The Prophetic In The Face of Plunder

Micah IconBy Tommy Airey

Alas for those who devise wickedness
and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
people and their inheritance.

Micah 2:1-2

*This is the second installment in a series of seven pieces on Micah posted every Wednesday during Lent.
—————–
This week, Micah takes us from the personal to the political. I write from a church office with a cold, crisp view of downtown Detroit. Just on the other side of the skyscrapers, a man worth $100 million lives in a 14,500 square-foot mansion. He is buying cheap land from the city to plant a tree farm. He is hailed as a job creator and a blight reducer. But there’s more to the story: banks, land developers and young middle-class white folks coming in from the suburbs are targeting certain (poor, black) neighbors through city-imposed tax foreclosure & water shut-offs. These powers (including the multimillionaire tree farmer) are not innocent bystanders. Their intentions inevitably create unintended consequences. They prosper off the misery of poor people.
Continue reading “The Prophetic In The Face of Plunder”

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.”
Continue reading “Full Frontal Prophetic Nudity”

Prayer

ripple_effectby tommy airey

Prayer from the heart can achieve what nothing else can in the world.
Gandhi

We do not want to be beginners [at prayer], but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!
Merton
…………………..
Prayer is a pilgrimage into the deepest recesses of our being. It is being attentive to God’s active presence both with us and within us. The 15th century Indian contemplative Kabir wrote that “God is the breath inside the breath.” The Apostle Paul quoted the philosopher Epimenides as he sermonized the Athenians: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” God is that energy and power and inspiration that we draw upon to live and thrive. Continue reading “Prayer”

9 Advent Practices For Radical Disciples

Rise-770x1011by tommy airey

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (1978)

Radical discipleship in North America entails much. A life devoted to spirituality, social analysis, simple living & suffering service can overwhelm us, leaving us with the same symptoms of the systems we are struggling against: addiction, alienation and anxiety. This final week of Advent season creates intentional space & time for us to reconsider and repent, alerting us to times we find ourselves sleepwalking an imperial trance. Here are 9 commitments that we can hold up to the light through Epiphany.
——————- Continue reading “9 Advent Practices For Radical Disciples”

The End is Here

by tom airey, co-editor, radicaldiscipleship.net
—————————–
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…
Romans 8:21

Hope, for radical disciples, is intimately related to both our identity and vocaton as “children of God:” those committed to the Way of Brother Jesus, who taught and lived out a dangerous style of love, forgiveness, peace, inclusivity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. We join a determined God in giving birth to a whole new world. This will take sacrifice and suffering.

Continue reading “The End is Here”

Let It Roll Down

By Tom Airey, Editor, RadicalDiscipleship.Net

The 1st of a two-day report from Detroit.
———————
Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand. It is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.
Wendell Berry

A couple of weeks ago, less than 48 hours from the time we moved in to Southwest Detroit, my wife and I visited the water payment station on the west side. When we arrived, about a hundred people (every single one of them African-American!) were lined up to make payments or inquire about a payment plan. Continue reading “Let It Roll Down”

Proceeding From The Heart

A written homily on this weekend’s lectionary Gospel passage (Matthew 15:10-28) by Tom Airey.
—————————————

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers From Prison (70 years ago)

Religion gets messy and confusing when we become obsessed with our status before a judging Creator. Are there certain hoops we must jump through in order to be pure, clean & righteous? Is God pissed at us all until we perform the proper transaction, whether prayer or pilgrimage or penance? 500 years of Protestant faith has twisted this concept into even more confusion. We are “justified by faith alone,” the Reformers taught the world back in the 16th century and beyond. “Don’t try to work your way to Heaven,” my Evangelical teachers and pastors taught me during the last couple decades of the 20th century. It’s all about receiving grace, they kept assuring me.

But grace is cheap when it is simply flashed as a badge to meet requirements to be in the Presence of the Divine. Instead of the classic Protestant battle pitting “faith” versus “works,” in this Gospel episode Jesus schleps away any focus on outwardly ritualistic purity & cleanliness for a mission-oriented commitment to what “proceeds from the heart,” a lifestyle void of evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. Twice in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea’s exhortation to “mercy” & an intimacy with God instead of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, classic attempts to curry favor with God over the generations.

Jesus’ focus on the heart was not an altar-call of pietistic regime-change, an invitation to make Jesus the personal Lord & Savior of our hearts. Instead, with the help of God’s strength, energy & wisdom, he was calling disciples to pledge allegiance to the hard work of getting to the root of our sin. This will take a mixture of mindfulness meditation & meetings, not miracles & magic. Prayer & daily surrender are important, but transformation doesn’t just happen. Jesus didn’t want to just forgive the symptoms. He yearned for a complete overhaul of the systems…To keep reading, go here.

