

Other examples are Driscoll’s, the berry titan based in Watsonville, Calif., and Christopher Ranch, a giant producer of garlic. Driscoll’s has invested in several robotic strawberry harvesting start-ups, including Agrobot, which uses imaging technology to assess a berry’s ripeness before it is harvested. Christopher Ranch has started using a 30-foot-tall robot to insert garlic buds into sleeves, the nets into which they are bundled for sale in supermarkets. Yet another is Bartley Walker, a family business that  now offers a robotic hoeing machine with a detection camera capable of identifying the pesky weeds that sprout between row crops like broccoli and cauliflower.

In the background is a 2017 survey of California farmers  that reported 55% with labor shortages and nearly 70% for those depending on seasonal workers.

Ideally, growers say, Congress would pass a bill to legalize undocumented farm workers who are already here and encourage them to stay in the fields, as well as include provisions to ensure a steady flow of seasonal workers who could come and go with relative ease.

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[1] E.g., Federal Reserve Bank Endorses Need for More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 17, 2018).

[2]  Jordan, As Immigrant Farm Workers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans, N.Y. Times (Nov. 20, 2018).

“What Is a Reformed View of Politics?”

This is the title of the sermon by Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, on Reformation Sunday, October 28.[1] Below are photographs of Rev. Hart-Andersen and the Westminster Sanctuary.

 

 

 

As noted in other posts, every Westminster worship service is divided into the following three sections: Preparing for the Word, Listening for the Word and Responding to the Word. Here are some of the elements of the first two sections of this service.

Preparing for the Word

The service was opened by the stirring Prelude: “Marche en Rondeu” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and “Trumpet Tune in D Major” by David N. Johnson that were played by Douglas Carlsen (trumpet, Minnesota Orchestra), Jeffrey Gram, timpani; and Melanie Ohnstad, organ.

Rev. David Shinn, Associate Pastor, then led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “Eternal God, we confess we keep you at a distance to pursue our own way. We forget your mercy is waiting for us as we close our hearts to you. Whisper the offer of your grace once more to us, and wash away all the things we have done and left undone. Make a new way for us to live in humility, showing love to others and to you. May we be forgiven as we confess our shortcomings, and renewed by your faithfulness, courageous in our pursuit of justice and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son.”

Listening for the Word

The Scripture Readings

Genesis 17: 1-8 (NRSV):

  • “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty;  walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’”

Matthew 1: 1-6a, 17 (NRSV):

  • “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,the son of David, the son of Abraham.
  • Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
  • And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
  • So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”

The Sermon[2]

“Scripture is concerned with history, and we should be, as well.  If we are not, as George Santayana famously observed, we ‘are condemned to repeat it.”

“That warning came to mind yesterday as we heard about the terrible shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Anti-Semitism has spiked in America; the number of hateful incidents directed at Jews rose last year by 57%. Something is going wrong in our midst.”

“Political discourse hasn’t helped. When Neo-Nazis march and rally and are not clearly and resoundingly denounced by our leaders, that sends signals to those with hate in their hearts. If we forget the long history of bigotry and violence against Jews, we will repeat it.”

“If we forget the long history of injustice and violence against indigenous people in this land, we will repeat it.”

“If we forget the long history of the enslavement of African people in America and violence directed against them and their descendants, we will repeat it. If we forget the long history of mistreatment and violence against women and immigrants and people of differing sexual orientation and identity we will repeat it. “

“Our faith is rooted in history. Scripture goes out of its way to show the connections from one generation to another, to weave the threads of memory and experience, of joy and lament, through the long years of the human story. Scripture wants us not to forget.”

“When the Bible includes lists of the generations, as we heard in Matthew’s gospel, that precede us, it does so to remind us that we do not exist in a vacuum. We are tethered to a people and to values and to narratives of meaning. We are not alone. We are not the first to struggle with what it means to confront the baser impulses of the human heart, or to live in fractured community, or to seek out a God who can sometimes seem distant.”

“The gospel of Matthew opens with a recitation of the generations that stretch from Abraham through David. Fourteen generations. Then another fourteen up to the time of Babylonian exile. Then fourteen more to the birth of the Messiah.”

“Matthew doesn’t mention women in the genealogy, except when it’s necessary to bridge a gap from one generation to another. A man who cannot produce an heir with the correct lineage has to rely on an outsider woman. Then Matthew includes them, otherwise the entire biblical story would come to an abrupt end. It’s the patriarchy’s grudging way of acknowledging that women matter in the story.”

“What would it look like to extend the telling of the generations, from Jesus on…Paul, Lydia, Origen, Perpetua and Felicity, Monica, the desert mothers and fathers, St. Columba…up to the time of the Great Schism of Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054.”

