President Obama in Cuba

President Obama’s decision to visit to Cuba and his call to end the U.S. embargo bring me joy. It’s time to “normalize” relationships between our two countries.

But what does normalizing mean between the capitalist super power and tiny island socialist republic 90 miles from the Florida coast? A return to normal or a new kind of normal?

The President’s speech this morning is disappointing. I couldn’t help thinking of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States when he poked the President in the eye in a speech aimed at the American people. This morning Barack Obama did the same in Havana.

The President says he knows the history. He may. But the history he knows is different from the one the Cubans know. When he talks about opening up Cuba, opening up Cuban markets so that Cubans can buy goods and have 21st century jobs, he ignores the reason for the Cuban revolution. The Batista regime was a U.S. puppet. Havana and Veradero Beach were playgrounds for North American capitalists, elites, and businessmen who gambled in the casinos and vacationed on the white sands few Cubans – except for the table-servers, maids, bartenders – ever got to touch.

Cuba was not a democracy under Batista and his predecessors. It was a dictatorship – AND its economy was free-market capitalism with egregious disparities of income and wealth. The majority of Cubans were as poor as the masses in other Latin American banana republics.

An article in The Independent provides the history of the challenges and successes of the post-revolution Cuban government’s literacy campaign and Cuba’s highly praised universal education system.

Will normalizing relations return Cuba to the pre-socialist inequalities that caused the revolution in 1959?  Will it mean a return to “normal” – in which the superpower calls the shots while the little brother watches our president embarrass him from center stage?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 22, 2016





She mowed the lawn in high heels!

Joan Copeland in Cubs

Joan Copeland in Cuba

We LOVE interesting people!

Joan Copeland was one of a kind. She was a complete stranger to Views from the Edge before Steve Shoemaker read the unique obituary the led us to post The Foster Child who Succeeded at Fostering.  Family members caught eye of the posting and sent comments worth sharing.  The bolded print is added for those who don’t read entire blog posts! -:)

First family comment: I’m her granddaughter…. She was amazing… Growing up she kept me smiling and giggling…she was a free soul… Cubans and Martinis…when I would stay the night she used to pour me ginger ale in a fancy glass cup so we could have woman time lol she never let her past define her…And her family was her life…Sophie her cat lol…meanest thang ever…but she loved her….I’m glad you all enjoyed reading the smallest excerpt of her life…if only you knew the stories of Cuba…her first tattoo at age 75….her passion for dancing…how dolled up she loved to get…my granny was a true diva…an amazing woman….inside and out…- Seylon

Views from the Edge replies: Seylon, WHAT AN UNEXPECTED TREAT to hear from you. I never know who reads the blog, so to hear from you means a lot. Please say more about the Cuban references. Was she Cuban? Had she spent time in Cuba? Smoked Cuban cigars, drank Cuban rum?

At the helm on suitor's boat on the way to Cuba..

At the helm on suitor’s boat on the way to Cuba..

Seylon responds: I googled her name just to see if old real estate photos would pop up and stumbled across your blog. I called my mom she thought it was pretty cool. My grandma was Romanian….but she loved Cuba…she traveled there twice on a friend’s sailboat….I believe ’92 was either her first trip or second…I told her if they ever dropped the embargo and allow all the US citizens not being able to travel there I would take her there on vacation again. 🙂 I wish I could post pictures for you. I have plenty of them from when she was there. [NOTE: the photos on this page were sent later.]

She used to talk about the dolphins that would swim along the sailboat. Her first tattoo the family took her to get was of Dolphins and the word Cuba 🙂 She was 75. She would talk about how she brought a roll of shiny new pennies to give out to the kids there because she knew the country was poor and she thought it would be a cool gift to them. I guess a little boy she had met was not thrilled with the pennies…she used to say he expected more money then her little pennies.

Joan Coleman cigar

Joan Copeland smoking Cuban something or other

But she also loved cigars and used to smoke them. I am in the military and tried getting her cigars made from every place I’ve been…my last trip I got her a while box of Cubans…I told her we could crack the box open once I had my baby. She laughed, she said she didn’t even know if she could smoke one anymore. She mostly collected the boxes…. she collected a lot of stuff… antiques, paintings, everything 🙂 It’s crazy that her obituary got all the way to Minnesota. It’s pretty neat how someone who means so much to you can be a small part of a stranger’s life.

