Westminster Town Hall Forum: Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett

On June 24, 2011, Krista Tippett was the speaker at the Westminster Town Hall Forum at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Her topic: Spiritual Genius: Lessons for Living.[1]

Tippett started her presentation by talking about Albert Einstein, who found Jesus, Gandhi, St. Francis of Assisi and Buddha to be geniuses in the art of living. Such Spiritual Geniuses, Einstein thought, were more necessary to human dignity, security and joy than those who are concerned with discovery of objective knowledge.

Tippett then discussed the qualities of Spiritual Genius that she has gathered from her conversations with serious people in her radio program and her own thought and reading.

First was understanding that spirituality was a whole body/whole self experience. Spirituality was embodied in time and space. Such an understanding is associated with a reverence for mystery and a sense of wonder at all of life. It leads to a deepened sense of place in the cosmos and greater compassion for all of life.

Second was recognizing that living better, loving better and being more compassionate are difficult to do. We often fail. We are imperfect. Acknowledging our failures and imperfections is essential to being at home with ourselves. Strength and weakness are a core message of Christianity. How we carry what has gone wrong with us is important.

Third was practice. Virtues are spiritual technology or “apps” that help us to live better. She noted the discovery of neuroscientist Richard Davidson that the brains of Buddhist monks who regularly engaged in meditation were physically changed. These virtues include the following:

  • Beauty. We need to be attentive to beauty, which is a mark of God. Islam holds that Allah or God is beauty and loves beauty. Scientists say if an equation is not beautiful, it is not true. Beauty is that in whose presence we feel most alive.
  • Humor. Desmond Tutu told her that God has a sense of humor.
  • Asking good questions. Wrong questions lead to wrong answers and wrong conclusions and then to meaningless arguments. It is redemptive and life-giving to ask good questions. Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet told us to love the questions themselves, to not go searching for the answers to those questions, but instead to live the questions so that perhaps we will live our way into the answers.
  • Hospitality. This was a virtue that was easier to practice than the virtues of forgiveness and compassion.
  • Forgiveness. This was a complex virtue that she did not have time to explore in this presentation. She noted that we do not forgive and forget.
  • Compassion.

In response to a question about recommendations for books on the topic of her presentation, she mentioned Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.[2]

Ms. Tippett is a journalist, author and Peabody-award-winning broadcaster. As the creator and host of the public radio program On Being (formerly Speaking of Faith), she explores with her distinguished guests the animating questions of human life: What does it mean to be human and how do we want to live?[3] Her two books are Speaking of Faith and Einstein’s God.

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

The Westminster Town Hall Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian. Forums are free and open to the public. They usually are held on select Thursdays from September through May from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.[4]

 


[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Krista Tippett, http://westminsterforum.org/?p=921 (streaming video and audio of the presentation).

[2] Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (1999), http://www.amazon.com/Let-Your-Life-Speak-Listening/dp/0787947350/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311626881&sr=1-1.

[3]  American Public Media, Krista Tippett on Being, http://being.publicradio.org/about.

[4]  Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org; http://www.facebook.com/l/UAQAsQrFg/westminsterforum.org. See Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum (July 25, 2011). This particular Forum was co-sponsored by the Hennepin County Libraries.

Westminster Town Hall Forum

The Westminster Town Hall Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian.[1]

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

Forums are free and open to the public. They are held on select Thursdays from September through May from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.

The Forum started over 30 years ago with its first speaker, Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Since then it has featured over 200 speakers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the inspirational South African leader; Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor; Arthur Schlesinger, American historian and presidential assistant; Ellen Goodman, newspaper columnist; Cornel West, Princeton University Professor; Gwen Ifill, television journalist; Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist; Robert Coles, author, child psychiatrist and Harvard University Professor; Walter Mondale, former U.S. Senator and Vice President; Salman Rushdie, novelist;  and Edward Albee, playwright.

David Brooks at Forum

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, author and commentator, has appeared twice in recent years at the Forum, to audiences of over 3,000 each time.


[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org/.

Refugee and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era

The history of refugee and asylum law, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: (a) the pre-modern era before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and (b) the modern era starting with that 1948 adoption.[1] There are four major points from this earlier period that have impressed me.

