My Vocations

The words and music about vocation at the January 26th and February 9th worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church have inspired my general thoughts about vocation set forth in a prior post. Now I reflect on my own vocations.

Until I was in my early 40’s, I had no religious beliefs after high school and no sense of vocation.

That started to change in 1981 when I joined Westminster and embraced what I now see as my first vocation: serving the church as a ruling elder (1985-1991) and over time as an active member of several of its committees (Spiritual Growth, Communications and Global Partnerships). More recently I joined its Global Choir. After all, a new member covenants to find “a definite place of usefulness” in the church.

For 10 years (2003-2013) I served as chair of Global Partnerships, which supervises the church’s partnerships with churches and other organizations in Cuba, Cameroon, Palestine and for a time in Brazil. This lead to my going on three mission trips to Cuba, one to Cameroon and another to Brazil. As a result, I established personal friendships with people in those countries as part of our collective, and my personal, vocation of being present with our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world and standing in solidarity with them. I also learned about the history, culture and current issues of those countries. This in turn lead to a strong interest in promoting reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba and Cuban religious freedom, and as a U.S. citizen I have endeavored to do just that.

This sense of religious institutional vocation also encompassed my serving on the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities for another 10-year period (1988-1998). In my small way, I helped nurture future ministers of the church. In the process I got to know interesting members of the faculty, administration and board and about the life of U.S. seminaries.

I, however, initially struggled with how to integrate my newly reclaimed religious beliefs and my life as a practicing lawyer, and over the years found ways to share this struggle with others, especially with my fellow lawyers.

One way I discovered a vocation in the practice of law resulted from experiencing the bitterness and lack of reconciliation between opposing parties in litigation and, too often, as well between their lawyers, including myself. This experience lead in the late 1980’s through the 1990’s to a personal interest in, and writing and speaking about, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), one of whose objectives is resolution of such disputes more amicably, and to my active participation in the ADR Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Another and more powerful vocation involving my professional life emerged when a senior partner of my law firm in the mid-1980’s asked me to provide legal counsel to the firm’s client, the American Lutheran Church (“ALC” and now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The problem: how should the ALC respond to information that the U.S. immigration agency (INS) had sent undercover agents into worship services and Bible-study meetings at ALC and Presbyterian churches in Arizona that provided sanctuary or safe places to Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars.

The conclusion of this engagement was the ALC and the Presbyterian Church (USA)—my own denomination—jointly suing the U.S. government to challenge the constitutionality of such spying. Eventually the U.S. district court in Arizona held that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment “free exercise” of religion clause protected churches from unreasonable government investigations.

U.S. immigration law was in the background of this case, but I did not know anything about that law. I, therefore, sought to remedy that deficiency by taking a training course in asylum law from the Minnesota-based Advocates for Human Rights.

I then volunteered to be a pro bono lawyer for a Salvadoran seeking asylum in the U.S. because of his claim to a well-founded fear of persecution in his home country because of his political opinions and actions opposing its government. Again, my initial motivation for this action was to be a better lawyer for the ALC.

I discovered, however, that being a pro bono asylum lawyer was my passionate vocation while I was still practicing law and continued doing so until I retired from the practice in the summer of 2001. In addition to El Salvador, my other clients came from Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma and Colombia. I was able to assist them in obtaining asylum and thereby escape persecution. In the process, I learned more about asylum law and other aspects of immigration law as well as the horrible things that were happening in many parts of the world. I was able to use my experience and gifts in investigating and presenting facts and legal arguments to courts and officials and came to see this as one of the most important and rewarding vocations I have ever had.

In the process of this asylum work, I also learned for the first time about the humbling and courageous ministry and vocation of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in March 1980 because he repeatedly spoke out against human rights violations in his country. He now is my personal saint. I also learned about the important and courageous work in that country by the Jesuit priests and professors at the University of Central America, six of whom were murdered in November 1989 for the same reason, and they too have become heroes for me.

Another Salvadoran I met on my first trip to that country enriched my sense of the potential for vocation in practicing law. He was Salvador Ibarra, a lawyer for the Lutheran Church’s human rights office, who spoke about the joy he experienced in his work.

