By Tommy Airey (right: posting up with the nephews)
*This is part of a series of pieces from contributors all over North America each answering the question, “How would you define radical discipleship?” We will be posting responses regularly on Mondays during 2019.
In the wilderness journey of deconstructing the white suburban fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity of my adolescence, I am reclaiming a Christian faith of expansive hospitality and prodigal vulnerability. My foot race to the empty tomb has been spurred on by conversation partners who are non-white, non-male, non-hetero and more-than-human. The binary bombs are bursting in air! I am intentionally taking my cues from Black and Indigenous and Immigrant freedom struggles. This marks the trailhead for my journey of radical discipleship to a divinity defined by Steadfast Love.
I am the blind man who required two healings. For twenty years, my spiritual sight was blurred by dualistic Evangelical categories. Through a series of events sparked by undocumented students and queer and questioning friends and liberation theologians, I followed Jesus right out of fundamentalism. This new path led me down by the riverside, outside the four walls of the church, among the trees, where the harmony of Indigenous ways blended with a crucified divinity defined by the Steadfast Love of a soul-tending Samaritan. I didn’t throw out the bible with the bathwater. I started reading with new lenses. As my perspective expanded, my eyes became fixated on a faith (Greek pistis) dedicated to a radical revolution of values. Faith pledges allegiance to people over profit motives and property rights. Faith actively disobeys conventional wisdom built on exploitation and extraction.
This holy defiance came about after I was confronted by that old triggering word repentance (Greek metanoia). Back in the age of hairy prophets, repentance was recruiting language. It was an invitation to “change sides” in a real life struggle. In every age, there is a high society where elites exploit and extract their way to power and status. Just enough of us benefit just enough from the status quo. We guard it with our silence. Meanwhile, millions suffer. In this state of affairs, Neutrality and Moderation put on dunce caps and go sit in the corner. Repentance called me to connect the dots and tell the truth. To switch sides and be in solidarity with the exploited and extracted—those Jesus called “the least of these.” Unlike charity, solidarity is radical, digging to the roots of oppression and injustice. Truth and justice for all never trickles down. It bubbles up.
So I joined the revolution of downward mobility led by a divinity who prefers the cross to the crown. There’s simply no discipleship of descent without discipline. I’ve discovered a form of prayer that is not just talking to. It is being with. I empty my mind and fill up my heart. I soak in the ancient text, mired as it is in mystery and diversity. Steadfast Love rises to the surface, instilling critical humility and ruthless compassion with every reading. My marriage covenant with Lindsay—in both collaboration and conflict—has been transformative. I also seek spaces led by those well-attuned to suffering. I listen and follow. I attend twelve-step meetings. I learn to accept the things I cannot change. I learn to change the things I can. I’m slowly learning to know the difference between the two. But here’s the rub: all I can do is my small part and then trust that Steadfast Love, working through the interrelated structure of reality, is doing the heavy lifting of collective liberation.
I walked away from Evangelicalism, but behold, I couldn’t leave the evangelism (Greek euangelion) behind. There is good news. We have cosmic companionship! Nothing can separate us from the Power of Steadfast Love. The even better news is that this Power is made perfect in our weakness. Revolution is fueled by composting our fuck ups? Holy shit. Purity and perfection are not required. Not even desired. We are simply commissioned to come out of hiding and embrace humility, confession, grace, mercy and forgiveness. And then embody this prodigal vulnerability everywhere we go. Authentic conversion is sparked by attraction, not promotion.
In this bias-confirming age of algorithms and silos, radical discipleship holds up a mirror custom made for scribes and Pharisees. The older brother stares back at me simmering in self-congratulatory sighs. He always catches me by surprise. The inconvenient and incarnate truth is that Steadfast Love is still a friend of tax collectors and sinners and exploiters and extractors and old white dudes ditching anger management classes to watch Sean Hannity. So I stay in my lane and trust that Steadfast Love has a strategy to deal with Her friends. I drop the stones. I pull the log out of my own eye. And I pick up the cross. Without these daily movements, there is no wilderness journey called radical discipleship. So far, this easy yoke of expansive hospitality and prodigal vulnerability is the only way that I’ve found rest for my weary and burdened soul.
Tommy Airey was born and raised on stolen, unceded Acjachemen territory (“Orange County, California”), was transformed by the thin place the Ojibwe, Huron and Odawa call Wawiiatanong (“Detroit River”) and has entered the sacred “hidden waters” the Molalla and Paiute named Towarnehiooks (“Deschutes River, Oregon”). He and his wife-partner Lindsay work for Kardia Kaiomenē, a community-supported non-profit, partnering with families and faith communities to equip and accompany all those whose hearts burn for intimacy, community and justice. He is the co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.Net and author of the recently released Descending Like a Dove: Adventures in Decolonizing Evangelical Christianity (2018).