March Madness and the Other America

By Tommy Airey

March Madness is back. The men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments caught the coronavirus last season right when my Kansas Jayhawks were ranked number one. That was before police murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, before the NBA bubble almost burst after police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. This year, I couldn’t bring myself to fill out a bracket, but I have watched a lot of basketball. This year, more than ever, I have embraced the tension between sports and social analysis—a glorious tension released by a sabbath-jubilee Spirit soaked in a trifecta of Hebrew words: hesed (steadfast love), mispat (justice) and sedekah (faithfulness to the most vulnerable). My wife-partner Lindsay, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that my devotion to the game is not about escaping the real world, but integrating it.  

This year, my mind is penetrating past Magic Johnson and pivoting towards Lyndon Baines Johnson, the last Democratic Presidential candidate to get a majority of the white vote. In 1967, in the wake of anti-racist uprisings in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Newark, LBJ commissioned a congressional investigation. He wanted to know what happened, why it happened and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. The so-called Kerner Commission released its findings seven months later, on the last day of February 1968. The scary thing is that the results of the investigation are still ruthlessly relevant today: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.

Continue reading “March Madness and the Other America”

Common Sense

By Tommy Airey

*Trigger warning: this post includes content, straight out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth, that some readers may find offensive and/or traumatizing.  

“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord,
but rather in his conversion, that he may live.”—Ezekiel 33:11

Rush Limbaugh died last week. When I heard the news, it took me back thirty years. During the Fall of my senior year in high school, I went on a weekend road trip from Orange County to Berkeley to surprise one of my best friends at college. I drove up with his dad. We parked a block from the hippies and unhoused on Telegraph Avenue. When my friend came down from his dorm room, I was hiding in the trunk of the car. His dad handed him the keys to open the trunk. I scared the living tar out of him.

I will never forget the look on his face.

I will also never forget stopping at In-n-Out Burger three times during our drive up.

And I will never forget listening to Rush Limbaugh for three straight hours through the most boring stretch of the 5, plowing past towns like Buttonwillow, Lost Hills and Los Banos. Spanish for “the bathrooms.” Plural and Providential. What we needed for all that bullshit blaring through the speakers.

Continue reading “Common Sense”

A Cadence

By Tommy Airey

It is significant that the federal holiday that honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated in January. On his birthday. Not in April when he was murdered. It is also significant that this year, Easter Sunday is penciled in for April 4, the anniversary of King’s assassination. Spirit is seconding the motions, putting our resurrection theology to the test. So that we might bear witness to Dr. King’s ongoing life and breath in America. King, like Jesus, was killed by empire—and, like Jesus, King is still with us. Not as a symbol or token, but in spirit and truth. Like Jesus, he lives forever to intercede for us.

Last month, I was texting with Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones about resurrection. He got me contemplating how the death of Jesus does an awful lot of theological digging for me, especially in the wake of so much senseless dying. However, resurrection has the power to break the seal of empire with subversive energy. The empty tomb opens up a kind of wonder. I’m not referring to a resurrection that just moves on by holding our loved ones in our hearts because they are in heaven. I am awakening to a brand of resurrection where the dead transition to a new realm in our midst, where we can renew our relationship, where we listen for an ancestral cadence calling us beyond the grave to re-connect with them in a redemptive dance on earth as it is in heaven.

Continue reading “A Cadence”

A Conspiracy

By Tommy Airey

PC: Nijalon Dunn

During this final fortnight of 2020, my mind has been meandering back to Memorial Day and the short life of George Floyd. He and I were born forty days apart, five years after Martin King was murdered. We came up in a split screen society where two totally different games with totally different rules were being played at the totally same time. King called it “the two Americas.” While I was basking in the sunlight of opportunity, George Floyd’s America had a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. While I was coddled, George Floyd was criminalized.

Believe it or not, George Floyd and I both played college basketball. He was a 6’7” power forward from Houston. I was short, white and, as one former coach said, slower than shit rolling uphill. He crashed the boards. I hit the threes. After college, we both came back home. While George Floyd was posting up in the projects of Houston’s Third Ward where unemployment was four times the city’s average, I was in the Southern California suburbs saving up my full salary for a couple years while living rent-free with free meals in the home my parents bought in 1970 for $35,000. Mom still stays there and could sell it for thirty times the amount she bought it for.