First, there have been instances when individual states granted protection or asylum to people of another state, but the granting of such protection was always within the discretion or grace of the potential protecting state. Whether or not this was done was influenced by a multitude of circumstances. Correspondingly the individual fleeing his or her own country had no legal right to claim protection from another state. An interesting example of this type of asylum happened in 615 CE, when Mohammad requested his cousin and other followers to leave Mecca and seek refuge in Abyssinia or Ethiopia to escape persecution by Mecca’s leading tribe. This is known as the First Hijra (Migration) of Muslims. At the time, the King of Abyssinia was a Christian and known for his justice and respect for human beings. Responding to a letter from Mohammad, the King said he understood that Mohammad respected Jesus and, therefore, granted asylum to the Muslims.[2]

Second, as we have just seen, religious belief sometimes has motivated a government to grant asylum in this earlier period. In addition, religious bodies and individuals often call upon their members and fellow believers to be hospitable to outsiders such as those fleeing persecution. In Judaism and Christianity, for example, there are numerous Biblical texts to this effect. In the Hebrew Bible, the people are told, “Do no mistreat an alien or oppress him for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 222:21.) Similarly, “You are to have the same law for the alien and for the native born.” (Leviticus 24:22.) In the New Testament, Jesus when asked what the greatest commandment was, said, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39.)[3] Similarly Arabic traditions and customs have served as a solid foundation for protecting human beings and preserving their dignity. These include “istijara” (plea for protection), “ijara” (granting protection) and “iwaa” (sheltering). The Islamic Shari’a further consolidated the humanitarian principles of brotherhood, equality and tolerance among human beings. Relieving suffering and assisting, sheltering, and granting safety to the needy, even enemies, are an integral part of Islamic Shari’a. In fact,  Islamic Shari’a addressed the issue of asylum explicitly and in detail, and guaranteed safety, dignity and care for the “musta’men” (asylum-seeker). Moreover, the return, or refoulement, of the “musta’men” was prohibited by virtue of Shari’a.[4]

Third, after World War I, the Covenant of the League of Nations did not have any explicit provision regarding refugees. The closest it came was its Article 25, which states, “The Members of the League agree to encourage and promote the establishment and co-operation of duly authorised [sic] voluntary national Red Cross organisations [sic] having as purposes the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering throughout the world.”[5] There also were various treaties regarding refugees in the 1920s and 1930s, but they did not grant legal rights to asylum.[6]       Fourth, German persecution of the Jews in the 1930s showed the weaknesses of this discretionary approach to asylum. In 1933 the Nazis took over control of the German government and fired Jews from the civil service and sponsored boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses.  Germany also started an official encouragement of German Jewish emigration, and in September 1935 Germany’s Nuremberg Laws cancelled German citizenship for Jews. By the end of 1937 450,000 German Jews had left the country.[7] In March of 1938 German annexed Austria (das Anschluss) and thereby brought the 200,000 Austrian Jews under German laws, including the Nuremberg Laws.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Evian Conference

Several days later U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to call an international conference to facilitate the emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria and to establish an international organization to work towards an overall solution to this problem. That July the conference was held in Evian, France. Thirty-two countries attended and expressed sympathy for the refugees. With one exception, however, no country agreed to take additional Jewish refugees. The exception was the Dominican Republic, and it did so because its dictator, Trujillo, wanted more white people in his country. The Conference also created the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees to “approach the governments of the countries of refuge with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement.” It also was to seek German cooperation in establishing “conditions of orderly emigration.” This Committee, however, never received the necessary authority or support from its members and, therefore, failed to accomplish anything. After the conference, Hitler said, “It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them . . . .” Moreover, the failure of the Conference to do anything about the German Jews was seen as an encouragement for Germany’s increasing persecution of the Jews, including Kristallnachtin October 1938 and the Holocaust itself through the end of World War II in 1945.


[1]  I have not studied what I can the pre-modern era in great depth and especially invite comments and critiques of this analysis.
[3] Religious beliefs motivated most, if not all, of those people and congregations that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s to provide safe space to Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars. See Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011).
[4] Prof. Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study (Riyadh – 2009 (1430 H.), http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=4a9645646&query=sharia.
[5]  Covenant of the League of Nations, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art25; Holborn, The Legal Status of Political Refugees, 32 Am. J. Int’l L. 680 (1938); Holborn, The League of Nations and the Refugee Problem, 203 Annals Am. Acad. Of Pol. & Soc. Sci. 124 (1939).
[6]  A list of these treaties is set forth in Article 1(A)(1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/refugees.htm.
[7] E.g., U.S. Holocaust Museum, The Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007698 ; U.S. Holocaust Museum, Emigration and the Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005520 ; Annette Shaw, The Evian Conference–Hitler’s Green Light for Genocide, http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/antiholo/evian/evian.html; Wikipedia, Evian Conference, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89vian_Conference.