Another granddaugher responds: Hi, I am her oldest granddaughter, Summer. My gran would have loved this!! My gran never left her house without looking like a movie star from her big up-do to her fur coats. She went to the top of a mountain on a dirt bike and mowed the yard in heals. Always had a cocktail and ready for some fun. We always had a project to do together from making jewelry, beading necklaces, sorting jewelry or gemstones. We even made picture frames with jewelry. My mom and I took her to get her tattoo. All three of us got one that day. Three generations getting a tattoo coolest thing ever.

Great grandma singing "Itsy bits spider" to Seylon's newborn child.

Great grandma singing “Itsy bits spider” to Seylon’s newborn child.

She loved her family more than anything else. She wrote notes on everything she ever gave me. She made a tote box for all her grandkids and when I opened mine it has every Christmas card, valentine , letter, picture I drew and my baby clothes. She kept everything I ever gave her my whole life was in this box. She treasured me as much as I did her. Thank you for taking the time to write about my amazing grandma.

Joan’s oldest daughter comments: Hi Gordon. This is Joan’s oldest daughter, Rebecca. My niece, Seylon, called her mother from Germany this afternoon just as my sis and I were sorting thru “the goods.” (There’s a packed house.) I cried as she read your column to us. I’ll have you know that I went all out when writing the obituary because my mother did not want a funeral. She said, “I don’t want a bunch of people strolling by my dead body pretending that they liked me. I know who my friends are.” To be led to your column was an amazing stroke of synchronicity, and I’m sure my mother would think you did right by her. My mother was not Cuban. Her father was a Romanian immigrant who came here as a child. Her mother was from Illinois, and we don’t know much more because the family split up when Joan was young.

Joan Copeland on suitor's yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Joan Copeland on suitor’s yacht sailing illegally to Cuba.

Her sailing trips to Cuba were with one of the prospects she finally told to go away. She was in her mid-60’s at the time, and wouldn’t hesitate to smoke a good cigar w/ you.

Here’s just one more little tidbit I thought you might like. My mother enjoyed her martinis and for years she collected antique pewter. At my sister’s suggestion, we had her ashes put into a pewter cocktail shaker from her collection. When Seylon gets to come home on leave in July, we will scatter Joan’s ashes over her mother’s grave as per her wishes. – Rebecca.

I wish we were all that interesting!

The Angel Gabriel and Mary

A sermonic reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 21, 2014, Gordon C. Stewart.

Text: Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation {El Greco]

The Annunciation {El Greco]

Mary has every reason to fear the appearance of Gabriel. Every demure depiction to the contrary, the Angel Gabriel’s “annunciation” to Mary is no private affair. It’s a public matter of the first order. Gabriel  is the archangel commissioned to destroy the offspring of the rebellious angels and human women. (see below). Mary shrinks back.

“Do not be afraid,” says Gabriel.

Why should she not be afraid? This is not just any angel.

This is the Angel Gabriel, whose trumpet will summon the people, sweep away the occupation forces that substitute their rule for the Kingdom of love and delight. This is an angel of revolution. The Archangel of conflict who inspires both hope and fear.

”Do not be afraid!”

El Greco’s painting of the Annunciation illustrates the problem of textual interpretation.
Gabriel’s appearance is not frightening. It’s very…how shall we say? Feminine. Even to the point of appearing perhaps pregnant himself. The great masters did not paint an angel messenger as male, even when his name is Gabriel or Michael, the only two angels named in Holy Scripture.

Gabriel in Hebrew means “God is my Warrior”. Gabriel is a warrior angel, announcing to Mary that she too is to become a warrior, a mother whose birth-giving will lead to conflict with the Empire and the religious authorities who collaborate with it.

As described by New Testament scholar Carol Newsom, any annunciation by Gabriel inspires fear.

In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel is preeminently an angel of eschatological revelation. He is sent to Daniel to explain a vision of ‘the time appointed for the end’ (Dan. 8:15-26)…. Gabriel’s functions are more varied in I Enoch. In the Book of the Watchers (I Enoch 1- 36) he is listed as ‘the one of the holy angels who is in charge of paradise and the dragons and the cherubim (20:2). He is commissioned to destroy the offspring of the rebellious angels and human women (10:9-10)….