After retiring from the full-time practice of law in 2001, I served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School (2002 through 2010) to co-teach international human rights law. I thereby hoped to encourage law students to become interested in the field and to include such work in their future professional lives. Thus, this became another vocation with the side benefit of enabling me to learn more about the broader field of international human rights.

I chose another retirement in 2011, this time from part-time teaching, in order to start this blog about law, politics, history and religion. I came to see it as yet another vocation. I think it important to share my religious experiences and beliefs in the midst of active consideration of legal and political issues and demonstrate that it is possible for an educated, intelligent individual to have such beliefs.

In 2011 as a member of the planning committee for my Grinnell College class’ 50th reunion. I thought we should do more to remember our deceased classmates than merely list their names in our reunion booklet. I, therefore, suggested that if each committee member wrote five or six obituaries, we would have written memorials for all of our departed classmates. However, no one else volunteered to participate in this project so I did it all myself except for a few written by spouses. After the reunion, I continued to do this when the need arises.

Although this project required a lot of work, I came to see it as pastoral work and rewarding as I learned about the lives of people, many of whom I had not really known when we were together as students. I drew special satisfaction when I learned that a classmate who had died in his 30’s had two sons who had never seen the College annuals that had a lot of photographs of their father as a physics student and co-captain of the football team, and I managed to find a set of those annuals which were sent to the sons. I thus came to see this as a vocation.

Many of these vocations resulted from invitations from others to do something, which I accepted. Initially the invitations did not seem to be calls for a vocation, and it was only after doing these things and reflecting upon them that I saw them as such.

The concept of vocation often seems like doing something for others without any personal rewards other than feeling good about helping others. I, therefore, am amazed by the many ways I have been enriched by these endeavors. I have learned about different areas of the law, different countries and the lives of interesting people, living and dead.

I feel blessed that I have discovered at least some of the work that God has called me to do, in Frederick Buechner’s words, “the work that I need most to do and that the world most needs to have done.”

Or as Rev. Hart-Andersen said on February 9th, “When Jesus calls we get up and go, stepping forward in the direction of the one calling us. Being a follower of Jesus is not a destination . . . . Being called to follow Jesus is a way of life, a pilgrimage on which we embark together.”

What’s next?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuban Blogger Obtains Cuban Passport and Plans Trip to Latin America, North America and Europe

YoaniSanchez

From her home in Havana, Cuba, Yoani Sanchez has been courageously blogging her critical comments on many aspects of life in her country as noted in a prior post.

In January 2013, under Cuban’s new law granting Cubans increased ability to obtain passports, she received her Cuban passport. She was overjoyed by this development after she had been denied a passport 20 times over the last five years.

Upon receiving the great news that she would obtain a passport, she bravely said in her blog:

  • She intends to “continue ‘pushing the limits’ of reform, to experience first hand how far the willingness to change really goes. To transcend national frontiers I will make no concessions. If the Yoani Sánchez that I am cannot travel, I am not going to metamorphose myself into someone else to do it. Nor, once abroad, will I disguise my opinions so they will let me ‘leave again’ or to please certain ears, nor will I take refuge in silence about that for which they can refuse to let me return. I will say what I think of my country and of the absence of freedoms we Cubans suffer. No passport will function as a gag for me, no trip as bait.”
  • “These particulars clarified, I am preparing the itinerary for my stay outside of Cuba. I hope to be able to participate in numerous events that will help me grow professionally and civically, to answer questions, to clarify details of the smear campaigns that have been launched against me… and in my absence. I will visit those places that once invited me, when the will of a few wouldn’t let me come; I will navigate the Internet like one obsessed, and once again climb mountains I haven’t seen for nearly ten years. But what I am most passionate about is that I am going to meet many of you, my readers. I have the first symptoms of this anxiety; the butterflies in my stomach provoked by the proximity of the unknown, and the waking up in the middle of the night asking myself, what will you look like, sound like? And me? Will I be as you imagine me?”

On February 17th she plans a worldwide tour visiting Latin American (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico), North America (U.S. and Canada) and Europe (Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland and Germany).

