interview

Thirsting for Democracy

Juergen Faelchle / Shutterstock
Juergen Faelchle / Shutterstock

How are a poisoned water supply in Flint and water shut-offs in Detroit connected? Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.net, talked with Detroit activists Monica Lewis-Patrick and Cecily McClellan to get the story behind the story.

LONG BEFORE water shut-offs and poisoning in Flint, democracy in much of Michigan had been hijacked. By the time a governor-appointed “emergency manager” was foisted on Detroit in spring 2013, every large black-majority city in Michigan—from Flint to Benton Harbor to Highland Park to Saginaw—had been appointed an EM, stripping all powers from elected leadership while possessing the authority to renegotiate or cancel union contracts, hire and fire government employees, and sell, lease, or privatize local assets.

Two years ago, about the same time that Flint’s EM transferred the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system to the highly toxic Flint River, Detroit’s EM ordered the city water and sewerage department to begin shutting off the water of all Detroiters who were two months or more behind on their water bills.

Today, in a city with 40 percent of its population surviving below the poverty line, Detroit water rates are twice the national average, and an estimated 100,000 residents, including many elderly folks and children, have had their water shut off by the city. The measures are forcing many longtime, low-income residents, the majority of them black, to leave the city.

Since 2008, the grassroots organization We the People of Detroit (WPD), led by five African-American women, has been creatively resisting emergency management—first of the school system and then the entire city—with a steady campaign of awareness-raising, canvassing, water delivery and advocacy for shut-off victims, and a comprehensive mapping project soon to be released.

Monica Lewis-Patrick is the charismatic, energetic point guard of the group, fueled by the Holy Ghost and her morning standard: a cup of coffee sweetened with four sugar packets. Lewis-Patrick, who’s a grandmother and the mother of two teenage daughters, lost her bid for city council two years ago by a few hundred votes. A few weeks later, she lost her only son to gun violence.

Cecily McClellan, the quiet, confident, all-business power forward of Team WPD, is a retired city employee and former vice-president of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees.

I spoke with them at WPD headquarters on the third floor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church—a stone’s throw from a downtown getting a corporate facelift financed by public bonds, subsidies, and tax abatements to draw companies in from the suburbs, while many residents struggle just to survive and keep their homes. —Tommy Airey

Tommy Airey: Let’s get this straight: Are you advocating for free water for low-income Detroiters?

Monica Lewis-Patrick: Free water has never been the ask. Personally, I’m not opposed to free water. I believe that water is a human right, and that everyone should have access to it. But the ask here in Detroit has always been for affordable water.

What are the mayor’s objections to an affordability plan in Detroit?
Lewis-Patrick: Over the last 11 months, water shut-offs have led to more foreclosures and pushing people out of the city. We believe [city officials] do not want to participate in a water-affordability plan because it would allow more people to stay in the city, especially in communities they want cleared out for future development.

Is this a conspiracy?
Lewis-Patrick: Conspiracy, in my mind, isn’t the appropriate term, because a lot of times people marginalize conspiracy as just somebody’s idea or accusation. What I would say is that it has been a collaborative, well-orchestrated system of evil. We know for a fact, through all the political analysis and economic research that has been done, that the city bankruptcy didn’t have to go down. People saw it as an opportunity to be able to divest from the water department, to weaken the water department intentionally.

Flint was actually advised by the governor and his emergency managers to come off of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department system and then to become a part of another water system called KWA [Karegnondi Water Authority]. Flint was the largest external customer of the Detroit water system. How is it that you are advising us to become financially solvent, while at the same time all your deeds are making us insolvent?

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Richard Rohr on White Privilege

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A few days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with Richard Rohr. Our conversation from the moment he picked me up from the airport, was energizing and thought provoking. Rohr's demeanor is very calming and without the fear of shaming or blaming, it's pretty easy to talk to about anything. We discussed the institutional church, poverty, self-care, the contemplative life, and many other issues. But one topic came up that I didn't anticipate, the issue of white privilege.

'Faith is Always Personal, But Never Private'

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Sojourners founder and president Jim Wallis appeared Nov. 7 on the Drew Marshall Show, a spiritual talk show that broadcasts on radio stations all over Canada. In the interview, Rev. Wallis discussed a range of topics from baseball and his love of coaching his sons, to Sojourners’ push for immigration reform, Pope Francis’ recent visit, and his upcoming book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.

