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

The Wild Edge of Sorrow

wellerA Review By Tommy Airey

I’m someone who strictly reads books with a pen in hand. I do, after all, have standards. Francis Weller, though, is someone who writes books that force me to rearrange my standards for what gets underlined. His recent release The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief (2015) follows that trend. One-fourth of my copy is penned up. If I applied normal standards, though, it would easily be two-thirds. Paragraphs swim through waves of sentences pounding the reader with profundity. For the most part, I’m a typically unexpressive, work-it-out-in-my-head white heterosexual male. Weller, though, sparks something deeper in me. I found myself nodding, slapping inanimate objects, muttering out loud “Yep, holy shit.” An example from early in the book:

What I have come to see is that much of the grief we carry is not personal; it doesn’t arise from our histories or experiences. Rather, it circulates around us, coming to us from a wider expanse, arriving on unseen currents that touch our souls.

Weller is drawing on thirty years of experience in the therapy room, concisely summarizing Jung and Freud, relaying many stories that arise from clients. But he also peppers us with quotes from poets like Rilke and Rumi, Mary Oliver and David Whyte. The icing on the cake is the way he draws on indigenous wisdom and soul-tenders like Pema Chodron and John O’Donohue. Continue reading

To Speak for the Weak

RutesTen Days into our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech.

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
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By Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.Net (photo above with former intentional community members Mabel and Ivy

More than 50 years ago almost to the day (March 9, 1964), citing an 1868 treaty which empowered Native American peoples to claim surplus federal land, five Sioux activists occupied and took possession of Alcatraz Island. It was less than one year after the notorious federal prison closed down after decades of complaints over high costs and the flushing of sewage into San Francisco Bay. These indigenous prophets envisioned a redemption of the island, transforming it into a cultural center and university. They were apprehended and removed after only four hours, imperial conventional wisdom dismissing their public offer to buy the land for the amount the government had initially offered them: $9.40. Continue reading

The Anti-Trump

rileyBy Tommy Airey, a letter to his nephews who call him “Uncle Coo-Coo”

Riley and Mason,

I want so badly for you to grow up with a deep awareness of what it means to be “a real man.” You have a big advantage because you have parents and a Nawny who are committed to recovery: fearless and thorough in their commitments to mutual and rigorous honesty, to establishing boundaries and assertiveness and to pursuing gentleness with themselves and others in the process.  They have been important models in my own journey of re-claiming open-heartedness and emotional expressiveness.

Unfortunately, the man who gets the most attention, who you will see over and over on TV and the internet, whose name you will hear about more than any other man on the planet is a President who lives off a steady diet of name-calling and fear-mongering, who paints those from south of the border as “criminals” and “rapists” and says if refugees from Muslim-majority countries “are allowed in, it’s death and destruction!,” who magnifies deeply ingrained racial stereotypes of inner-cities as “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” whose whole ethos is shaped by bullying and “locker room talk” and whose policies favor the securing of enormous profits for a few over relieving the suffering of everyday people. Continue reading

A Modest Proposal for Radical Disciples: Swearing Off

road

Photo: Michael Smith

By Tommy Airey

Many of us have been unpleasantly awakened to the fact that “national politics” does matter, as Princeton’s Jeffrey Stout concisely articulated in Blessed Are The Organized (2010), his aptly-titled Obama-era book on grassroots democracy:

Presidents, federal legislators, judges, bureaucrats, Wall Street bankers, insurance executives, media moguls and generals are making decisions every day that have a massive impact on our lives.

A couple of weeks ago, our flight to snow-driven Portland diverted, Lindsay and I found ourselves laid over and out for two nights in Seattle. There we were, deliriously sharing a falafel burger at a hotel bar with Fox News on surround sound. After compulsory knee-jerk lamentations, we grounded ourselves in the reality of the next four years of banality. We acknowledged the tension, though, of committing ourselves to “knowing what’s going on in the world” with being bombarded with a plethora of despairing headlines and sound-bites, news spin a no-win situation. What now with the need to protect ourselves emotionally and spiritually more important than ever? Continue reading