Something

Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.
Thomas Merton

Over the past decade, I’ve come to believe three basic things about Life. First, there is Something in the universe far bigger than the sum of its parts. This Reality, this Transcendence, sustains us and guides us in ways more mysterious than anything we can fathom. This Divine impulse breathes through everything, even in the darkest and most painful moments of our lives. It consistently reminds us that we are not alone. That everything that exists is uniquely & strategically created and beloved. Even though, at times, we do not recognize the whisper of God, it is always there. All too often, we are distracted or in denial or just dealing with the intensity of our woundedness in all sorts of counterfeit ways. When we move from intuition towards intentionality, we can pursue a deeper connection with hope, grace and love. When we do this, Something happens to us.

Second, when we do this, Something happens through us, too. This Something beckons us to a life of serving others. We can feel it deep within us. Our best times are not in convenience & comfort, but instead when our hearts are softened and compassion fills us up. We sacrifice and suffer for the sake of others and it brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives. Narcissism, apathy and indifference all vanish. At least for a little while. This will take determined & disciplined inner work. Only a rigorous personal inventory can identify the pain that spirals out of control and holds us back from really seeing others for who they are: human beings who are hurrying and hobbling through life. Just like us.

Lastly, this Something prods us to move beyond caring for individuals & families towards a more systematic engagement with suffering humanity. When we are in solidarity with poor, oppressed, marginalized and abused people, we start asking questions: why is this happening? When we do this hard work of social analysis, we form a critical consciousness. We come to a realization that there is more to life than just me and my little world. We pop our suburban bubble. We recognize that there are crises everywhere. This sparks us to work for change. It leads us into the uncomfortable, awkward, highly emotional realm of politics & economics. Social Justice. It also demands that we expose the ways that organized, institutional religion continues to support and sustain systems of injustice.

These three chords can’t stand alone. They weave themselves into a holistic spirituality that connects the dots to everything. In our current global situation, consumer capitalism has become an omnipotent force, affecting everyone and everything. The specific policies that stem from free-market fundamentalism have widened the income inequality gap, accelerated the climate crisis and have triggered a torrential downpour of anxiety, alienation & addiction.

Masses of people living in the global north, mistakenly, seek salvation through (over)consumption, stifling the ability to experience Something deeper in the universe. Our attention deficit is frenzied and chaotic. It is difficult to stop, notice, breathe, play & pray. There are choices. Everywhere.

The goods we cherish come from corporations who exploit labor all over the globe. Our phones are produced by people working long hours for $1-2 per hour. Our off-season tomatoes are picked by poorly-paid & maltreated workers rounded up all over Sinaloa, Mexico, living in decrepit conditions. This state of affairs demands our willingness to consistently and creatively love our neighbors, both foreign & domestic. We are implicated in our economic choices, our election votes, our campaign contributions, our public stances…and our silence.

Unconstrained capitalism necessitates poverty and massive resource extraction from Land all over the planet. As long as middle class and wealthy people in the global north demand affordable lattes and luggage, the landscape of the Earth will be altered & abused. As Gandhi prophetically proclaimed: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Only a sustainable and simple lifestyle can support the world’s population. This Something challenges us to live out the Manna mentality, to live gratefully for the daily bread on our plates. But it also means that we must be the ones who change the rules of the Game on behalf of the very least of these. Because the rules have changed before. And they can be changed again. And Something wants us to do it.

Loving God, loving our neighbors (and enemies) & working for the redemption of the world (“on earth as it is in heaven”) become the three-fold path of a non self-indulgent spirituality that is deeply committed to serving the less privileged in the world, and advocating for those most heavily targeted by our destructive lifestyles and exploitive imaginations. We look to Jesus (the human form of Something) as inspiration for contemplation & compassion, but also for a creative & consistent confrontation with the social, political & economic systems that order society & oppress those who are shut in, locked down and cast out.

This is what it means to be faithful today. This is what it means to be human.

The Future of Church

great-despression-the-american-way
From Tom Airey at Easy Yolk:
————————————-
It is incumbent on the community of faith to discern and name the crisis and to distinguish, as clearly as it possibly can, between truth and error, even between life and death.
Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Seasons of Faith & Conscience: Kairos, Confession, Liturgy (1991)

Much has been made about the declining church participation of the Millennial Generation. Scientific surveys, studies and solutions have all been offered to bring them back to the fold. The real question, however, for people of faith & conscience committed to the struggle for church renewal & fundamental social change, is not why they have supposedly left or even how we can get them to come back. Our time, energy & resources should be focused on how we ought to live to be a faithful and compelling witness to what is Real & Transcendent. To what Dr. King called “the Beloved Community” and what Jesus called “the Heavenly Reign.”