“Then Hildegard of Bingen, Peter Waldo, Julian of Norwich, Jan Hus, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila…and on to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Then Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, our Presbyterian ancestor, Beza, Knox. Four of them are enshrined in our windows, once again suggesting there were no women involved. There were. We should have four other windows with Marie Dentiere, Marguerite de Navarre, Argula von Grumbach, and Olympia Morata – ancestors from that era and leaders in the faith.”

“The generations continue with Bartolomé de las Casas, John Winthrop, John Wesley, Chief Joseph, Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Sitting Bull, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gene Robinson. Who would you put into that lineage?”

“We’re all linked by the flow of history, passing along the wisdom of the ages, the stories of pain and suffering, the moments of redemption. We’re not making up our faith as we go along. We’ve received it and are carrying it forward, to the generations that follow. We are stewards in our time of the hope at the heart of our faith.”

“It’s Reformation Sunday, when we celebrate the stream of Christian history in which we stand as Protestants. We open with John Calvin’s hymn and will close with Martin Luther’s. It’s also nine days before an election that has highlighted and heightened tensions among us. We’re anxious in America, and afraid. The divisive rancor is endless and exhausting. Our politics are tearing us apart.

“ In the midst of the chaos in which we find ourselves, our faith, our Protestant, reformed faith, can help us navigate the politics of these times in which we live.”

“”Do Politics Belong in Church?’  the cover of a recent issue of a Christian journal asks. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who conspired against Hitler, has a response. ‘As much as the Christian would like to remain distant from political struggle,’ Bonhoeffer says, ‘Nonetheless, even here the commandment of love urges the Christian to stand up for their neighbor.’ (Sojourners, p. 19, Feb 2018)”

“If we want religion that doesn’t engage in politics – not partisan politics, but the kind of politics that involves ‘standing up for our neighbors’ on the receiving end of hatred and poverty, prejudice and violence – if that’s what we want to avoid, then we had better find another savior.”

“What’s a reformed, or Presbyterian, view of politics? The response to that question begins with the notion of covenant, which we learned from the Jews. Covenant refers to the bond between God and humanity. God promises never to abandon humankind; that bond becomes the model for all human relationships, including between two people, or in a family, or in the community, or in the relationship between rulers and people, between government and citizens. Politics, in the Presbyterian understanding, is based on God’s call to life in covenantal community.” (Emphasis added.)

“Covenant goes back through our biblical ancestry to Abram. When God establishes a covenant between them, Abram becomes Abraham. He’s given a new name; that’s what happens when someone comes into covenant with God. That’s what was happening in the Tree of Life Synagogue yesterday. When the shooting started they were in the midst of the naming ritual for a new baby, marking the start of that child’s covenantal life with God.”

“For Abraham the new name as he comes into covenant with God is also a sign that he will be the father of a long line of descendants – the very line that stretches through the Hebrew people to the Messiah, and then on through the early church, and to Roman Catholicism, and to the Reformation and into our time.”

“Covenant theology of the Presbyterians played a key role in the development of democracy in America. H. Richard Niebuhr writes that for Presbyterians,

  • ‘The world has this fundamental moral structure of a covenant society and that what is possible and required in the political realm is the affirmation and reaffirmation of humanity’s responsibility as a promise-maker, promise-keeper, a covenanter in universal community.’ (Quoted in “The Concept of Covenant in 16th and 17th Century Continental and British Reformed Theology” in Major Themes in the Reformed Tradition, Donald K. McKim, ed. [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 1992], p. 95)

Three dimensions of covenant have particular relevance for American democracy today.” (Emphasis added.)

“First, covenant life is inclusive. ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek,’ the Apostle Paul writes,

  • ‘There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the covenant.’(Galatians 3:28-29)” (Emphasis added.)

“America was established with that covenant principle of inclusivity enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, when it states ‘that all men’ – all human beings we would say today – ‘are created equal (and) endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ All are included because all have the same rights and are equal before the law.”

“Democracy depends on inclusivity. That principle is under assault today. Some appear to be created more equal than others. The growing gap between those with power and resources and those without such privilege runs counter to the biblical admonition to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Racism destroys the promise of community. Differing treatment by law enforcement and the criminal justice system betrays the assurance of equal rights. The true measure of the success of a society is not how well those at the top are doing, but how well the most vulnerable are faring.”

“Covenantal politics is inclusive.” (Emphasis added.)

