The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

To the Women: #MarchOn! — An Interview with 'Selma's Niecy Nash

I grew up in a household run by a woman of the civil rights movement. My mother, born Sharon Lawrence in 1948, was a teenager when she joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1966, one year after Dr. King’s legendary march from Selma to Montgomery and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With the foundations of progress and protection laid, there was still much work to be done. My mother was based in Philadelphia, where she helped establish one of SNCC’s embattled northern offices.

A few years back, as I fished through boxes brimming with old papers and notepads, I discovered handwritten notes from James Forman to my mother. Forman offered detailed instruction to the then 18-year-old young woman who would become my mother only a few years later. Her job was much like mine is now: church outreach. The way she tells it, there were only a few churches in Philadelphia willing to offer their pulpits for movement people to speak. It was her job to secure those pulpits when giants like Forman, Stokely Carmichael, and others came to town.

I grew up aware of the women of the civil rights movement — my mother was one of them.

Perhaps that’s why I was so struck by the rare effort made by the film Selma to highlight the roles of women in that struggle, which by many accounts was the high-water mark of the civil rights movement. 

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A Complicated World Intrudes Upon an Ideologically Driven Congress

While a new Congress relentlessly pursued its ideological agenda to trim government and reward its big-money patrons, a vastly more complicated world intruded:

  • In Maryland, a bishop reportedly driving drunk struck a bicyclist, fled the scene while he lay dying and, according to some reports, returned only after a church official told her she had to do so.
  • In Paris, a handful of religious terrorists defended the Prophet Muhammad by slaughtering the staff of a satirical magazine.
  • In Nigeria, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram intensified its systematic massacring of Nigerian citizens.
  • In New York City, police officers wanting more respect from the new mayor waged a childish campaign of disrespect against the mayor and against the people of New York.
  • In Washington, the latest jobs report showed more jobs being created but no gains in pay. That means the lower and middle classes continue to be dragged down by up-with-wealth political actions.

All this in a week’s time, all while Congress was pursuing a stale ideological agenda dating back to the 1930s. In that agenda, legislators would gut Social Security (take that, FDR), reward big oil with a new pipeline (thanks for the patronage, Koch brothers), chip away at Affordable Care (gotcha, Barack) and appease social conservatives.

They would treat the world as a simple place where government must shrink, people must suffer and the precious few must get richer.

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Online Ordinations Aren’t Just For Weddings Anymore

Online ordinations are a fast-growing business, a way for ordinary people to play priest-for-a-day at their friends’ and family’s weddings. But these ordinations are also a 21st-century way of reaching into the metaphysical world.

Mandi Brown said she was 9 years old when she started hearing voices, which she said were the voices of her deceased grandparents. But it wasn’t until Brown was about 18 that she said she fully understood her paranormal abilities.

Now 29 and living in West Greenwich, R.I., Brown tries to channel her abilities into helping others, starting as an energy healer. But she said it was difficult to get clients without some kind of official stamp of approval. In 2010, she turned to the Internet for help.

“Online ordination actually opened a lot of doors as far as doing any type of spiritual work, including energy healing,” Brown said.

Brown is ordained through Universal Life Church in Modesto, Calif., and Universal Life Church Monastery in Seattle, both nondenominational (but separate) Internet churches. Universal Life Church has ordained over 20 million people alone and is seeing a 10 percent to 15 percent increase a year. Both online outfits allow a variety of ordination titles, ranging from cardinal to pastor to wizard, freethinker and more.

Brown was ordained as a high priestess but considers herself a spiritual reverend. She has performed weddings, a funeral, spiritual counseling, house blessings, cleansings, banishings, and crossings. She is also trained in exorcism rites but has yet to perform one.  

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A Challenge to My White Brothers and Sisters — Acknowledge Your Defensiveness and Learn to Listen

Our tenth anniversary kicked off a season of unprecedented strife, most of which was circumstantial. My husband and I were homeschooling our three sons (all under the age of six), navigating multiple part-time jobs, and trying to manage my sudden health crisis. Both of us lacked sleep, energy, and patience. Prior to this time period, conflicts had not been an issue for us. We had them, processed them, forgave each other, and moved on. But a decade in, something shifted. And it wasn’t for the better.

In retrospect, we regressed to deeply embedded patterns from our families of origin. My northern European clan silently withdrew from one another and stoically pretended nothing was wrong. His Italian American household vocalized anger in operatic fashion. Tempers flared, voices cracked — and then someone made a joke and served dessert. That dynamic may have worked for them but when my husband applied it to our marriage, he unequivocally trumped me. Unable to match his emotional output, I resentfully deferred.

In the midst of one blowup, I made a tearful plea. When I’m angry, what if you listened rather than responded defensively? Based on his expression, this was indeed a new concept. As soon as he stopped matching my anger, the tenor, severity, and duration of our conflicts changed — this time for the better.

When he dialed down, he created a safe space for me to talk, which de-escalated my anger and validated my concerns. From his side of the equation, quieting his defensive tendencies allowed him to see that I was not imagining problems but rather responding to something real. When he was culpable — which was certainly not all the time — and offered me an apology, it calmed the raging sea and allowed us to address the actual issues rather than endlessly reacting toward one another.