I write as a longtime follower of Jesus (this year, I celebrate my 30-year anniversary of commitment to “the Way”) and, particularly, one who, at middle-age, had grown jaded with the conservative Evangelicalism of my youth. I have wrestled with Christian faith–through prayer, passionate dialogue, reading, writing & formal seminary education–and come out the other side to embrace an Anabaptist faith that daringly offers the nonviolent cross instead of the patriotic flag, the identity & vocation of church community instead of ingrained ethnic heritage & family patterns and discipleship to Jesus’ teaching instead of the American dream of upward mobility.

What initially compelled me and converted me to the 500-year Anabaptist Christian tradition was its historic focus on living out the way of Jesus simply & sacrificially, no matter what the price. The Anabaptists have existentially known the social & political tension of what Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder described as “doing ordinary things differently.” Ultimately, the price of social non-conformity has been death, imprisonment, social rejection & scapegoating. This task continues to be the challenge of a church’s “relevancy” during the coming-of-age of the Millennial Generation.

The definitive series of crises and catastrophes that we must name, engage and confront faithfully is best summarized, I believe, consistently in the writings of African-American literary giant bell hooks: imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. This global Situation has largely been justified & supported by 1st World Christian churches who have focused on a spiritualized & futurized faith located in the heart and lived out in performance-driven, spectatorship models of church ministry divorced from socio-political realities. It has, by and large, become Dr. King’s nightmare:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Millennials are, quite frankly, just as apathetic, cynical, indifferent & distracted as every other generation and privileged upwardly mobile (sub)urban (mostly)white young people will continue to follow the same cycle as their parents and grandparents, joining respectable, “Bible-believing,” infotainment-oriented churches that do not confront the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that ruthlessly defines our context. We not only owe it to the next generation of Jesus followers, we owe it to our-Gen-X-and-Baby-Boomer-selves to live out a faith that disturbs & disrupts a status quo which continues to be a meager existence for multitudes.

Sure, we can tweet and text and use other kinds of technology to communicate the radical message of Jesus to a younger audience. We can also fully affirm the God-given dignity of gays and lesbians who worship & serve in our communities. Additionally, we can emphasize the vital need for transparency, therapy & 12-step style meetings to heal from our dysfunctional family systems and the counterfeit coping mechanisms that we’ve been patterned into. After all, Millennials are crying out for authenticity and stability from their elders. But our focus must be cosmic, not cosmetic. Systematic, not symptomatic.

A decade ago, my Fuller Seminary professor Nancey Murphy outlined an Anabaptist faith that was uniquely positioned to transcend the will-to-power that Nietzsche exposed as deeply interwoven into the human condition. Murphy highlighted four Anabaptist distinctives: separation-of-church-and-state, nonviolence, revolutionary subordination & simple living. Following Murphy, I propose that Anabaptist communities all over North America (re)commit to these distinctives specifically, as both constructive and confrontational practices that overtly engage with the ongoing catastrophe of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

We Anabaptists have an opportunity to be both prophetic & pastoral to the Millennial generation. And the fact is that the economic Game simply isn’t working for the next generation. Skyrocketing student debt, outsourced jobs, intensifying income inequality & the industrialized effects of climate change will plague the youngest among us the most. But this crisis is an opportunity for Millennials to be saved from the American default narrative of upward mobility via the market & the military. The hope is that, if Millennials can’t win, then they will divert and subvert “conventional wisdom” and become saved and healed in their commitment to sustainable convictions and practices.

Christian churches (whether Anabaptist, Reformed, Evangelical or Catholic) that directly confront the disaster of American imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy with creative & constructive laboratories of separation-of-church-and-state, nonviolence, revolutionary subordination & simple living will not be large & culturally powerful. They will, however, be islands of refuge in a sea of Empire. They will be holdouts of hope, continuing to participate with what the very best of the Anabaptist Christian tradition has consistently practiced.

The Anabaptist distinctives will expose the myth of a Christian nation, emphasizing a radical discipleship movement that is voluntary & challenging, always placing value on the freedom to obey God without state help or hindrance (separation-of-church-and-state). It will seek truth through dialogue, opening the floor to all voices. Peace will be a series of processes and practices, dedicated to the dignity of everyone (nonviolence). It will participate with all people of faith and conscience in imaginative experiments of social justice (revolutionary subordination). Lastly, participants in this movement will have no need to defend our economic privilege, placing us into a legitimate position to actively advocate for policies that benefit our neighbors, foreign and domestic (simple living).

People of fervent faith and critical consciousness hold out hope that the intentionality of radical discipleship communities will intersect with the intuition of the Millennial generation. In the coming decade, the youthful and energetic will come to know, more and more, that indifference or ignorance or cynicism towards the crisis of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy is unsustainable, destructive, unloving & unChristian. No doubt, this work will be challenging. But there are model faith communities dotted all over North America that have been heavenly laboratories experimenting in hellish circumstances for decades. Let’s follow their lead and do this together.