By Tommy Airey
Way back in the wide-open fields of the Clinton years, the seed of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was planted in me during a semester with Professor Bill Tuttle at the University of Kansas. Way back then, I was attending Campus Crusade bible study on Wednesdays, drinking a 12-pack of beer on Fridays and going to an all-white Evangelical church on Sundays. My spiritual life was a complete circus. Way back then, I struggled to make the simple connection that Dr. King was a Christian and that his perspective on Jesus was completely different than what my white Evangelical mentors and heroes were pitching. Continue reading
PC: Michael Raymond Smith
By Tommy Airey
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.
In order to believe (Greek pistis), Thomas had to see and touch the brutal wounds inflicted by empire. Belief, for the first radical disciples, was far more than head knowledge. It was about what one pledged allegiance to, who one was willing to suffer and die for. Thomas wasn’t going down with some crazy-ass conspiracy theory about Jesus the tortured-and-crucified freedom fighter coming back from the dead. Continue reading
PC: Michael Smith
By Tommy Airey
Decades ago, Alice Walker suggested that the White House should be run by twelve grandmothers. I spent my Wednesday at the state capital bearing witness to the obvious brilliance of her proposal.
It was almost two years since my first visit to Lansing, days after the Flint water poisoning scandal broke out like an upper respiratory infection. The brutal part: both viruses still linger.
Back then, business brought my friend Mike to Michigan. But his heart and his camera prodded him all the way to Capitol with me to brave a single-digit-wind-chilled protest during the Governor’s annual State of the State address. A year later, the state’s Civil Rights Commission issued a scathing 135-page report naming “systemic racism” as a major factor in Flint’s water contamination. Redlining, white flight to the suburbs, intergenerational poverty and “implicit bias” were all chronicled as contributing to the unnatural disaster. Fifty years after the Kerner Commission report, history came full circle. Continue reading
By Tommy Airey
May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Thessalonians 5:23
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, vintage Advent passages about “the coming of our Lord” were infused with the rapture theology of my fresh Evangelical faith. I eagerly anticipated an End Times scenario when Jesus would triumphantly return to rescue us from the sin of the world. I remained vigilant as the Left Behind series of books and movies filled in the blanks of what this letter from Paul assured us would soon happen:
For the Lord himself, with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air. (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Our Evangelical pastors repressed our sexual imaginations, but they gave us full permission to fantasize about the End of the World. It was almost too much for my adolescent mind. I conjured images of mass disappearances, freeways suddenly littered with empty cars and football stadiums with fans flying into the heavens. Researching the historical context, though, zoomed me back down to earth. Literally. Continue reading
By Tommy Airey
Earlier this month, I started Bayo Akomolafe’s recently-released These Wilds Beyond Our Fences seeking spiritual solidarity. Like most, my soul has been squeezed by concentric circles of cacophony. Climate catastrophe rages (globally) while a major political party (led almost exclusively by white men) denies it all and “successfully” utilizes weapons of voter suppression, legalized bribery, gerrymandering and Russian collusion to take full reigns of power (nationally and state-wide). Meanwhile, water shutoffs and home foreclosures pelt a city cloaked by leaders calling it a “comeback” (locally).
These rings of austerity and white supremacy have formed the ice rink of an epic institutional collapse. Families, faith communities, foundations, the “free” market and finance—these fail to offer compelling solutions for any of it. Instead, they drive the Zamboni. These are maddening times and no one, it seems, is really sure what to do about it. Confusion reigns. Continue reading
By Tommy Airey
Like every good Evangelical, my adolescent faith was about giving all glory to the Lord. I sang praise songs to a “high and lifted up” Jesus and always concluded my prayers “in Jesus’ name” (I signed off my emails “Fool For Christ,” but that’s a story for another time). I was taught to utilize “apologetics” to defend the faith and prove that Jesus was, in fact, Divine. I revered C.S. Lewis whose Mere Christianity made a water-tight case for my beliefs. Lewis left readers three choices for who Jesus really was: a lunatic, a liar or the Lord Himself:
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.
Lewis claimed that, when it came to the people who actually met Jesus, they responded in three ways: hatred, terror or adoration. There was no middle ground. Continue reading
By 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