Second, covenant life affirms the full humanity of every person. In the biblical account of creation the earthling is made in the image of God. That assertion means that every human being is of the same value and has something to contribute. That fundamental claim undergirds democracy – that all have equal access to participation in the political process and equal access to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”’ (Emphasis added.)

“When Sojourner Truth in 1851 stood up for her full humanity [and said[:

  • ‘And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?’ Delivered 1851; Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio) “

“Democracy depends on seeing the worth of every person. That principle is under assault today. The rise of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims eats away at their full humanity. Immigrants and refugees are treated as unworthy and their full humanity is implicitly questioned. More than three million people who have served their sentences cannot vote because of a felony on their record and their full humanity is not restored to them. This week the government proposed new rules that would deny the full humanity, even the existence, of more than one million people who identify as transgender.”

Covenantal politics affirms the full humanity of every person.” (Emphasis added.)

“Finally, covenant life requires truth-telling. In John’s gospel Jesus says, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’” (Emphasis added.)

“The Declaration of Independence speaks of ‘truths’ that are ‘self-evident.’ Democracy requires a shared understanding of the truth. Without it there is no trust and the democratic system cannot function without trust.”

“In 1788, Presbyterians in New York and Philadelphia, fresh from helping write the U.S. Constitution, sat down and wrote a set of Principles of Church Order. Among them was this phrase: ‘Truth is in order to goodness,’ meaning truth-telling leads to good behavior.“

“They went on to say, ‘No opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level…We are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty.’ (F-3.0104 in PCUSA Book of Order)”

“Democracy depends on telling the truth, especially by those in power. That principle is under assault today. Conspiracy theories displace reality, facts become whatever is convenient in the moment, and lies masquerade as truth. When the truth goes missing, people suffer, and trust soon dissipates – and to live in covenant with one another trust is needed.”

Covenantal politics requires truth-telling,” (Emphasis added.)

“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation. Our democracy is fraying. Fear abounds. Violence simmers all around us and occasionally breaks through the surface. Trust has been depleted. Rhetoric works against the values and principles on which our democracy depends.”

“But we are a people rooted in history. We remember other times when the nation was threatened from within. And we overcame. ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all,’ ‘President Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address even as the Civil War continued to rage,

  • ‘Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…and…do all which may achieve…a just and lasting peace among ourselves.’”

“Those words express a politics of biblical covenant, where we are bound together and committed to the welfare of one another. If the nation could find its way back from the brink in that perilous and violent time, surely we can work our way out of the current predicament in which we find ourselves.”

“Democracy is a covenantal form of politics, and for it to be healthy requires participation. We need to do our part; we are responsible for one another. Voting is not merely a right; it’s the duty and responsibility of citizens in a democratic nation. Peaceful political engagement expresses and embodies and brings to life the promise of democracy.”

“Let us not forget that we are people of faith, rooted in history, in covenant with God and with one another, carrying on the hope of generations before us, even as we stand ready to hand that hope on to those who follow us.”

“In the end, we can trust that God’s grace and mercy, God’s justice, and God’s love will prevail, and we shall overcome.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

I usually ignore the biblical references to generations and descendents. They seem so boring and useless. This sermon, however, let me see that the previous generations of figures in the Bible plus my own ancestors remind me that I am not alone. As the sermon says, such references “remind us that we do not exist in a vacuum. We are “tethered to a people and to values and to narratives of memory.”

We are “stewards in our time of the hope at the heart of our faith.” This is another passage of the sermon that made an impact on me. I had not thought of being a steward for the short time of my life of a belief that was passed on to me so that the belief may be carried forward in time after I am gone.

I also never had thought of being a member of a covenantal community in the U.S. involving everyone who is here right now. Yet I certainly have believed that life in the U.S. is or should be inclusive recognizing the full humanity of everyone.

This also means that democracy “ is a covenantal form of politics” requiring my participation.

Finally I am reminded that retrieving and studying the Scriptures and the sermon and then writing about them provide deeper and more enriching insights. I urge others to do the same.

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[1]  The bulletin for the service is online.

[2] Sermon, What Is a Reformed View of Politics? (Oct. 28, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

[3] The opening hymn that sometimes is attributed to John Calvin was “”Greet Thee, Who My sure Redeemer Art.” https://hymnary.org/hymn/GG2013/624

 

The closing hym, “Sing Praise to God Who reigns Above” is not attributed to Luther. https://hymnary.org/hymn/GG2013/645

 

Disruption in Cuban Medical Mission to Brazil

On November 14,  Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health stated that the island was ‘discontinuing’ its participation in the Program Mais Médicos, or More Doctors, in Brazil. [1]

In response to this Cuban move, a well-known Brazilian lawyer presented an appeal to Brazil’s Supreme Court requesting a “habeas corpus” so that the 8,332 Cuban doctors currently working in  Brazil and were summoned back to their country can remain in their positions as asylees or as permanent residents. The attorney also asserted that even though the Brazil-Cuba agreement for this program barred Brazil from granting the Cuban doctors political asylum or permanent visas, Cuba’s unilateral termination of the program also terminated the ban on granting such relief to the Cuban doctors.