Rev. Wallis also talked about his faith journey, from his experience at a revival as a child, to his leaving his home church to join the student movements in the 1960s and 1970s. He discussed the encounter with an elder in his church where an elder said that they had “nothing to do with racism. That’s political. Our faith is private.” 

This exchange, Wallis noted, is what led him to eventually leave his church, only to come back to his faith after reading in Matthew 25 about how followers of Christ should treat the “least of these,” and what leads him to say that “Faith is always personal, but never private.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Confronts the Roots of Violence

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Image via Blake-Ezra Photography / RNS

Religious zealots fill newspapers and screens with bloody images of bombings and beheadings. They kidnap children and make them into soldiers. They pray before they rape women.

But “not in God’s name,” says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, who just published a book by that title.

“The greatest threat to freedom in the post-modern world is radical, politicized religion,” Sacks writes. Religion News Service asked Sacks how people can kill in the name of God, and how religion can counter religious extremists.

Jim Wallis Discusses His New Book, 'America's Original Sin,' on NPR

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“When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, I felt - you might call it the lament of a white father. I knew and the whole country knew that my son Luke — six-foot-tall baseball athlete, going to college next year — had been walking and doing the same thing, same time that Trayvon was doing in Sanford, Fla., everyone knows he would've come back. But Trayvon didn't come back, and so it was a parable. Jesus talked about parables. They teach us things. Michael Brown — Ferguson — was a parable. Charleston was a parable. The parable about where we are as a nation — we have to see our original sin and how it still lingers in our criminal justice system.”

WATCH: New Interview Shows Stephen Colbert Talking Why He Loves Mass, When Humor Crosses the Line, and a Time Jesus Must Have LOL’d

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Stephen Colbert at the 65th Emmy Awards on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles. Photo via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

“I’m no particular exemplar of my faith,” says Stephen Colbert.

“I just happen to have affection for my church.”

Colbert’s latest interview with Toronto-based Catholic outlet Salt and Light is bursting at the seams with wisdom — and, of course, more than a few good laughs.

The new host of the Late Show sat down with Father Thomas Corsica for a 45-minute conversation, one which centered on the Catholic comedian’s reflections on faith and theology.

Pope Francis: 'Jesus Was Popular and Look How That Turned Out'

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In two wide-ranging new interviews, the pontiff discusses matters both weighty and personal, such as: the perils of his popularity, his plans to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics, and his fear that the church has locked Jesus up like a prisoner.

Speaking Sept. 13 to the Argentine radio station, FM Milenium, Francis lamented those who posed as his friends to exploit him, and decried religious fundamentalism.

And speaking to Portugal’s Radio Renascença in an interview that ran on Sept. 14, Francis said that a priest comes to hear his confession every 15 to 20 days: “And I never had to call an ambulance to take him back in shock over my sins!”

'This Was Terror' — What I Saw on Sept. 11

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My friends and colleagues are generally aware that before I began working at Sojourners, I was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for six and a half years. What most of them do not know, however, is that I interviewed for that job — a five-minute drive from the Pentagon — on September 11, 2001.

Early that morning, I decided to take the Metro rather than drive to the USPTO’s offices in Crystal City, Va. I reasoned that if I got the job, I would want to get some idea about my future daily commute. This would prove to be a fortunate decision later on.

Even before the end of my trip to Crystal City, I had already heard news of the first World Trade Center tower being hit. When I arrived at the office, I hoped the interviewer would remember me after our conversation. He did — but considering the significance of all that happened that day, my concerns about employment now seem minuscule in hindsight.

Pope Francis: ‘All I Want Is to Go Out for a Pizza!’

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS
Pope Francis appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City. Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

The “Pope of the Interview” strikes again: Pope Francis has given a lengthy — and fascinating — interview to a Mexican television station, which broadcast it on March 13 to mark the second anniversary of his election.

Speaking to the program “Noticieros Televisa,” Francis displays his usual candor, dishing details about the secret conclave that elected him, talking about how he senses his papacy will be short, how the church must get tough on sexual abuse, and how all he really wants “is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

Here are some of the highlights based on Vatican Radio’s English translation and the original Spanish:

On whether he likes being pope:

“I do not mind!”

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