Practitioner in Residence

University of Iowa College of Law

For three days in February 1986 I was the practitioner in residence at the University of Iowa College of Law. I helped teach a class, made a presentation to a faculty seminar, gave a speech to an assembly of students and faculty and talked to a student group and a legal clinic seminar.[1]

Professor Patrick Bauer, a friend and former colleague at the Faegre & Benson law firm in Minneapolis, taught a first-year civil procedure class that I joined. The topic was Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that requires an attorney who submits a pleading, written motion or other paper to a federal district court to make an implicit representation that it was not presented for an “improper purpose,” that is was “warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument” for changing the law and that its factual contentions had or were likely to have “evidentiary support.” [2]

The problem for the class that day was posed by a recent case in which the court had denied a defense motion to dismiss a complaint and had directed defense counsel to submit a brief as to why they should not be subject to Rule 11 sanctions for their dismissal motion. The court thereafter decided that such sanctions were appropriate and imposed a fine on the defense counsel (in an amount to be determined).  The violation of Rule 11, according to the court, occurred because the dismissal motion was not warranted by existing law and because the lawyers had not made a reasonable inquiry to determine if the motion was warranted by existing law.[3]

In the civil procedure class, I played the role of a law firm partner soliciting input and advice from his associate lawyers (played by the students) on preparing a complaint for a new civil lawsuit. Professor Bauer at the blackboard wrote down Rule 11 issues that were created by the ideas put forward by the associates.

“Sue the Bastard! Ruminations on American Litigiousness” was the title of my presentation to a faculty seminar. I had prepared this paper while on my sabbatical leave at Grinnell College. I discussed what I saw as the causes and effects of such litigiousness and suggested changes in our legal system and national psyche.[4]

An assembly of faculty and students was the forum for my speech, “The Pilgrimage of a Hired Gun–The First Twenty Years.” Accepting the challenge of Judge Frank M. Coffin for lawyers and judges to make “interiorly revealing” comments about their professional lives,[5] I discussed my first 20 years of practicing law and my search for meaning and spiritual values in a litigator’s life.

  • The first five years were my apprenticeship period when I was learning how to be a litigator and how to function in two large law firms in two new cities while also becoming a father to two sons. The self-sufficient, inner-directed person I thought I was had found a home in the well-paid, high-powered, eminently secular law firm.
  • The next five years I saw as my yuppie period. I was becoming more proficient as a lawyer. I advanced to partner at Faegre & Benson. We bought an upper-middle-class home. Still no room for a spiritual, religious life.
  •  The next four or five years or so, in retrospect, was a time of mid-life crisis. I was increasingly skeptical of the significance of what I was doing for a living while facing personal challenges.
  • I started to sort out these problems over the next five years and started to integrate the various aspects of my life. In 1981 I joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and started to re-discover a spiritual life.[6] In 1982 I took a sabbatical leave from my law firm to teach at Grinnell College.[7] In 1984, I organized a liberal arts seminar for lawyers at the College.[8] I started to do research about two lawyers whom I admired: Joseph Welch and Edward Burling.[9] Being a practitioner in residence also gave me the opportunity to reflect on these issues and to share these thoughts with others.

I concluded my “Pilgrimage” speech by saying, “I embrace the tools of the trade [and] the craftsman’s pride in a job well done and let go of the omni-competent, omnipotent attitude of the successful lawyer.”

Little did I know at the time of this speech that my then just-starting involvement in the Sanctuary Movement case[10] would be an integrative experience that would lead to my becoming a pro bono asylum attorney,[11] my making a life-changing pilgrimage to El Salvador[12] and my becoming an adjunct professor of international human rights law at the University of Minnesota Law School.[13]

While a practitioner in residence at the Iowa College of Law in February 1986, I also spoke to a meeting of the Christian Legal Society on “Legal Issues Arising Out of the Sanctuary Movement and Government Infiltration of the Churches.” This was an account of the federal criminal case against leaders of the Sanctuary Movement and the Government’s disclosure that it had sent under-cover agents into worship services and Bible-study meetings at Arizona churches involved in the Movement. I also discussed the just-filed civil case against the U.S. Government over “the spies in the churches” by the American Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).[14]

