When the Landowner is not God

day laborerBy Tommy Airey, adapted from a sermon on Matthew 10:1-16

Most interpretations of Jesus’ “parable of the landowner” equate the vineyard owner with God and the workers with God’s People or humanity at large.  God is seen as “generous” and “equitable” with the people and expands the population of those who, by grace, are ushered through the heavenly gates.   The grumbling worker at the end of the story is representative of Israel at large or the Pharisees, chief priests and other Jewish leaders who confronted Jesus during his life and ministry—the lesson being that we should all be thankful for God’s equal treatment and unconditional generosity and kindness.

Infused by the scholarship of William Herzog and his former student Ched Myers, there is a more compelling and contextual interpretation of Matthew 20 flowing out of the “minority report” of the radical discipleship movement.  Fortunately, nothing in the parable forces us to assume that the vineyard owner in the parable is God!  Instead, like a political cartoon, the parable is an exaggerated representation of what life was actually like during the time of Jesus and in the culture of the very first hearers of the parable five decades later. Instead of offering us heavenly principles that permit us to rest easy, the parable functions as a jarring illustration that prods us to face reality. Continue reading

Adventures on the Elliptical, Part I: Where’s the Beef?

Abundant Table

Walking the Stations of the Cross at the Abundant Table Food Project in Oxnard, CA.

By Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.net

*This post kicks-off a new series on Wednesdays exploring the movement of Spirit during mealtime.  

Give us meat for our food.
Numbers 11:13

Sometimes I sneak inside the local gym here in Ypsilanti and spend thirty minutes on the elliptical. The AC is on and a half dozen TVs are right in front of me.  A few weeks ago, I was sweating to a sports talk show host lamenting his wife’s newfound veganism. It is the oldest, most tiring go-to in the counterfeit masculinity playbook. I knew exactly what he was going to say next: “I just want to go out and have a steak with my guy friends.” And then he droned on about the whole pathetic ordeal for the entire segment.

Seven years ago, Lindsay and I became vegetarians after watching the Academy Award winning documentary Food, Inc. and then reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.  I attribute this conversion mostly to Michael Smith, a former traveling salesmen now living in Iceland snapping photos of the Northern Lights with his girlfriend Inga.  I was Michael’s freshman basketball coach.  I taught him how to ball fake and skip pass.  Now he feeds me the latest on the state of the heavily corporatized meat and dairy industries.  I got the better end of the bargain.   Continue reading

And Not a Moment Before

CvilleBy Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.net

On Friday, in preparation for this past weekend’s neo-fascist march and rally in Charlottesville, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, cited “the right of every American to deny those ideas more attention than they deserve.” He strongly encouraged people to stay away from the counter-protest.  As if oppressors and abusers just go away if we don’t confront them with our humanity.  As if level-headedness and moderation have ever saved those catching hell.

However, this was far from the first time that McAuliffe has distanced himself from the militant nonviolent tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, while in a Birmingham cell, rejected “the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea” of white moderate clergy.  Jyarland Daniels, the founder of the racial equity organization Harriet Speaks, reminded me recently that, in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election, McAuliffe, a huge Hillary Clinton supporter, worked tirelessly to ensure that (mostly black) ex-felons could get the right to vote. This is significant because McAuliffe’s support (with most of the Democratic Party establishment) for mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders and felon disenfranchisement laws have crippled black families and neighborhoods for decades. Continue reading

Subverting the Script

Aireys, Early 20sBy Tommy Airey, co-editor RadicalDiscipleship.Net 

In the early 1980s, historian William Appleman Williams described the state of affairs in the United States in the title of his book Empire As a Way of Life.  For centuries, The Imperial Script has called for “manifest destiny,” imposing our political, social and economic policies on people all over the world—from the genocide of native Americans in “the new world,” to importing slaves from Africa, to imperialist wars with countries from Mexico to Iraq, stealing land, resources and cultures. The United States was, and continues to be, built on what Dr. Lily Mendoza calls “the undeniable debris of dead bodies, stolen wealth, and the enslavement of other beings, both human and non-human.” These were the secret steroids injected into my family’s “success” story. Continue reading

Intimacy and Inner Work

SharkBy Tommy Airey

Ypsilanti, Michigan

Over the past four months, I enjoyed my little “sit-spot,” right in front of our one-bedroom flat in Ojai, CA, perfectly postured for daily communion with two dozen mourning doves posting up in a centuries-old Oak tree across the street.  This was a spiritual practice.

Our favorite afternoon adventure, though, was the Shelf Road run, a three-mile jaunt from sit-spot to a weather-beaten bench overlooking the entire Ojai Valley. It was a challenging climb up a steep fire road, but the endorphin-infused walk down together inevitably fueled the conversation.  Sweat stimulating Spirit.

On the way home from our final, wheezing, tree-pollen-intoxicated jog, a large lizard shimmied across the street right in front of us.  When we looked up, a red-tailed hawk fifty yards was homing in on us, attempting to turn the poor little guy into happy hour.  The lizard barely escaped under a conveniently parked Jeep.  The hawk perched up on that rig, waiting for him to journey back home. Continue reading

Chelsea Manning: Free At Last

ManningBy Tommy Airey

Today, as a result of one of Barack Obama’s last actions in the White House, Chelsea Manning, real American hero, walks free after 2,545 days in military captivity.  We celebrate Manning, particularly the powerful contributions she made towards subversively exposing the ever-violent truth in an imperial context and for enduring 2,545 real-life episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.  Manning’s actions were truly apocalyptic (from the Greek apokalypsis meaning “unveiling” or “revealing”).

In July 2013, we drove 40 miles from Washington D.C. to Fort Meade, Maryland for the closing arguments of Manning’s trial.   We joined 32 other spectators in the courtroom and three dozen others in an overflow portable with closed-circuit TV coverage of the trial. Most of these folks were curious activists who wore black shirts with TRUTH scrawled on the front. On the day we attended the festivities, the lead attorney for the prosecution took up six hours for his closing remarks (in contrast, the next day, the defense took three hours). He called Manning an “informational anarchist” and repeatedly claimed that Manning was only motivated by his quest for notoriety while methodically doing whatever it took to cover up his misdeeds.
Continue reading

25 Years Later by a Long Shot

RiotsBy Tommy Airey

We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

James Weldon Johnson, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Last month, we posted up in the pews of an old black Baptist church in Watts for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s powerful “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We belted out James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the so-called “Black National Anthem,” a song I first heard before the last college basketball game I ever played in (at L.A. Southwest Community College, just a few miles from where we sang in Watts).

A few days later, we joined up with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries to help staff “Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the L.A. Uprising,” organized by a group called ReconciliAsian, spearheaded by Sue and Hyun Hur, a Korean-American couple who pastor a Mennonite church in Southern California (keep Hyun in your prayers as he heads to North Korea this week). This space provided story-telling from different leaders (black, Latina, Asian and white) bearing witness to those chaotic days in the aftermath of the acquittal of three police officers in the Rodney King beating trial. Continue reading