Summer Reading Subverting Supremacy Stories

By Tommy Airey, exclusively for RadicalDiscipleship.Net

This summer, Lindsay and I maneuvered a ministry of migration. We pivoted between and beyond the Kirkridge Retreat Center in the Poconos of northeast Pennsylvania, a studio apartment two blocks from the Deschutes River in Central Oregon and a wide stretch of beach on the Pacific Ocean on Acjachemen land in Southern California. I spent some of this time working on a book that lays out a biblical spirituality for white folks and middle-class people breaking rank from the default narratives of dominant culture. Those of us navigating the wilderness that borders both fundamentalism and liberalism need a spiritual training program for the ultra-marathon race of recognizing and resisting the supremacy stories scripted by whiteness, hetero-patriarchy, the profit motive, the penal system and patriotism.

My friend Sarah Nahar says this kind of inner work is like shedding colonial codes of conduct. Rev. Lynice Pinkard compares it to learning another language: speaking treason fluently. I like breaking rank because it sounds so subversive—what spirituality should be. Break rank with supremacy stories and you’ll gain your soul—and lose your social respectability. Try calling out capitalism at your church potluck. It sounds like a conspiracy, which in Latin means “to breathe with.” To grow our souls, us middle-class folk need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Because our hearts have stopped. But here’s the rub: we can only get CPR from those chronically oppressed by supremacy stories. So we start breathing with those who are Black and Brown, Indigenous and Immigrant, women and working poor.  

Continue reading “Summer Reading Subverting Supremacy Stories”

The Logic of the Cross

By Tommy Airey, re-posted from Easy Yolk

On the cross, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, his native tongue, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani. Many who overheard it thought he was calling out for the prophet Elijah. He was actually quoting Psalm 22 from the Hebrew Bible: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? I learned in seminary that in the Jewish tradition, when folks quote the first verse of a Psalm, they are not sound-biting, but referencing the entire chapter. The next line of Psalm 22 goes like this: Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Jesus’ higher Power was a Sabbath God who shows up in the text hearing and responding to the groans of those oppressed and impoverished by the policies of Solomon.

In Genesis, it was the blood of murdered Abel. In Exodus, it was the Israelites groaning under slavery to Pharoah. In the Psalms and Prophets, the sighs and cries consistently come before the One who hears. In James, it was the unpaid wages of the day laborers crying out. In Romans, all of creation is groaning with labor pains, longing to be released from bondage, and the text says that, in our weakness, we do not know what to say in our prayers—but the Breath of God intercedes for us with groans that go beyond our glossary.

Continue reading “The Logic of the Cross”

An Alternative Version

By Tommy Airey

A year ago, police responded to a call from a convenience store employee who accused George Floyd of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Before every single one of us witnessed this Black man forty days younger than me face down on the street pavement calling for his mother while a white man in uniform with his left hand in his pocket took his life by kneeling on his neck, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a press release describing what happened:

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later. At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.

This ordering of facts was the official account.  

Continue reading “An Alternative Version”

Flags, Guns and Briefcases

By Tommy Airey

For the duration of the Derek Chauvin trial, Lindsay and I posted up just north of Panhe, an Acjachemen burial and ceremonial site in modern-day Southern California at the coastal border of Orange and San Diego counties. The Acjachemen people are not recognized by the federal government—despite archaeological proof that they lived sustainably on that land for more than 9,000 years before European Christians, with their flags and guns, invaded it and stole it and forcibly converted them to the cult of Jesus, the white conquistador.

To add insult to injury, the white Christians raped their women and infected them with their diseases. Panhe was the epicenter of a genocidal cocktail of disease centuries before the novel coronavirus came for a country trying to make itself great again in every colonial way possible. The people of Panhe were victims of a COVID-19 on steroids. As more than 90% of the Indigenous population of Turtle Island were killed off, white Christians spurned social distancing for profit-making.

Panhe is the crucified wound of a people still surviving, but totally unrecognized. In fact, its sacred quality is soaked in the surreal statistic that .0001% of those who call California home drive by Panhe thousands of times and never even know it exists. Some of the ancient Oak and Sycamore trees of Panhe remember a time when white people were not around. They are still standing despite the encroachment of a military base, nuclear power plant, state campground and Trestles, one of the most legendary surf beaches in the world.

Continue reading “Flags, Guns and Briefcases”

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.

Continue reading “A Conspiracy”

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.”

Continue reading “This is Repentance”

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”