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This is Repentance

By Tommy Airey

I believe that a higher Power sews everything into a fabric of belovedness. As a result, we belong to everyone else. I also believe that it was this divine love and belonging that beckoned Jesus to break rank from well-worn supremacy ideologies that use race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status or national citizenship as a litmus test for greatness. Jesus knew that supremacy destroys belovedness and belongingness—and that supremacy can only be broken when people break rank together. He called this transformative process “repentance.”

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Hope Vibrates Too

By Tommy Airey

Lawrence, Kansas

Note: In the lead-up to the election, RD.net is prodding leaders to submit creative and concise pieces (500 words or less) on both hope and resistance.

“Hope rises, She always does, did we fail to notice this in all the stories they’ve tried to suppress?”—Alice Walker

With only 29 days left ‘til the election, truth, beauty and goodness are being crucified in press conferences, social media posts and prayer meetings. I must confess: I’m struggling to rein in my resentment. However, I am actively resisting by seizing the hope set before us.

I find hope hiding under tents on my trips to the farmer’s market. Especially when there’s arugula.

Hope tarries during my trail runs on the banks of Towarnehiooks—as the scent of hops from the Deschutes Brewery wafts in the wind.

Continue reading “Hope Vibrates Too”

The Poor Among You

Poor Peoples CampaignBy Tommy Airey

Over the decades, I’ve consistently heard conservative pastors quote their Lord and Savior to dismiss policies and provisions that attempt to systematically help low-income residents. You’ll always have the poor among you (Mark 14:3-9). “See,” they say, referencing the Scripture, “Jesus, is telling us it’s a waste of time to try to alleviate poverty. He promises that the poor will always be with us no matter what we try to do.”

In this episode, Jesus is actually quoting Deuteronomy 15, one of the most crucial junctures in the history of Israel. God is preparing the former slaves of Egypt to live in a new kind of way in the Promised Land. As the old African-American proverb illuminates, it is easier to get the enslaved out of Egypt than it is to get Egypt out of the enslaved. The exodus wilderness was a school, a 12-step-program for recovery from the colonial script. Continue reading “The Poor Among You”

Casting Out Whiteness

George Houser
Bayard Rustin started the original Freedom Riders with George Houser, a white boy who broke rank back in the early 1940’s.

By Tommy Airey

Note: this piece has been edited after it was originally posted. 

“At stake is not just a new cognitive awareness and objectivity about the situation of race, but a new passionate posture and subjectivity founded on a new spiritual interiority.”—James W. Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (2004)

A year ago, Ruby Sales invited white men to email her if they were interested in convening a conversation about breaking rank from what James Baldwin called “a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre.” We organized a gathering that she called “The Council on the Way.” I joined her and 22 other white men from New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, California and Oregon for a spiritual conversation centered on a redemptive white male liberation theology. We gathered on Capitol Hill, a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court. We hoped it would be a mustard seed for a movement breaking rank from white male mediocrity. Continue reading “Casting Out Whiteness”

Book Review: The Cross and the Lynching Trees

Book-Review-The-Cross-and-the-Lynching-Tree_800_808_90
Petra Zantingh, “Hospitality Tree (Zechariah 3:10),” 2018, water based media on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches, Private collection.

By Tommy Airey, This article first appeared in Geez magazine, Summer 2020, Geez 57: CO₂conspirators: Communing with Trees.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously clarified that a law cannot make a man love him, but it can keep a man from lynching him.

King knew that it would take both a change of heart and a change of policy to create a world no longer built on what he called “the giant triplets of evil”: racism, materialism, and militarism. White Christians have long obsessed over the heart. One major theological underpinning of this trend is an abstract, sentimental interpretation of the death of Jesus that sidesteps the giant triplets by spiritualizing and futurizing salvation. While Black folks are catching hell on earth, white Christians counterfeit the cross by turning it into a VIP pass to heaven. Continue reading “Book Review: The Cross and the Lynching Trees”

When They Call You a Terrorist

When They Call YouBy Tommy Airey

Re-posted from June 2018.

In our hyper-connected world, a buffet of spiritual practices abound. One immediately thinks of meditation, contemplative ecology, yoga, fasting, sabbath, jubilee, self-reflective bible study, liturgical direct action, poetry, therapy, 12-step recovery, mutual edification and confession. Now is a better time than ever for the somewhat privileged people of faith and conscience among us to fast-pass the practice of attentive listening to the front of the line. After all, Spirit moves when the marginalized and muted are given voice—those who are Women, who are Black and Brown, who are Queer, who hail from Somewhere Else. Continue reading “When They Call You a Terrorist”