I pray that there will not be any last minute move by the Cuban government to block her leaving the island. I look forward to her comments on Cuba during her visits to these countries.

Yoani, congratulations and God Speed on your journey!

Teaching the International Human Rights Course

UM Law School Building
Prof. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin

After I had audited the International Human Rights Law course at the University of Minnesota Law School in the Fall of 2001, Professor David Weissbrodt asked if I wanted to help him teachthe course. Given the vast disparity between his and my knowledge of the field, I thought he was joking. “David,” I said, “you don’t need any help.” But he persisted, and I relented and accepted his offer. I then served as an Adjunct Professor at the Law School for nine years, 2002-2010.

The course continued to have the same outline and structure that I had experienced in my auditing the course in the Fall of 2001,[1] and we continued to use the same book.[2] Professors Weissbrodt and Frey still taught most of the class sessions and later were joined by another expert in the field, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin.[3]

Professor Weissbrodt and I decided that I would teach two class sessions. One was on refugee and asylum law that built on my experience as a pro bono asylum lawyer. The other was on civil litigation over foreign human rights abuses in U.S. federal courts that took advantage of my considerable experience litigating civil cases in these courts.

Each year to prepare for my two class sessions, I conducted legal research to learn about the many new developments in order to write supplements for the chapters on these subjects. I also assisted in the rewriting of these chapters for the fourth edition of the book that came out in 2009.[4] I thereby continued to use my legal research and writing skills.

This involvement also guided my online reading of various U.S. and foreign newspapers and periodicals and to the creation of a system for email distribution of interesting articles on human rights to friends and colleagues. Many of these articles later became incorporated into the annual supplements for the two chapters that I prepared.

I decided that I would use moot courts for my two class sessions. For refugee and asylum law, four students volunteered to be lawyers for an asylum applicant and the U.S. Government for closing arguments before me, acting as an Immigration Judge in the Minnesota office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS and n/k/a Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). For the other session, four additional students volunteered to be the lawyers for a corporate defendant and a foreign plaintiff in a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The moot court was before me acting as the district judge on the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint alleging the corporation had aided and abetted human rights violations in a foreign country.

In addition to being one way to learn about the substantive law, the moot courts, in my opinion, had other advantages. I thought that the moot court approach would show the students how they could become involved in international human rights while engaged in a regular legal practice in the Twin Cities or anywhere else in the U.S. Given the strength of the international human rights program at the University of Minnesota Law School, many of its graduates have gone on to be lawyers for various U.N. agencies and international human rights NGOs, but most graduates become ordinary practicing lawyers. I also wanted to emphasize the importance of a lawyer’s work at the trial court level, rather than the typical law school moot court experience of arguing before a mock appellate court like the Minnesota or U.S. Supreme Court. Most litigators have much more experience at the trial court level and rarely, if ever, argue a case before the highest court of the state or the U.S. Finally it gave the participating students the opportunity to practice and develop their oral advocacy skills.

For each of the moot court sessions, I held preparatory meetings with the student-lawyers. I gave them guidance on what to expect and answered their questions about the substantive and procedural issues. A strong enjoyable mentorship relationship developed from this total experience.

As part of the moot court exercises, I emphasized to all the students the importance of a lawyer’s knowing the background and views of the judges before whom they appear.

The hypothetical district judge in the lawsuit over foreign human rights violations, for example, had excellent credentials. Appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, the judge was intelligent, honest, hard-working, fair and with a lot of experience on many kinds of civil and criminal cases. The judge, however, had never studied international human rights and along with the fellow judges in his court and his supervising court (the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals) has never had a case like this under the Alien Tort Statute. As a result, the lawyers for this moot court needed to explain the case thoroughly and clearly. (Fortunately the judge had a law clerk who had studied the subject at the University of Minnesota Law School.)

The hypothetical immigration judge, on the other hand, has tried many asylum cases and has a thorough knowledge of the relevant law. This judge also was intelligent, honest, hard-working and fair. As a result, in this moot court there is no need to explain asylum law to the immigration judge. Instead, the attorney needs to focus on the facts of the instant case. Such judges, it should be noted, do not have lifetime appointments. Instead, they are appointed by the U.S. Attorney General as attorneys in the Department of Justice with no fixed term of office and are subject to discretionary removal and transfer by the Attorney General.