Another activity at the Iowa College of Law was attending a legal clinic seminar. I talked about the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers and legal malpractice.[15] I shared my opinion that legislatures and courts were in the process of altering the balance between a lawyer’s role as advocate and the role as officer of the court to give greater importance to the latter. One example was the previously mentioned court’s imposing sanctions on lawyers for arguments that were not deemed in accordance with established law. I attributed this shift to increasing legal fees and the costs of litigation, the public perception that litigation processes had been abused and the knowledge that some lawyers are dishonest. This rebalancing carried with it a risk of diminishing a lawyer’s responsibilities to a client and hence an increased risk of malpractice. I concluded with this quotation: “Clients are entitled to much. They are entitled to dedication, diligent preparation, undivided loyalty, superb research, the most zealous advocacy and even sleepless nights; but they are not entitled to the corruption of our souls . . . . We do not lie, we do not cheat, we do not suborn,  and we do not fabricate. We do not lie to clients. We do not lie for clients.”[16]


[1] Duane Krohnke Is First Daum Practitioner in Residence, Iowa Advocate, Fall/Winter 1985-86, at 15. The widow of F. Arnold Daum, a 1934 graduate of the Iowa College of Law and a senior partner in a Wall Street law firm, established the F. Arnold Daum Visiting Practitioner’s Program in the Law College to support bringing leading practitioners to the law school to appear in classes and exchange ideas with faculty and students. I was the first such practitioner to participate in this program.

[2] Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 11.

[3] Golden Eagle Distributing Corp. v. Burroughs Corp., 103 F.R.D. 124 (N.D. Cal. 1984).

[4]  Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 26, 2011).

[5]  Post: A Liberal Arts Seminar for Lawyers (May 28, 2011).

[6]  Post: Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (April 6, 2011).

[7]  Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 326, 2011).

[8]  Post: A Liberal Arts Seminar for Lawyers (May 28, 2011).

[9]  Post: Adventures of a History Detective (April 5, 2011).

[10]  Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011).

[11] Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011).

[12]  Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

[13] Post: My First Ten Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011).

[14]  Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011)(account of the churches’ completed case against the Government).

[15] Krohnke, A Litigator’s Comments on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Attorney Malpractice (Feb. 1986).

[16]  Miller, A Report on the Morals and Manners of Advocates, 29 Cath. Law. 103, 108 (1984).

My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989

For my second Salvadoran asylum case, I decided that I needed to go to El Salvador to do investigations for the case and to learn more about the country. In April 1989 I made my first of six trips to the country. I went with a group led by Minneapolis’ Center for Global Education at Augsburg College.[1]

The Salvadoran Civil War was still going on, and on the day we arrived her Attorney General was assassinated with a car bomb. In response, the Salvadoran military forces were in the streets with their automatic rifles at the ready, stopping everyone to provide identification. People in the “popular organizations” were being arrested. It was a very dangerous and tense 10 days in the country.

These days turned out to be the most intense religious and spiritual experience of my life. It was and still is a major reason why I now say that El Salvador liberated this American lawyer in many ways and helped him integrate his religious faith with his professional life.

We went to a service of solidarity for a Catholic priest who that week had received death threats. The service was in a screened recreational building next to a very dusty soccer field. As we entered, we were handed mimeographed sheets with words for hymns of the people about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who had been murdered nine years earlier. Thus began my learning about Romero.[2]

Our group visited the office of COMADRES in a small house in the city. (It is the committee of the mothers of the disappeared and assassinated). A young woman talked about her jailing and torture earlier that week. Right behind her I saw a bust of Robert Kennedy representing the very first Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. It was granted to COMADRES for its struggle for amnesty for political prisoners, information regarding the “disappeared” and punishment for those responsible for human rights violations.[3] (During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. would not grant a U.S. visa to a COMADRES representative to come to the U.S. to receive the award.)

At the COMADRES’ office I also saw a framed copy en espanol of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[4] which I had never regarded as important and about which I knew nothing. Even though I could not read the Spanish text, I could see that it was an inspirational document for these people. This experience came rushing back to me when later I learned about the Universal Declaration.

Our group met with Phil Anderson, a Lutheran pastor from Minnesota who was working in El Salvador for Lutheran World Federation. Earlier that week he had sent faxes to the Federation’s headquarters in Switzerland with information about the arrests of many people from the popular organizations so that the next day the headquarters could send faxes of complaints to the Government of El Salvador. I gained a new appreciation for the work of international organizations around the world and about the sinister messages that are sent when they are kicked out of a country.

