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.”

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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.

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