Soon after the classes were over, I sent email critiques of the students’ performance. Invariably the students rose to the challenge and made excellent arguments. I also usually issued a hypothetical decision on the dismissal motion and on the asylum request.

I also attended many other class sessions and the presentations by outside speakers in the course as well as various conferences at the Law School. As a result, I continued to learn more about the field.

Outside the classroom I was available to talk with students about the course and more generally about practicing law and other issues. I welcomed this opportunity to learn more about those who were getting ready to pursue various legal careers. I especially enjoyed getting to know the many foreign students in the course, some of whom were Hubert Humphrey Fellows. (My wife and I also volunteered to be a host family for Fellows from Ecuador, El Salvador and Brazil.)

Museum of Republic, Rio de Janeiro
Profs. Duane Krohnke & Elizabeth Sussekind @ Museum of Republic

 

My friendship with a Humphrey Fellow from Brazil resulted in her inviting me to participate in a symposium at the Museum of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro in the Fall of 2009. The symposium was the concluding event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Brazilian constitution of 1988 that ended its military dictatorship. This symposium focused on Memory and Justice, and my paper on the Truth Commission for El Salvador provided a Latin American perspective on Brazil’s not having had a similar truth commission.[5]

I thoroughly enjoyed these many aspects of having been an adjunct professor. I never would have had these experiences if I had continued practicing law after 2001. I, therefore, view them as confirmation of the wisdom of my decision to retire from lawyering that year.[6]


[1] See Post: Auditing the International Human Rights Law Course (June 30, 2011).

[2] David Weissbrodt, Joan Fitzpatrick & Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process (3d ed. 2001).

[3] University of Minnesota Law School, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin,  http://www.law.umn.edu/facultyprofiles/niaolainf.html.

[4]  David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Joan Fitzpatrick & Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process (4th ed. 2009).

[5] Museu da Republica, Memoria e Justica (2009).

[6] Post: Retiring from Lawyering (April 22, 2011).

My First Ten Years of Retirement

It is hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of my retirement from the practice of law is nearly here. I have no regrets. I made the correct decision. Here is my own grading of how I have met my retirement goals that I set 10 years ago.[1]

Being a good Grandfather. I now have four grandchildren, two in Minnesota and two in Ecuador. My wife and I obviously spend more time with the Minnesota kids, and our Ecuadorian grandson spent last Fall in Minnesota going to school with his cousins. We also frequently have traveled to Ecuador to see our family there although we have decided not to spend significant amounts of time there. I recently took my 10-year old Minnesota grandson to visit two federal judges and some friends at my former law firm and to observe parts of a trial and a court hearing.[2] I leave it to the grandkids to judge me on this goal, but I think I have done a pretty good job. I know I enjoy being a grandfather.

Being a good Father and Husband. I also have been making an effort to be a good father and husband. I am still working at it.

Learning Spanish. I have not taken the time to improve my very limited Spanish ability. I still wish that I were fluent in that language, but do not see myself taking the time to do this. Sorry.

Law Teaching. I had a goal of teaching law in Ecuador. I was interviewed by a university in Quito about teaching law in the English language, but I was not offered a position. My son who lives there went to the interview with me in case I needed an interpreter, and afterwards he said he thought that my positive comments about liberation theology may not have been appreciated by the university officials. In retrospect, I am not unhappy with this result. I would have had to work very hard to organize and teach one or more courses in this foreign country.

Moreover, this development opened the door for my having the opportunity to co-teach one course (international human rights law) at the University of Minnesota Law School for nine years (2002-10). This built on my experience as a federal court litigator and as a pro bono asylum lawyer. It also allowed me to work with, and become friends of, other professors at the Law School and many U.S. and foreign students. One of the foreign students was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow from Brazil who was a Professor of Law and Criminology at the Catholic university in Rio de Janeiro, and at her subsequent invitation, I presented a paper on the Truth Commission for El Salvador at a conference in Rio in 2009. In addition, through my work at the University of Minnesota I developed a strong interest in, and some expertise about, the International Criminal Court, and I have made many presentations about the ICC and have served as the Provisional Organizer for the Minnesota Alliance for the ICC.[3]

I recently decided that I would retire from this teaching job even though I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I wanted to have more time for writing as discussed below.