This was not an easy or quick shift for us. I had to coach myself to speak up, present my side without blaming or accusing, and choose to trust him. He had to weather my tempest and face a degree of powerlessness. Fourteen years later, we’re still learning how to do this well.

I’m not a sociologist but I wonder if is this same dynamic contributing to the racial tension that we are now experiencing in the United States.

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Top 5 Resources for Community Dialogue on 'Selma'

Just as Selma opened in wide-release I began to receive requests for advice on how to lead churches and faith communities through discussions of the film. Years ago, I used to lead these kinds of dialogues in my capacity as the Greater Los Angeles director of racial reconciliation for a college-based parachurch ministry. Some of our most fruitful conversations came after we saw films like Selma or read a book together or had a common experience of racial injustice that we needed to process.

The film Selma is an incredibly helpful dialogue centerpiece at the moment. But like all things, other dialogue opportunities will rise and take center stage in the coming weeks and months. Other films will be released, helpful books will be published, and public events will provoke us to need to dialogue again. When those opportunities surface, I recommend using the format below as a template for similar dialogues moving forward. I’ve collected my Top 5 recommended resources to help guide your community dialogue on racial justice and Selma.

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Enjoy the Silence

Like many of my peers that weekend, I went into the retreat with some trepidation. Silence for 20 hours? What would we do? I had experienced long periods of informal silence during my 19 months of unemployment and had experienced the richness of God’s presence during that time. But that was different — I could escape the silence any time I went to a yoga class or turned on Spotify. Twenty hours of silence felt daunting.

Even more daunting? Twenty hours alone with just me and God. Sure, God had shown up and been with me during those long months of being alone, but this was different. Would I do it wrong? More importantly, what would happen? What would it be like to be alone with God without any distraction for that length of time?

Well, it felt like gazing into someone’s eyes for hours and hours and not having anything to pull you away. Which is exactly why, after that experience, I now actively seek out opportunities for silence.

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When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Are My People

Living in a different time zone, I was not able to watch the live coverage of the Golden Globes, but I turned to the next best thing: Twitter. It didn’t take long before the newsfeed sounded out a collective gasp from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Bill Cosby rape joke:

“Sleeping Beauty just thought she was getting coffee with Bill Cosby.”

Some may have thought the joke too offensive, that rape is too serious a subject to use as speech fodder, but I found it genius. Fey/Poehler called out the offense of a powerful man in his own arena, the world of entertainment where he gained his prestige, against the women he allegedly assaulted. They brought a buried injustice up to the surface, making the rich and glamorous squirm with discomfort — is that not the work of modern-day prophetesses? The fact that it came from two women who know first hand the misogyny in the male-dominated industry of comedy added another layer of irony and punch to the boundary-stretching joke. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, women who are smart, talented, and gutsy enough to call out injustice, make me proud to be a woman. They are my people.

This past weekend, I’ve been following another event: the annual Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. I take seriously my charge to find beauty in the margins. And whatever your stance is on the LGBT Christian debate, the fact that mainstream Christian media was conspicuously silent on covering the GCN conference is proof that within evangelicalism, gay Christians still live at the margins.

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Supreme Court Weighs a Church’s Right to Advertise Services

The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 considered a tiny church’s curbside sign in a case that could raise the bar on government regulation of speech, and make it easier for houses of worship to advertise their services.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents Pastor Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church, bills the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, as a religious rights case. But their attorney mostly argued it on free speech grounds.

“The town code discriminates on its face by treating certain signs differently based solely on what they said,” attorney David A. Cortman told the justices. “The treatment we’re seeking is merely equal treatment under the First Amendment.”

The town of Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, allows political signs to be much larger and permits them to stay up much longer, Cortman said.

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Nigerian Archbishop Calls for Unity Marches Following Boko Haram Massacres

Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama says his country needs a similar march to the one held in Paris on Jan. 11 to pay tribute to victims of Islamist militant attacks.

While 20 people were killed in the Paris rampage (including three terrorists), Boko Haram’s ongoing campaign of terror in Nigeria has left hundreds dead. Last week, as many as 2,000 were killed as Boko Haram militants took over the town of Baga in Borno state.

Kaigama said he wants the international community to show determination to stop the advance of militants, who are indiscriminately killing Christians and Muslims and bombing villages, towns, churches, and mosques.

“I hope even here a great demonstration of national unity will take place, to say no to the violence and find a solution to the problems plaguing Nigeria,” Kaigama told Fides, a Catholic news agency.

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Pope Francis to Moms: It’s OK to Breast-Feed in Public

While baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 11, Pope urged mothers to breast-feed their infants if they were hungry.

“Mothers, give your children milk — even now,” Francis said. “If they cry because they are hungry, breast-feed them, don’t worry.”

The pope departed from his prepared text, which included the phrase “give them milk,” and inserted the Italian term “allattateli,” which means “breast-feed them.”

The celebration took place to mark the day Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River.

Francis also asked the parents gathered to remember the poor mothers around the world.

“Let us thank the Lord for the gift of milk, and we pray for those mothers — there are so many, unfortunately — who are not able to give their children food to eat,” he said.

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