A Modest Proposal for Radical Disciples: Swearing Off

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Photo: Michael Smith

By Tommy Airey

Many of us have been unpleasantly awakened to the fact that “national politics” does matter, as Princeton’s Jeffrey Stout concisely articulated in Blessed Are The Organized (2010), his aptly-titled Obama-era book on grassroots democracy:

Presidents, federal legislators, judges, bureaucrats, Wall Street bankers, insurance executives, media moguls and generals are making decisions every day that have a massive impact on our lives.

A couple of weeks ago, our flight to snow-driven Portland diverted, Lindsay and I found ourselves laid over and out for two nights in Seattle. There we were, deliriously sharing a falafel burger at a hotel bar with Fox News on surround sound. After compulsory knee-jerk lamentations, we grounded ourselves in the reality of the next four years of banality. We acknowledged the tension, though, of committing ourselves to “knowing what’s going on in the world” with being bombarded with a plethora of despairing headlines and sound-bites, news spin a no-win situation. What now with the need to protect ourselves emotionally and spiritually more important than ever?

We started brainstorming: Could we experiment with “communitizing” our news in the Trump era?  A once-a-week gathering during happy hour, a member of our community researching and presenting a 15-30 report on what happened that week nationally/internationally, with a particular focus on the Administration, followed by a Q and A and group dialogue (almost like a lectio divina), an intimate sharing of what shimmered—how we might individually and communally repent and resist. Closing with intentions and intercessions takes it out of our heads and keeps it real, transporting us from information to transformation territory.

This kind of communal practice would free us, the remainder of the week, from the soap opera of Trump tweets and various gossip deets, obsessions and speculations that drain us of time and energy. We can focus, instead, on the primaries of our discipleship: practicing spiritual disciplines, raising children, strengthening our relationships, organizing and strategizing in our watersheds and pouring ourselves into inner work, Scripture study, deeper intersectional social analysis, sabbath economic household practices, etc.  We can commit to “swearing off” (right after his swearing in) the infotainment news cycle and the rather dramatic (white) liberal tendency to be hysterically consumed with everything Trump says, does and is about to do. We are mysteriously drawn to the horror. We are afraid to be out of the loop. We can lay these aside and covenant with the research, creativity and wisdom of our community (not to mention all the in-person nurture and support we are all longing for in this social media dispensation).

Our fundamentalist Christian upbringings infused in Lindsay and I an all-or-nothing mentality that either devours “political news” from a variety of outlets or just wants to tune it all out. We pivot back and forth from grandiosity to despair, from hyper-vigilant news clicks to burying our head in the sand.  I wish we were alone in this, but I’m afraid we’re not. I see the daily flood of emotion on my home feed. The rage and deep sadness are important and necessary, but not when they de-center us, sweeping us away from our very selves. We lose contact with intimacy. The whole thing becomes a spectacle that tears us from our radical commitments, from our “roots:” doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

We are aiming for what Stout calls “a politics of just anger:”

to restore the spirit of democracy to democratic culture, a spirit disposed to become angry at the right things in the right way and use this passion to motivate the level of political involvement essential to striving for significant social change.  

I shared my news concerns with our mentor and boss Ched Myers. One of the things he responded with was “You know the rudiments of what’s going on; most of the rest is detail.” Our movement elders, indeed, have learned this political wisdom over the decades working to intersect the seminary, the sanctuary, the street and the soil. They’ve seen the cycles of history recycle over and over. Same shit, different pile. Only a beloved community can compost what’s coming. We need the elders to teach us this delicately spiritual task of social analysis: the cultivated discernment to know when to be patient, when to be urgent, when to sit and nod silently, when to freak-the-fuck out. We need weekly teach-ins so we can drink in what’s really going on. Two hours a week with beloved community and then carry on with the work we are called to do.

3 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal for Radical Disciples: Swearing Off

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