Human rights legal work. Without the support of a law firm, including its professional liability insurance, I decided I was not able to do pro bono legal work in retirement. But as mentioned above, I have been able to teach human rights and learn more about the subject myself. I also have developed an interest in the ICC and found a way to make use of that interest.

News “distributor.” Although not one of my goals from 2001, I have developed a practice in retirement of regularly reading many news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post (Politics page), Wall Street Journal, Guardian (from the U.K.) and Granma (English translation of Cuba’s major national newspaper) and occasionally others (New York Review of Books, Atlantic and Harpers). After doing this for a while, I started sending by email interesting articles on human rights, the ICC, immigration, Cuba and Africa to friends who were interested in these subjects.

Arbitrator. Another retirement activity I had not anticipated in 2001 was being an arbitrator. But I have done so for disputes between investors and financial firms through the Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (FINRA; f/k/a National Association of Securities Dealers), usually as chair of a panel of three arbitrators, and I have enjoyed this challenge. I try to act like the arbitrators and judges I respected in my practice: fair, impartial, respectful of the law, organized, decisive and clear (unlike some of the judges on the TV show “The Good Wife”).

Recently, however, I decided that I no longer wanted to spend my time working on other people’s problems and will not take any more cases. Sounds like my 2001 decision to retire from practicing law.

Obituary writer. Yet another surprising development over the last half-year has been being an obituary writer. As a member of my Grinnell College class’ 50th reunion committee, I have been responsible for writing or commissioning obituaries for our 53 deceased classmates. This used my factual research and writing skills from lawyering. I also came to see this activity in some cases as one of pastoral care for the families of the departed.

International travel. In addition to many trips to Ecuador and my trip to Brazil, my wife and I have been on many other fascinating international trips in the last 10 years. They include an Elder Hostel trip about Mozart to the Czech Republic and Austria, Turkey, Spain, England and Scotland, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador and Peru plus my church mission trips to Cuba and Cameroon. These were great, educational experiences.  I was really glad that I was in good health to be able to take these trips. I also have been able to chair a committee that supervises the global partnerships of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Historical research and writing. I wanted to conclude my research about Joseph Welch and Edward Burling and write articles about them. I have done so, as was mentioned in a prior post.[4] I will share some of the key points of that research in future posts. On the other hand, I have not yet been able to do additional research on two of my ancestors, but it is still a goal.

Personal journal and memoirs. I have not been able to make much progress on the goal of writing a personal journal and memoirs. I was hung up on the issue of how do I organize or structure such a writing project. Recently, however, I started this blog and have found it a great way to do the writing that I wanted to do. I do not have to worry about how I might organize all of these thoughts. It is really exciting to be able to write this blog.

Physical exercise. I have been more diligent in my personal exercise program although I should be doing more.

Financial planning and management. With the assistance of an able investment professional, I have developed appropriate methods for financial planning and management for retirement. Like nearly everyone else, we suffered financially in the recent deep recession, but we have made progress since then. I know that I am fortunate when I read articles about the many people who have not saved enough for retirement or who lost their pensions or retirement savings in the recent deep recession or through collapse of their former employers or financial fraud or who struggle to survive with investments in bank CD’s or federal securities that now pay virtually nothing in interest.

In short, I am happy with my efforts to meet my retirement goals over the last 10 years. Now I need to continue my pursuit of these now modified goals during the next phase of my life.


[1] Post: Retiring from Lawyering (4/22/11).

[2] This trip to the federal courthouse and my former law firm was inspired, in part, by recent comments of Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Post: Tip for Grandparents (4/11/11).

[3] The Minnesota Alliance is part of the American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court or AMICC, http://www.amicc.org.

[4] Post: Adventures of a History Detective (4/5/11).

 

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.