Cuba has received more than $249.5 million a year for its doctors in Brazil, according to a researcher interviewed by the Miami Herald. The elimination of this revenue for Cuba will have a huge negative impact on Cuba’s economy and finances. Just one such problem is Brazil’s demand for Cuba to pay the arrears it owes Brazil for the $680 million loan it provided for the development of the port of Mariel near Havana. Cuba already is $71.2 million in arrears, according to Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development.

This current set of disputes was predicted by Brazil’s recent presidential campaign when then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro raised questions about the quality of the Cuban doctors’ training and said the doctors would have to prove their medical credentials by getting their diplomas validated in Brazil, a process that has previously been waived for Cuban doctors. He also criticized the Cuban government’s keeping around 75 percent of their salaries paid by Brazil even though the doctors earn more in Brazil than they did on the island. [2]

Another criticism by Bolsonaro was the employment contract between Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health and the Cuban doctors, in which the doctors are banned from having family accompanying them during their mission. In addition, Bolsonaro said his government would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil.

The Program was launched by former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to send Cuban physicians to underserved regions in the South American country and was arranged by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). the New York Times reports. Around 20,000 Cuban doctors have worked in Brazil in the span of five years. By the end of 2017 there were Cuban health workers in 64 countries, with Brazil and Venezuela as the main destinations.

The current horrible living conditions in Venezuela has caused many of the Cuban doctors serving there to try to escape to other countries.[3]

Impact on Cuban Health Care[4]

Meanwhile back in Cuba there are reports that its “export” of medical doctors to other countries, including Brazil and Venezuela, has caused a significant reduction in the number of health professionals providing primary care on the island. For example, In 2010 the number of doctors assigned to Family Clinics was 36,478, while in 2017 there were only 13,131; that is, a 64% drop in less than a decade. The result of this imbalance is a sharp decrease in health personnel in Cuba, the closure of infrastructures, a reduction in the number of hospital beds, shortages at pharmacies, and an increase in diseases related to deficient health conditions.

Conclusion

Those of us in the U.S. who want to see both Cuba and Brazil succeed will need to keep watch on this situation and try to assess the merits of the two countries’ arguments and claims.

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[1] Center for Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 11/16/18A lawyer asks the Supreme [Court of Brazil] for guarantees of permanence for Cuban doctors, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 18, 2018).

[2] The U.S. has alleged that the Cuban medical professionals on foreign missions are engaged in illegal forced labor due to their not receiving the total payments by foreign governments for their services. This blog, however, has rejected that U.S. claim for various reasons. (See U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues To Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 17, 2017).

[3] See  Cuban Medical Professionals Continue To Escape from Foreign Medical Missions, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 15, 2018).

[4] Fernández & Diaz Ezpí,  23,000 Fewer Doctors: A Raw Deal for Cubans, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 12, 2018); More doctors for Maduro: bleeding into the Cuban primary health system continues, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 12, 2018).

Federal Reserve Bank Endorses Need for More Immigrants

On November 13 the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded its second annual Regional Economic Conditions Conference with a strong endorsement of the U.S. need for more immigrants.[1]

Its Senior Vice President and Research Director Mark Wright  summed up the proceedings by saying, ““What’s clear to me is that, in the same way that immigration has played a very large role in shaping the history of this country, it is going to do so again in the future, one way or another. The simple laws of demography and economics demand it.”

Wright added, “But what can’t get lost in purely thinking about the statistics, the spreadsheets, and the government budgets and how that’s affected by immigration, we also have to recognize that behind those statistics are the very real lives of many people, many families who are living in a great deal of uncertainty and great deal of difficulty right now.”

The conference’s keynote speaker, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (Rep., WI), agreed. He said, “If you don’t have enough human capital, you’re not going to have a growing economy. No policies, no tax cuts, no deregulation is going to make up for the fact that we simply don’t have enough workers. … We’re going to need a vibrant, legal immigration population.”

Therefore, Senator Johnson called on his fellow members of Congress to adopt an approach of continuous (and incremental) improvement of immigration policy to be responsive to current conditions. He also emphasized the need for  a legal immigration system where states would have a stronger voice in determining the appropriate mix of skilled workers it could welcome to address local labor force needs and where greater emphasis was placed on immigrants work skills, rather than family reunification.

