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”

The COVID-19 Chronicles 2.0

BertaMuralBy Tommy Airey

*Another episode in a weekly series of fictional accounts rooted in reality. 

Aden Alvarenga and his Tío Tejada grew up in the coolest region of Honduras. They were born, two decades apart, in the 1700-meter high mountain town of La Esperanza, which means “hope” in Spanish. Hope, however, is a concept conditioned by context. For white folks, hope tends to be synonymous with optimism and progress. It is a belief that things must get better and will get better. Eventually. However, for the Lenca of western Honduras, as it is for most Indigenous peoples of the world, hope subverts despair through solidarity. Hope is a rugged conviction that does not depend on circumstances improving. Hope resists despair through a fierce faith in a higher Power built on love and compassion that transcends events on the ground. Continue reading “The COVID-19 Chronicles 2.0”

The COVID-19 Chronicles 1.0

Salvador Zuniga CaceresBy Tommy Airey

This is a fictional account rooted in reality. 

“We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism, and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. Our Mother Earth — militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated — demands that we take action.”—Berta Cáceres (1971-2016)

A decade ago, Aden Alvarenga fled everything he knew in Honduras for a land flowing with milk and honey called “California.” He journeyed north with his Tio Tejada who had been working with Berta Caceres to save sacred rivers from foreign developers cashing in on dam projects. In the months after the military coup, soldiers who were trained in the United States, ramped up their threats and intimidation on Tio and their band of Indigenous troublemakers. His witness protection program required drastic measures so he recruited his nephew to head north to stay with a cousin he barely knew in a place called San Juan Capistrano, named after a white priest who came to Turtle Island to forcibly convert Indigenous peoples to colonial Christianity. Continue reading “The COVID-19 Chronicles 1.0”

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.

Continue reading “Love in the Time of Corona Virus”

Yet You Do Not Receive Our Testimony

MLKBy Tommy Airey, a seven-minute sermon at Storydwelling, a community of belonging, ritual and resistance in Bend, Oregon

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.”–John 3:11

Nicodemus, like most powerful men, knows how to conduct a covert operation. He was a Pharisee from Jerusalem with a lot to lose if others saw him associating with Jesus of Nazareth, the radical Galilean rabbi. Nicodemus’ night call would be like the President of the United States secretly meeting with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960’s, when Dr. King’s approval rating hovered around 25% in white America. Continue reading “Yet You Do Not Receive Our Testimony”

An Alternative Tour

51429161_10218004177755475_3993712457292972032_nBy Tommy Airey

“The time has come, God knows, for us to examine ourselves, but we can only do this if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here.”—James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name (1961)

“…and a little child shall lead them.”—Isaiah 11:6b

Warning: this essay contains graphic language that may be unsuitable for some adults.

On this date, exactly a year ago, Lindsay and I found ourselves on ancient Chumash land, now called “the central coast of California.” We took the shuttle up to Hearst Castle, the 40,000 acre “ranch” built for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and his wife, five sons and mistress. Early in the tour, our six-year-old nephew creatively resisted his boredom by making a game of how many nude statues he could find along the way. He was particularly fond of the penises, which made him giggle uncontrollably. Continue reading “An Alternative Tour”