In the War Scrolls from Qumran (IQM) the names of 4 archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Sariel, and Raphael, are written on the shields of the 4 towers of the army. The positioning of the 4 archangels around the throne of God or other sacred space has a long subsequent history in both Jewish and Christian tradition…. [Carol Newsom, “Gabriel.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2]

So why does Gabriel look the way he does in the art museums and literature of Christian interpretation? Why does the original Gabriel look so benign? And why does Mary look so calm, perhaps even demure, as in El Greco’s Annunciation?

The Jesus story has been neutered. The End Time has been re-interpreted by the Constantinian Church as a paradise beyond time, a state of afterlife, not this life. In no way political. In no way economic. In no way conflictual. Peaceful. Serene. Calm. Quiet Passive. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Never disquieting. Never disrupting. Never revolutionary.

Gabriel has been transformed, neutered, emasculated, rendered harmless by the Constantine religion whose adherents can no longer see the conflict between Christ, or his mother, Mary, and his father, Joseph, with the systems of unbridled greed and poverty under which they live. The Gabriel spoken of in most pulpits is not the Angel Gabriel that came to Mary.

We’ve turned Gabriel into our own image. But though we may tame him in our hearts and minds, our paintings and our sermons, we can erase neither the need to be afraid nor his invitation to fear not. Gabriel’s finger points at us, asking whether we will rally to the trumpet sound, the sound of his coming. We can repaint the young girl Mary as an icon of passive obedience and tranquility. But it will be a different Mary than the courageous one painted by the Gospel of Luke.

Luke and his Mary know that “Do not be afraid!” makes no sense unless there really is something to fear, and that we cannot overcome fear unless we hear Gabriel’s word of favor, “Hail, O favored one! The LORD is with you. Blessed are you among women…You shall conceive….”Do not be afraid…. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’

“Then the angel departed from her” for parts unknown to make his visits down through the ages, making the impossible possible.  Word has it he appeared last week in Washington, D.C. and Havana, Cuba to turn the impossible into the possible, a new Order being born from the old.

If you listen with faith, you might hear him. If you look, you will see him.


Cuba: The Embargo Wall

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Two human beings passed abreast through a wall yesterday: the invisible wall between the U.S. and Cuba.

The wall was built by human hands. It’s coming down by human hands. Like the Berlin Wall and “the Iron Curtain” that went up during the Cold War between the East and West.

Here in the States the story was that the wall and the curtain had gone up to keep people in. And that’s what I thought until the summer of 1966 while living “behind” the wall with the Schulz family in Bratislava as The Experiment in International Living’s Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

A visitor from the West was immediately struck by the absence of bill boards. There were no advertisements like in Chicago. Bratislava struck me at first glance as a gray place, a dull place, a colorless place, a depressing place. But depression and beauty are in the eye of the beholder.

“The wall isn’t there to keep us in,” said my hosts at the third floor walk-up apartment at #7 Legionarska Street. “It’s there to keep you OUT.” Their story was altogether different. They were trying to keep Western materialism, Western greed and commercialism on the other side of the wall.

They built the wall, they said, to make possible the building of a new character: a more generous, less predatory, more social community beyond the old disparities of wealth and poverty.

“Today Robert Fronts-Diaz, who owns a Twin Cities translation and communications business, says the U.S. embargo was ‘an opportunity for Cuba to build character… Since I was a little kid, I wanted the Cuban embargo to be lifted,’ Fonts-Diaz said, his voice breaking with emotion. ‘I am very deeply touched that my request has been fulfilled,’” [“For state’s Cuban, change was a long time coming,” StarTribune, Dec. 18, 2014]

“SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall….” In the end, over time, they all come down

[Eternity] “spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Cuba – Finally a Breakthrough

Goliath’s bullying is almost over. After 53 years, by the good offices of Pope Francis and Canada, and  by order of U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, the U.S.A. and Cuba are taking steps to normalize relations. At long last, Cuba and we will be neighbors again.


It’s later afternoon in 1979. A 37-year-old minister/college pastor from Wooster, Ohio is mixing with other guests from all over the world at a social hour on the veranda of the residence of the Rev. Dr. Jose Arce Martinez, Dean of the ecumenical Protestant seminary in Matanzas, Cuba.