My fellow travelers on this trip were from the Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the successor of the Lutheran Church in America, my client in the Sanctuary Movement case). Through their connections I was introduced to the significant work in El Salvador of its small Lutheran Church and its Bishop Medardo Gomez, who is frequently regarded as the spiritual heir to Archbishop Romero.[5]

We also met Salvador Ibarra, a lawyer for the human rights office of the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. He told us that in late 1980 a judge had appointed him to represent one of the Salvadoran national guardsmen accused of raping and murdering the four American church women.[6] Someone from the U.S. Embassy then asked Ibarra to call a press conference and announce that he had investigated and had found no involvement of higher officials in this horrible crime. This, however, was not true, and he refused to hold a press conference. In response he received death threats that prompted him and his family to flee the country. His wife told him that he was stupid to put her and their children’s lives at risk, and she took the children and divorced him. Yet Ibarra subsequently returned to his country to be a human rights lawyer and thereby continued to put his life on the line. He spoke about the joy he had in his work as a lawyer for people whose human rights were at greater risk.

In my subsequent work as a pro bono asylum lawyer and human rights advocate, I continued to be inspired by Salvador Ibarra. How easy it was for me as a large law-firm lawyer in Minneapolis to do this work. I did not have to risk my life as he did.

Our group visited the “22nd of April” community in San Salvador. This community was a three-block area of land on a steep hill between railroad tracks above and a road below. It had been used as a garbage dump, but on April 22nd in the early 1980’s displaced Salvadorans (“desplazados”) started to occupy it. In April of 1989 there were at least 10,000 people living there. They were mainly women and small children because teenage and adult males were fighting in the civil war or had been killed or disappeared. The people lived in “houses”– some of concrete blocks and tin roof; others of cheap tin or aluminum sheets or scrap lumber; yet others made with cardboard.

We walked around “22nd of April” with its pastor–Father Jim Barnett, a Dominican priest from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He talked about his ministry of accompaniment and solidarity. He was inspired by the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who had entered the total experience of the poor–physical, spiritual, social, economic and political–and who had spoken about the church’s need to be incarnated in the life of the people and the institutional injustice and violence in El Salvador.

Another stop on our trip was UCA, the Universidad de Centro America, a Jesuit institution with a beautiful, serene campus on a hill in the capital city.[7] We spent an hour with Father Jon Sobrino, a noted liberation theologian.[8]  Only seven months later six of his fellow Jesuit priests were brutally murdered at that very place by the Salvadoran Armed Forces. (Sobrino escaped this fate because he was in Thailand giving lectures.)[9]

We went to the small, modern, beautiful, serene Chapel of Divine Providence on the quiet grounds of a cancer hospital. This is where Oscar Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980. (Across the street was the three-room apartment where Romero lived. No luxurious Archbishop’s palace for him.) Along the way to the chapel I saw graffiti messages: “Romero vive!” (“Romero lives!”)

The Cathedral of San Salvador, on the other hand, is in el centro with all the noise and hurly-burly of buses and other traffic. In April 1989 the building was not finished. (Romero had halted all construction because he did not think it was right for the church to be spending money on its building when the people were suffering from poverty and human rights abuses.) On the steps were women from COMADRES with their bullhorns protesting against the latest wave of repression. Inside, scraps of linoleum were on the floor along with scattered plain wooden benches. In the right transept was Romero’s tomb–plain concrete and covered with flowers and prayers of the people. As I stood there, the words “My body broken for you” from the Christian sacrament of communion echoed in my mind.


[1]  Center for Global Education, http://www.augsburg.edu/global/.

[2]  Later posts will discuss the life and witness of Archbishop Romero and why he is my personal saint.

[3]  Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, http://www.rfkcenter.org/ourwork/humanrightsaward.

[4]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/b1udhr.htm.

[5]  Medardo Gomez, Fire Against Fire (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress 1990); Medardo Gomez, And the Word Became History (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress 1992).

[6]  E.g., Ford v. Garcia, 289 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1147 (2003); Gonzalez, 2 Salvadoran Generals Cleared by U.S. Jury in Nuns’ Deaths, N.Y. Times, Nov. 4, 2000, at A3.

[7]  Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas,” http://www.uca.edu.sv/.