More specifically Johnson said he would reintroduce a bill to allow states to administer guest-worker visas allowing the individuals to stay in the U.S. for one year to take jobs, and he previously has suggested having an annual cap of 500,000 of such visas

Political reality, however, said Johnson, requires the Congress first to fix illegal immigration.

Another speaker, Ryan Allen, Associate Professor of  Community and Economic Development at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, emphasized that as fertility rates among native-born Americans lag and as the population ages, the growth of the labor force will stagnate, but for the inflow of immigrants. For the State of Minnesota, the labor force is growing at what Allen called an “anemic” one-half of 1 percent annually, and that’s not enough to ensure economic growth. In Allen’s view, to maintain the current labor force growth rate, Minnesota needs more than four times the number of immigrants that the state demographer projects will arrive in the state over the next three decades.

These thoughts were echoed by speakers from North and South Dakota. And a Montana immigration attorney redefined what “assimilation” of migrants should mean going forward. “They’re working, they’re providing for themselves and their family, they’re contributing to the economy by spending the money they earn. They are assimilated—perhaps not in language all of the time, perhaps not in skin tone or cultural background. They are assimilated in the sense that they are part of our economy.”

This Federal Reserve Bank’s President, Neel Kashkari, frequently makes these points about immigration.[2]

Conclusion

Recent Minnesota statistics provide further evidence of this need. Its unemployment rate in October remained at 2.8% while the state added jobs at a slower rate than last year and employers were working harder to attract and retain talent. A recent survey by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce found that the difficulty of finding skilled workers is so pervasive that it is threatening business growth in the state. [3]

These conditions are also true throughout the U.S., Europe and other industrialized countries.[4]

It, therefore, is contradictory for the Trump Administration to increasingly deny and delay applications for legal immigration.[5]

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[1] Weiner, Human capital, demographics,, economic growth, and immigrants, Fed. Res. Bank of Mpls,  (Nov. 14, 2018); Ramstad, Sen. Ron Johnson says illegal immigration needs to be fixed before other reform, StarTribune (Nov. 14, 2018).

[2] E.g., Kashkari,  WSJ Op-Ed: Immigration Is Practically a Free Lunch for America (Jan. 19, 2018).

[3] Ramstad, Minnesota adds 3,400 jobs in October; unemployment holds at 2.8 percent, StarTribune (Nov. 15, 2018); DePass, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Survey: Hiring woes threaten state’s business growth, StarTribune (Nov. 15, 2018).

[4] Noack, Fertility rates around the world are declining, some Trump supporters won’t like the solution, Wash, Post (Nov. 9, 2018); Freeman, Is America Running Out of Workers?, W.S.J. (Nov. 1, 2018). See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: U.S. Needs More Immigrants (April 14, 2018); Other Factors Favoring U.S. Immigration (May 17, 2018); Impact of Declining, Aging, Rural Population (May 22, 2018); More Immigrants Needed in U.S. (June 23, 2018); Fear of Change Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration (July 3, 2018); Outstate Minnesota Newspaper Stresses Need for Immigrants (July 27, 2018); Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants Aug. 5, 2018).

[5]  Bier, America Is Rejecting More Legal Immigrants Than Ever, N.Y. Times (Nov.15, 2018).

 

More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors

On November 14, the U.S. State Department announced that it was “adding 26 subentities to the Cuba Restricted List, including 16 hotels owned by the Cuban military [intelligence and security services or personnel]. The Department is also updating the names of five already listed subentities to ensure they remain current. . . .  Direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities and subentities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” [1]

The 26 new names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. They join the list of 179 other Cuban entities on the Cuban Restricted List that the State Department first issued on November 8, 2017.[2]

This change was predicted in a speech earlier this month by National Security Advisor John Bolton.[3]

However, it must be remembered that U.S. travel to Cuba is still legal under 12 general licenses that are published by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. [4]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 14, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentiies Associated with Cuba as of November 15, 2018 (Nov. 15, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Adds New Sanctions on Cuba Tourist Attractions, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2018); Sánchez, History repeats itself: new US measures UU against Cuban entities, Granma (Nov. 15, 2018).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities (Nov.8, 2017); Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entitties (Nov. 9, 2017); Additional Reactions to New U.S. Regulations Regarding Cuba (Nov. 11, 2017); Trump’s New Regulations Adversely Affect Cuban Entrepreneurs (Nov. 18, 2017).

[3] See U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018).

[4] See posts to dwkcommentaries listed in footnote 2. See also U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (Nov. 8, 2017).

Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

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[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.