Thirteen years earlier, the young minister, then a seminarian, had been sent by the City of Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living to live for three months in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. There he had participated in the Christian-Marxist Dialogue founded by Czech theologian and former Princeton Theological Seminary Professor of Theology Josef Hromadka. In Bratislava he had lived with the Schulz family.Mr. and Mrs. Schulz were employed by the Department of Economics and the Department of Justice. Pan (Mr.) Schulz, after welcoming him to their home with a shot of Slivovitz (plum brandy), had said with a a smile, “I’m a whole lot Marxist…but still a little bit Lutheran.”

The 75 international guests at the Matanzas seminary are Christian theologians, bishops, and pastors from Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Peru, the U.S.S.R, East and West Germany, France, and the U.S.A. They’ve been convened at the invitation of the seminary with the consent of the government of Cuba following the Pope’s conference on human development at Puebla, Mexico.

Earlier that day the guests had stood on the lonely beach of Playa Girón, site of the Bay of Pigs invasion, where the air was still heavy from the deaths of the CIA-led invasion of Cuba that had failed. Being at Playa Playa Girón had been chilling. A Cuban Pentecostal minister who lost a leg in the battle at Playa Girón explained the scene of the American invasion to his North America visitor.

That afternoon, they return to the seminary for the social hour where they are joined by a small number of members of the Cuba government. The young minister engages in a conversation with someone named Raúl who asks him what it means to him to be a Christian. He answers that to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, and that to be a disciple of Jesus means to give oneself to the Kingdom of God. He tells Raul that Marx’s classless society is borrowed from Jesus’s teaching and that he shares that vision.

Raúl smiles and says that they will have to see whether it is of God or of Man that it comes. Only time will tell. They shake hands as brothers in a common cause to end human misery and agree that only time will tell.

Today Raúl Castro and Barack Obama agreed to pursue normal relations between little David and the giant Goliath.

Thanks you, Barack. Thank you, Raúl. Thank you, Canada. Thank you, Pope Francis. Thank you, God!


Cuban Altar Boys, the Pope, and Occupy

Pope Benedict has called for political reform in Cuba. The Cuban government has refused the request.  It continues to insist on one party rule.

Ninety miles away, here in the U.S., we have Occupy because an oligarchy has stolen the rule of the people. (“They may squirm in hearings, but Wall Street oligarchs know who has the power“.) The Supreme Court’s ruling has given the green light for some of the people (i.e. corporations) to rule the airwaves with the unlimited spending that buys elections “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Which people? Follow the money and you will see the illusion that America is a democracy. We have hoods over our heads.

We’re an oligarchic society. For all intents and purposes we live under the rule of the few, for the sake of the few. Fewer and fewer of the crumbs in Jesus’ parable of the poor man Lazarus are falling from the rich man’s table.

Why would Raul and Fidel Castro, two former altar boys, and the Cuban Communist Party refuse to open up the Cuban political system?

One need only review the history of Cuba prior to the revolution for their reasoning. I’ve had this conversation. I had it in 1979 in Cuba, and I had it in 1966 in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain. See yesterday’s post (The Wafer and th Loaf: the Pope and Raul Castro)

The Iron Curtain was altogether different from the Cuban embargo. The Iron Curtain was raised from the other side of the fence. It was put up by what we then called the Eastern Bloc, not by us in the West, while the Cuban embargo, the Iron Curtain meant to strangle the success of the socialist experiment, was built by the U.S.  Against all odds, Cuba has survived without access to the world’s largest market 90 miles to the north.  Somehow or other, against all odds, Cuba defended itself successfully against the giant to the north’s invasion at Playa Giron, “the Bay of Pigs”. It has lived ever since in fear of its northern neighbor, especially its ex-patriot Cuban business class in Florida that led the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Now Pope Benedict is urging the Cuban government to open up the political process, to expand political freedom.

Partly it’s a matter of perception.

Here in the West we decried the Iron Curtain as the means of dictatorial regimes to keep people in East Germany from fleeing to West Germany. To us the Berlin Wall was a prison wall intended to keep people from fleeing to freedom.  As seen by the Czechoslovakian family with whom I lived during the summer of 1966 and by the students at the university in Bratislava, the Iron Curtain served an altogether different purpose. It wasn’t to keep them in. It was to keep us out. They believed in the egalitarian society they were hoping to create. The Wall had been raised to wall out the corrosive influences of Western materialism, the power of money that is capitalism, the culture of greed, the survival of the fittest, the culture of selfishness.

Today Cuba is poor. Or is it? How do we measure poverty…or wealth?

