Full Frontal Prophetic Nudity

Micah IconBy Tommy Airey

For this I will lament and wail;
I will go barefoot and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.

Micah 1:8

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.
Virginia Woolf

*This is the first in a series of seven pieces on Micah posted every Wednesday during Lent.
Like us, Micah was living during imperial catastrophe and, like us, the reasons for the destruction and dysfunction were contested. In this prophetic leaflet, what Dan Berrigan calls “a torrid, icy mix of threat and promise,” Micah does what prophets do: he comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable in pointed, specific ways. To reclaim a phrase from the Religious Right who hijacked it from Gandhi who resurrected it from Augustine: “He loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”

But first, Micah dares the ultimate in transparency: a combination of full-frontal nudity and full-fledged crying. As a person of deep faith and conscience, he connected misery to morality. Instead of blaming and shaming, controlling or escaping, Micah commits himself to rigorous personal inventory.

He starts where we Lenten people must always start on this Ash Wednesday: vulnerability, authenticity, congruency. He goes barefoot and naked: shedding everything that can be used to hide his own complicity with empire. He wants the world to see the way he counterfeits Life by coping with the inevitability of the human experience: pain, insecurity, fear and anxiety.

At the same time, Micah’s appearance serves to shock & awe a population into confession and repentance. Surely, exposing one’s genitals in public is not nearly as scandalous as resource hoarding and the exploitation of humans, animals and the Land (masked by the moniker of “trickle-down job creation”). This version of the American Dream has become a nightmare. Last month, Jim Perkinson spoke of a United States “whose rates of drug addiction, murder, incarceration, divorce, debt, weapons ownership, child abuse, depression, obesity, total crimes, defense spending and carbon-footprint lead the world and are matched only by the ubiquity of the chemical toxicity our bodies now carry.”

All of this calls for anger. But first: grief. Like wild animals, we follow Micah down the path of lamentation and mourning. We dare to become uninhibited. We weep for the victims of abuse, addiction and alienation. We cry, too, for the oppressors, caught in a continuous cycle of violence. But, at first, we shed tears for ourselves: for both our wounds and our complicity.

Before we radical disciples commit to living out a prophetic imagination, we are called to the biggest challenge of all: inner work. We all gotta get saved. We are powerless and out-of-control. We all have deeply dysfunctional patterns, learned early on to cope with depleted reserves of safety and love in our own family systems. These must named and countered so that they can be recycled into acts of love, grace and abundant sharing.

Today, I consider how I often cope with my feelings of loneliness and worthlessness by seeking approval (even fantasize) through my performance at work and in ministry. I admit that would rather post on social media to get “likes” than to prayerfully identify my own feelings of shame and my fear of failure. I am embarrassed that, at the end of a exhausting afternoon of socially awkward interactions, I would rather sip on an IPA and watch Kansas basketball highlights than practice the Ignatian examen with my wife. I sit in humble awareness that these 1st World issues juxtapose the daily terror and trauma of famine, war, disease and neo-liberal economic & political arrangements that most of the world’s population suffers through.

The courage required to strip down and cry flows from a deep trust in a God of compassion–uttered through Micah & incarnated in Jesus–who is determined to redeem the world with self-donating love. These kinds of experiments will require a village of co-conspirators who surround us, together daring the awkwardness of authenticity. Our communities of discontinuity are like emotional nudist colonies: we are all more willing to shed the layers around our heart when we watch others do it first.

2 thoughts on “Full Frontal Prophetic Nudity

  1. Tommy this is a really wonderful piece. It really drew me in (and not just because of the title). Thank you for these thoughts to sit with and the way you brought your own vulnerability to the piece. Run on!

  2. gene tebo

    Great article self reflection is sometimes difficult as it causes one to examine ones own assumptions im in the learning process.I know why bananas are 49 cents a pound,poor peasants pick them for next to nothing still I buy the bananas ,but not at walmart its certainly complicated.

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