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”

Divine Strangers

Birmingham
Birmingham, Alabama 1963

By Tommy Airey, a sermon on Genesis 18:1-15. For Storydwelling, a local community of belonging, ritual and resistance in Central Oregon (June 14, 2020).

“Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.’”—Genesis 18:2-3

For some context: Abraham and Sarah are a very wealthy couple who cannot get pregnant. They try and try, year after year, decade after decade. Nothing. Late in life, God promises that they will have a child. Ten years pass. Still nothing—so Sarah gives Abraham her slave Hagar as a surrogate wife to bear their child. Hagar is Egyptian. She is a Black woman. When Hagar gets pregnant and gives birth to their son Ishmael, Sarah gets resentful and violently abuses her. This was the original version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Continue reading “Divine Strangers”

A Spiritual Pandemic

Lansing, April 30
Lansing, Michigan (April 30, 2020)

By Tommy Airey

*Note: I submitted this op-ed to The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Oregonian. None of them printed it. So I submit it to you.

The white Christians marching with their flags and firearms on state capitals and main streets make it clear: they have neither a care nor a clue about how COVID-19 is disproportionately killing non-white populations. While they protest, Black residents in Detroit shelter-in with water taps shut-off, Indigenous peoples attempt to contain outbreaks on reservations with limited access to health care and Immigrants around the country work the front-lines at unsafe meat processing plants mandated to stay open by an executive order. Unfortunately, the spectacle of the fascist few takes the focus off the rest of us white folk—the silent, enabling masses—also careless and clueless. The coronavirus may be novel, but the overwhelming disregard for Black and Brown life is not. Continue reading “A Spiritual Pandemic”

Love in the Time of Corona Virus

RudyBy Tommy Airey

“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”—Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)

In the rapidly shifting week between last Tuesday night when the NBA announced that rim-protector Rudy Gobert (right) tested positive for Covid-19 and Monday when the current occupier of the White House horrifically changed his language and started calling the pandemic “the Chinese Virus,” the contrast between free-market Capitalism and free-range Christianity was unpixilating in my soul. To clarify, most so-called “Christian” offerings are factory farmed, unquestionably committed to free-market fundamentalist policies—and the rugged individualistic postures they cultivate.

Continue reading “Love in the Time of Corona Virus”

Yet You Do Not Receive Our Testimony

MLKBy Tommy Airey, a seven-minute sermon at Storydwelling, a community of belonging, ritual and resistance in Bend, Oregon

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.”–John 3:11

Nicodemus, like most powerful men, knows how to conduct a covert operation. He was a Pharisee from Jerusalem with a lot to lose if others saw him associating with Jesus of Nazareth, the radical Galilean rabbi. Nicodemus’ night call would be like the President of the United States secretly meeting with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960’s, when Dr. King’s approval rating hovered around 25% in white America. Continue reading “Yet You Do Not Receive Our Testimony”

An Alternative Tour

51429161_10218004177755475_3993712457292972032_nBy Tommy Airey

“The time has come, God knows, for us to examine ourselves, but we can only do this if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here.”—James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name (1961)

“…and a little child shall lead them.”—Isaiah 11:6b

Warning: this essay contains graphic language that may be unsuitable for some adults.

On this date, exactly a year ago, Lindsay and I found ourselves on ancient Chumash land, now called “the central coast of California.” We took the shuttle up to Hearst Castle, the 40,000 acre “ranch” built for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and his wife, five sons and mistress. Early in the tour, our six-year-old nephew creatively resisted his boredom by making a game of how many nude statues he could find along the way. He was particularly fond of the penises, which made him giggle uncontrollably. Continue reading “An Alternative Tour”