Prior to the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, two former altar boys, Cuba was the U.S.’s source of sugar. The sugar came from sugar plantations owned by American Sugarwhose American elites and their Cuban partners gathered for lavish vacations on the white sands of Varadero Beach.  The American one-percent was reaping the profits and lying on the beach with their Cuban corporate friends at Varadero. It made no difference to them that the literacy rate of the Cuban people was among the lowest in the world.  The vast majority of the people could neither read nor write. It didn’t seem to matter to the elites or to Batista, the Cuban dictator whose government they had bought and paid for.  The vast majority of Cubans – those who spent their days cutting sugar cane on the large plantations, peasants who scratched out a living with a few chickens and pigs, and those who worked in the tourist industry in Havana and at Varadero Beach – had no health care, no dental care, and no safety net other than the Church’s charity. It was an island of economic injustice relieved by episodic acts of religious charity.

In short, Cuba was an oligarchy.

If Cuba “opens up” the way the Pope and most Americans believe they should, Cuba will very quickly become again the place it was before the former altar boys came down from the mountains to ousted Batista and American Sugar.

Is Cuba poor? Is America poor?  Cuba has had universal health care for longer than the US. Has had the Civil Rights Act. No one goes without seeing a doctor.  Its literacy rate is one of the highest in the world because of its government’s commitment to education and literacy for all its citizens.  Here at home a conservative U.S. Supreme Court is weighing arguments that could turn back America’s closest thing to universal health care, and the literacy rate is dropping, the prison population is mushrooming with school dropouts who can’t read or write. Those who can afford it, move their children out of the public schools into private schools.  The gap between the haves and have-nots widens every day. And the people on Wall Street who keep the rest of us living in the illusion that our future security rests with the interests of the oligarchy is as tall and thick as it ever was.

During his trip to Cuba Pope Benedict not only called for reforms in Cuba. His words also pointed north to the U.S. and the system that enshrines private capital and greed rather than God as the central principle around which Western societies are organized.  Pope Benedict denounced the ills of capitalism, as he has done repeatedly.

Benedict bemoaned a ‘profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenseless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families.’” (Nicole Winfield and Andrea Rodriguez, Huffington Post, 3/27/12).

The calls to open up the political system, on the one hand, and to end the ills of capitalism, on the other, are twin calls that echo 90 miles to the north as well as across Cuba.  We live in a closed system where the ills of capitalism turn the Constitutional rights and freedoms of a representative people’s democracy into a money game, a single-party oligarchy in which the one-percenters put hoods over our heads while they look forward to the installation of another Batista, the day when the can join their friends again on the white sands of Varadero Beach.

The Wafer and the Loaf: the Pope and Raul Castro

I woke up this morning to read “Pope calls for ‘justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation’ in Cuba. He was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro, who promised religious freedom in his Communist nation.”  What follows is my reflection on this piece in light of three weeks in Cuba in 1979..

Curious. The headline and the story are curious.

Pope Benedict arrives in Santiago, Cuba. In Mexico he has just criticized Cuba’s Marxist model as obsolete and has called for a future of “justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation” in Cuba.

The President of Cuba, Raul Castro, welcomes the pontiff to Cuban soil.

The media focuses on the Pope’s call for change in Cuba, on the one hand, and Mr. Castro’s promise of  religious freedom in Cuba, as though the latter were a new development.

In 1979, on the heels of the Catholic Bishops Conference in Puebla, Mexico, I spent three weeks in Cuba, one of 75 churchmen and theologians invited by the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba and the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba.

Most of the guests were from Central and South America. Others were from France, East and West Germany, Rumania, the Soviet Union, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe. There were four of us from the U.S: Professors Harvey Cox, , Robert McAfee Brown and a tag-along practicing pastor and college chaplain from Wooster, Ohio.

What do I remember most about that trip? Five memories:


1) Approaching Cuba from the air, looking down at this island 90 miles from the coast of Florida, asking how this little David had managed to slay Goliath at the Bay of Pigs, and wondering what was so threatening to us that the U.S. government continued to punish it with an economic embargo. I felt like a bully. Guilty. Ashamed. Humble.

2) Getting sick on a collective farm, sitting under a tree after drinking a complementary glass of banana juice. I was quickly tended to by Cuba’s medical and pharmaceutical system. They continued to check on me until all was well. Everyone gets health care.