[8]  Wikipedia, Jon Sobrino, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Sobrino.

[9]  Sobrino, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 1990); Center for Justice & Accountability, Jesuits Massacre Case, http://www.cja.org/article.php?list=type&type=84.

Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Changing Your Mind”

At the Homiletics Festival on May 17th,[1] Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence presented a lecture on why people of faith change their mind.

She said she has been doing a lot of thinking on this topic. Here are some of the emerging answers to that question. An individual feels the call of the spirit. An individual recognizes himself or herself in a story of the Bible. An individual commits his or her life to a life in the sacred text. An individual decides that he or she has a script from the sacred text.

When someone is called by God to do a difficult thing, he or she usually balks. But then a sacred script comes to mind, and the individual changes his or her mind.

An individual of faith has to become a witness and give testimony.  Being a witness is not easy. You have to give your account of what happened and your belief as to what it means. There are often conflicting stories or testimonies. Some witnesses are discredited. An individual has to come to a verdict on which version to believe. The person has to stand and say what he or she believes about God.

Such testimony is contrary to the world’s “mean” script. Power. Might makes right. Do not share what you have. Be successful, beautiful, strong.[2]

The emphasis on witnessing and testimony prompt me to make comments drawn from my lawyering days. Being a witness in a U.S. judicial proceeding is not easy. A witness first has to be sworn: “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God.” [3] This oath, in my opinion, should also be kept in mind when a person witnesses to matters of faith. Our law has a well established principle to ensure that a witness is competent to provide testimony on a particular subject. Our law provides for cross-examination to test the validity of a witness’ testimony. Our law also has principles to help a jury or a judge evaluate often conflicting testimony. In a religious context, testimony should be subject to similar procedures. One such procedure is the tradition of discernment in honest discussion with fellow Christians.


[1] The Festival seeks to bring together a wide variety of outstanding preachers and professors of homiletics; to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture; to engage issues related to church in the 21st century; to engage theologically the practices of preaching and worship; to invite individual preachers to consider various styles and methodologies of preaching; and to inspire preachers in their roles of proclaiming the gospel. Festival of Homiletics (May 16-20, 2011), http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/index.php. See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Skinny-Dip Sermon” (May 19, 2011).

[2]  The discussion of testimony and witnessing is drawn from Florence’s  book Preaching as Testimony. See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony” (April 6, 2011).

[3] Alternatively a witness may affirm to tell the truth without reference to God.

Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Skinny-Dip Sermon”

The Biblical text for this unusually titled sermon by Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence[1] was John 21:1-19.[2]

For Christians this is the familiar story of the unsuccessful post-crucifixion fishing trip by Peter and six other disciples. When they returned to shore, a man on the beach told them to go out again and put their net on the other side of the boat. They did and caught a lot of fish. Then one of the disciples recognized the man on the beach as Jesus and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter, who was naked presumably to avoid catching his clothes on the fishing gear, immediately put on his clothes and jumped in the lake. When they all were back on the beach, Jesus had started a charcoal fire to cook fish for breakfast and to warm Peter. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Three times Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” After each response, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Finally Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!”

Florence said this was another example of Peter as the lone ranger, as the one who always changes the subject from Jesus to himself, as the one who forces Jesus to intervene, as the one who always wants to be the best at everything. Peter is always making “I” statements. We all are like this Peter.

Peter’s immediately putting on his clothes and jumping in the lake, at first glance, is strange behavior. If you want to swim, you do not put on clothes. But it is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit and needing to clothe themselves when God cries out for them.[3] No one wants to be naked before God and exposing all of his sins. It is really difficult to be forced to look at your own shortcomings.

And Peter did have shortcomings he did not want exposed. Jesus’ asking Peter three times if he loved Jesus while Peter was warming himself by the fire on the beach was telling Peter that Jesus knew that after his arrest, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times in response to direct questions, all while Peter was warming himself by a fire in a courtyard.[4]

Yet Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” Jesus chose Peter to start the church. And Peter chose to accept this call. It is another example of God’s choosing a flawed human being to do something new and of that human being’s choosing to accept the call of God.

This sermon on May 17th was part of the Festival of Homiletics to bring together a wide variety of outstanding preachers and professors of homiletics; to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture; to engage issues related to church in the 21st century; to engage theologically the practices of preaching and worship; to invite individual preachers to consider various styles and methodologies of preaching; and to inspire preachers in their roles of proclaiming the gospel.[5]


[1]  See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony” (April 6, 2011).

