I’m almost finished reading James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree. The book is an insightful and personal addition to the powerful language that I’ve read from Professor Cone in the past.
In the book he turns his critical and historical powers as a premier theologian to the subject of Jesus’s crucifixion and the lynching of black people in the United States of America. Never good at subtlety, his remarks about the perplexity of being Christian, or a Christian nation, while engaging in the systematic and, worse, spontaneous murder of black people throughout history is searing and probing and heavy. He nods to current forms of lynching, though he doesn’t dwell with them. Like backgrounds in a memorable scene, they are there even if they aren’t central.
I love what he’s doing in exalting again the place of the crucifixion and its dark woody symbol the cross. He corrals the great artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and the lyrics of singers like Billie Holiday; he showcases the testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer and reminds us of the massive, prophetic role of Ida B. Wells. He doesn’t flinch when he heralds the primacy of the cross (and not the resurrection per se) in the African American experience in this country. He does it in a way that is refreshing for the truth within it, and there is love springing through it. He says more in the book than I think he does in other places about his personal story, his upbringing in an A.M.E. church, and his worry over the possibility of his father’s death at the hands of whites in Arkansas.
Here is a quote that doesn’t sum up his thought but that does give you a view into the central ministry of Jesus and his cross as Dr. Cone discusses. Every word has meaning:
The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.
There is little more appealing to me right up through here than this kind of stuff. If you want something growth-provoking this Advent–and this is not the most liturgically appropriate meditation, I suppose–find this book and take it slow.