3) The Cuban pastors’ response to a long breast-beating speech by Robert McAfee Brown, one of the foremost theologians in the U.S.  Brown spent 45 minutes in a biblically based sermon apologizing to the Cubans, a kind of cathartic confession in full public view. I was with him all the way. The Cuban response? Stop that. You didn’t do this. The American people haven’t done this to us. Your government has. Wallowing in guilt won’t help you and it won’t help us. We all need to find ways to promote justice and peace in our own contexts. We are all here as friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

4) Walking through the streets of Matanzas in the evening. Children playing freely in the streets. Windows and doors wide open. Neighbors talking and laughing with next-door neighbors. This could not be staged. This was the real Cuba.  As Harvey Cox, the charming professor from Harvard Divinity School who is fluent in Spanish, led the three of us through the streets, children followed him like the Pied Piper. Harvey would laugh with them and they with him. We would sing and walk. It was playful, like nothing that was happening back home.

5) A conversation with Communists on the veranda of the home of the President of the seminary. Raul Castro was among them. They were there to welcome us to Cuba. They also wanted to talk theology and society. They wanted to know what we really believed about God, about the Kingdom of God, and about social justice and economic equality. I don’t remember his name now, but I do remember the long one-on-one conversation during that cocktail hour with a member of the Communist Party. He had grown up Roman Catholic but was no longer a believer. The Church, he said, had kept the people in their place before the revolution. The Party had raised them up to believe in themselves. The Church had given them a wafer; the Party gave them bread, real food, real nutrition. The Church proclaimed the Kingdom of God after you die; the Party proclaimed a society of justice and peace that could be achieved in this world.

He asked what I thought. I told him that the version of Christian faith that he had described was not my faith. It was something else, but it was a very popular distortion of the life and teaching of Jesus. I told him that I shared his hope, that what he called “the classless society” I called the Kingdom of God, and that, to the extent that we were each working for the elimination of poverty, the end of starvation, and the health and joy of all God’s children, we were working toward the same goal under different names.  I rehearsed my history of Christian-Marxist dialogue dating back to seminary and the summer of 1966 living in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia as the Experiment in International Living Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. I told him of Josef Hromadka, the Czech theologian who had begun this dialogue because, said Hromadka, there was only one reason that the Bolshevik Revolution was atheistic: the sin of the Church. Its failure to align with the poor rather than the rich. The Church and the Czar had become of one cloth, just as he had been describing. The Church was giving people nothing but a wafer; the bread would come only after death. Lenin and Trotsky were insisting that to be genuinely human was to eliminate the economic structures that produce poverty and despair and that delay the distribution of real bread until an afterlife. Like Marx, they saw religion as the opiate of the people, the ideological blanket that blinded people to their earthly reality. But the biblical Kingdom is not about the Church, it’s about the new society in which the love of God reigns everywhere. It’s the NEW city, the new Jerusalem, and, in that new city, there is no longer any temple. There is no longer any need for the church because the Kingdom has come.”

The man from the Party’s eyes were wide.

I asked the man on the veranda where he thought his hope for such a society came from. “I don’t know,” he said, “I think it’s just part of being human.” “Yes,” I said, “but why? How’s that hope get there? Why should we hope unless there is something in being itself, something in the deepest part of us, that holds out the promise of its fulfillment, an inner sense that beckons us beyond the present conditions? The name for me is God.  None of us has ever seen God, yet I see God in Jesus of Nazareth, a worker, a carpenter, preacher of the Kingdom of God. I hear in your visions an echo of the Sermon on the Mount. I get the clearest sense of it when we share the meal at the Lord’s Table, the sign of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom will not come by Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. We have to work for it, but we also ‘wait for it with patience.’”

“Thank you, I’ll have to think more about that. You sound like Jose.” There’s a long pause. “Well…We’ll have to wait and see. I guess only time will tell who’s right,” he said. Like Harvey and the kids on the street that evening, we shared a good laugh, shook hands, and moved on to another conversation.


It’s now 33 years later and I’m reading about Raul Castro’s “promise” of religious freedom, the very same Raul Castro who was on the veranda at the seminary, who graciously welcomed the guy with the wafers to Cuban soil, except for kissing his ring. Priests and lay people from throughout Cuba throng to the site. None of them is hungry for bread.

Curious…for a country with no religious freedom. Don’t you think?