[2]  Bible, John 21: 1-19.

[3]  Bible, Genesis 3: 10-11.

[4]  Bible, Matthew 26: 69-74; Mark 14: 66-71; Luke 22: 54-60; John 18: 15-18, 25-27.

[5]  Festival of Homiletics (May 16-20, 2011), http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/index.php.

Retiring from Lawyering

Ten years ago I was contemplating early retirement from the practice of law. I systematically tried to analyze the pros and cons of such a decision and summarized these thoughts in an essay that a friend used in a seminar for other lawyers.[1] I discussed the issues with friends at college and law school reunions.

I was inclined to continue my legal career because it was the more financially secure option, because I enjoyed (for the most part) the challenges presented to a lawyer that were discussed in a prior post and because it was difficult to give up the status and sense of identity of being a lawyer.[2]

On the other hand, the previously discussed negative aspects of practicing law said, “retire.” So too did the increasing stresses of the lawyer’s life.[3]

This thinking and these discussions lead to my decision to retire 10 years ago. Most important for me were two points. First was the realization that the longer you worked, the shorter would be your life after full-time working along with the greater risk that you would not be in as good as health later. Second was the question: what do you want to do with the rest of your life? Continue focusing as a lawyer on trying to help others with their problems? Or focus on your own life? Clearly I wanted to focus on my own life while I still had good health.

My decision to retire was confirmed at a worship service at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago on North Michigan Avenue immediately after my law school reunion. The topic of the sermon “Called” by Rev. John Buchanan was vocation. The Biblical texts were Jeremiah 1:4-10 [4]and Mark 1:16-20.[5] Throughout our lives, Rev. Buchanan said, we should strive to discern what God is calling us to do with our lives, and then we need to respond to that call.

Here are the personal retirement goals I set for myself 10 years ago:

  • Be a good grandfather to a grandson in Minnesota and a grand-daughter (and another grandchild on the way) in Ecuador.
  • Be a good father to two adult sons and a good husband.
  • Learn Spanish.
  • Teach law in Ecuador in the English language and spend more time in that country.
  • Do more international travel.
  • Continue to do human rights legal work in some way.
  • Conclude my research about Joseph Welch and Edward Burling and two of my ancestors and write articles about them, as was mentioned in a prior post.[6]
  • Write a personal journal and memoirs.
  • Be more disciplined in physical exercise.
  • Develop appropriate financial planning and management for retirement.

In making this decision, I recognized that I was very fortunate to be in a position where I could afford to retire. I did not have to continue working in order to be able to put food on the table and have a roof over our heads.


[1] Krohnke, Who, me, retire? A Recently Retired Lawyer’s Reflections on Retirement (June 2001), http://www.acrel.org/Documents/Seminars/Whome.htm. I hope this essay is helpful for lawyers and others who are contemplating retirement.

[2]  Post: Ruminations on Lawyering (4/20/11).

[3]  Id.

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

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Older Brother

In my teenage years as a dutiful only child, I identified with the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.[1] He remained at home working on the farm while his younger brother was dissipating his advance inheritance in a far country. Yet their father throws a big party for the younger brother when he returns home.  Like the older son, I just could not understand the totally unjustified favorable treatment of the wayward younger son. Like the older son, I was angry with the father and the younger brother over this injustice.

Many years later, however, I could see myself as the younger son in the Parable. As a college freshman I began rebelling against organized religion and the spiritual life. During my subsequent 24 years in a distant country, I clung “to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink . . . . It’s almost as if I want[ed] to prove to myself . . . that I did not need God’s love, that I could make a life on my own, that I want[ed]to be fully independent. Beneath it all was the great rebellion, the radical ‘No’ to the Father’s love . . . .”[2]

When I came to my senses and returned home, my rebellion and other sins were forgiven by God, who was waiting, saw me when I was still a long way off and ran to welcome me home. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”[3]

Each of us often experiences life as a succession of unrelated events. Such events, however, are the raw material of our spiritual pilgrimage. Discernment of the spiritual significance of these events requires us to pause to reflect on how God appears in our lives. We can aid this task by putting ourselves into the stories of the Bible and by allowing the words of great hymns to speak to us.


[2] Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son at 38-39 (1992).

[3]  John Newton, Amazing Grace Lyrics, http://www.constitution.org/col/amazing_grace.htm.

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.”