Images and Songs from James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree

James H. Cone, in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, references lots of songs, art, and poetry. For the convenience of anyone reading the book who, like me, might want to hear and see and read further, I’ve created a YouTube playlist of the songs, and assembled links to the images (in red) and the poems here. You can also get a discussion guide here. (I haven’t used it yet, so let me know what you think.)

Poems and images from Chapter 4.

Links to images are in red.

Photo of the lynching of Rubin Stacey

The Lynching of Laura and LD Nelson (photo)

The Lynching of Cleo Wright (the photo is shown at the end of the video)

“Yet Do I Marvel” by Countee Cullen

“Black Christ” by Countee Cullen (This is a long poem. It is available in this collection on Kindle. Note that it is “Hopefully dedicated to White America.” Particularly if you are white, do consider buying and reading it.)

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock” by Gwendolyn Brooks (this will download a pdf)

“I Passed Along This Way” by E. Simms Campbell

“Giddap!” by Hale Woodruff

“By Parties Unknown” by Hale Woodruff

“The Lynching” by Julius Bloch

“Christmas in Georgia”

“The Gospel of Mary Brown” illustration from The Crisis (This will download a .pdf.)

“Night, Death, Mississippi” by Robert Hayden

“The Bitter River” by Langston Hughes

“Good Morning Revolution” by Langston Hughes

“Goodbye Christ” by Langston Hughes

Chapter 5

Photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

Review of Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination

This book was transformational. Here is my summary.

Replacing Israel with Christians as the people of God (a doctrine called supersessionism) created a hole in the theological imagination that Europeans were able to fill with themselves. Moving on from there, creation and the incarnation demonstrate God/Christ’s focus on the whole world, which Europeans construct themselves as regents of, with authority to construct whiteness as closer to God and blackness as farther away. This last detaches people from place, time and culture and sets them instead within an abstract theological frame imagined to be Christianity.

By creating identities based on race rather than geography, white colonials, with God-like hubris, lost their own and removed others’ connection to the land, connections that grounded many people’s knowledge of who they were and how they acted. This cannot be solved by simply erasing race, because there is nothing left to ground identity except bare individualism.

Upon coming to these new peoples in new worlds, Christians might have used the tools they had used to Christianize Aristotle, or the memories of themselves as gentiles who had had to be Christianized to imagine these new people as neighbors to be loved, as people among whom God was already at work, and with whom they could imagine new ways of faithfulness to God both for them and for themselves. Instead, because they saw themselves as the new Israel, able to discern all others as pagans, and because they imagined the new people abstracted from their land and therefore were unable to comprehend them as peoples, they turned theology and pedagogy inside out. Instead of coming to them as Christ came to the world and teaching from a position of humility, they became the teachers and regulators and evaluators par excellence. They even saw the riches of the new world as God’s reward and enticement for their hard labor in converting people whom they judged inferior and demon-taught. And they imagined their own difficulties in converting the new people as their own version of the sufferings of the apostles.

Western Christianity, unmoored from the story of Israel, is seen as neutral, and therefore able to be translated into every and any other culture. But this act of translation, undertaken by colonials for colonial interests, translates black bodies and interest only from and for the perspective of white ones. The goal is the taming and use of the other, and Christianity had to be used to serve those interests, because they are invisible to the colonist behind Christianity. What is missing is both the particularity of God’s choice of self-revelation through Israel, and white and black communion as fellow-strangers and dependents on a savior who comes to them, to us, from a world of particularities different from our own. To sum that up: it’s not about some (non-existent) neutral Christianity that can be translated into each and every culture, which can only, ultimately, serve nationalist goals that divide. It is about all cultures (other than Israel) being invited to be guests together at an Israelite table.

Some African economies tied commercial exchanges to relationships. Western economy was not like that. The transformation of Africans into blacks and slaves cut them off from both previous relationships and precluded any relationships with whites on an equal footing. And even salvation was not imagined in a way that could change that. Thus salvation, for black people in the 18th century, constituted them in relationship with God and with the Scriptures, but it was a salvation into a Christianity impoverished by its inability to address the social and economic injustices of its world, because it could not override the racial and economic constructions of the West.

In translating the Bible into each language Europeans encountered, they created literary spaces that were separate and distinct, fracturing the world. At the same time, as elite discussions moved from Latin into European vernaculars (French, at first), they vied for primacy as the one, “impartial” space for world-shaping discussions. This can be seen, in a powerful example, in the way in which American slaves were denied literacy and thus prevented from speaking into white spaces. In this way, Western whiteness constructed the world in capitalistic ways in which black and brown bodies were primarily valued and evaluated according to their utility to whites. Still today, worldwide commerce and entertainment are primarily structured by and for standards of European whiteness, even if they are occasionally embodied by people of color.

We must first remember that we are gentiles. We were eavesdroppers on this conversation between God and Israel before we were brought in. God broke into a pagan/gentile world to create Israel, and then he broke into Israelite existence through Jesus to eventually by the Spirit invite gentiles in. God does not offer any of us self-sufficiency, security or domination. Instead, God offers himself in Jesus. Jesus’s body becomes the place where we meet as we express communion with God and, flowing from that, our desire for communion with one another. We are reconstituted as brothers and sisters in a way that must cause us to re-imagine the colonial outlook that uses another’s land for my own enrichment. The divisions and hierarchies of the capitalist system are questioned and resisted in this new space, in which the suffering of the Jew and the suffering of the marginalized (specifically, African-Americans) have something to say to each other. The misshapenness of white colonial theology needs to learn the language of the other, in order to be broken and re-created in the image of God.

Race in the USA: My Learning, Part 1

Image Credit: Elizabeth A. Eccles

Don’t miss the podcast links at the end!

Continual self-reflection as well as moving from reflection to action are essential. Check out:

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“An Examen for White Allies”

“101 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice”

A few personal notes:

You will like or appreciate different books and resources in a different order than I did. I started with The New Jim Crow, and it was so different from anything that I had been told or taught that it took me a long time to read it. That is probably more a factor of my past than of the book itself.

I mention it, though, because if you, in the course of reading or watching or listening, find your beliefs being challenged, I want to encourage you to sit with the discomfort. Take frequent breaks. Spend time in self-examination. And then, read another chapter or watch or listen to another 10 minutes, until you need to take a break again. I believe it is important both to honor yourself with careful thought and prayer, and to honor these stories by coming back to them and moving forward through them. The balance of those two things is up to you.

My favorite resources so far have been Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Jen Hatmaker’s interview of Lisa Sharon Harper. They are both difficult and heartbreaking, but they captured my attention and moved me more towards action and change than the rest of these (nevertheless great) resources. I am sure some of you will agree and others disagree with me on that.

Finally, I have used Twitter to connect with further voices on these topics. I follow the names I come across here, and then add more names through their connections. You may choose a different path. But I suggest that, if you are white, you develop your own networks, places where you can listen…listen…listen to the conversations, comments and experiences of people of color. They have been ignored by some of us for far too long.

I’m starting with two book by white people. I think they provide a gentle on-ramp for white Americans, especially white Christian Americans. But think of them as pre-requisites before you start your actual course.

(Clicking on this cover will automatically download an article by Robin Diangelo)

Here’s a quick summary of redlining, in case you are not aware of this part of our history:

Adam Conover, “The Disturbing History of the Suburbs,” Adam Ruins Everything, CollegeHumor, October 4, 2017.

Other great books (and one movie):

Click on titles for additional links to author interviews or podcasts.

Personal favorite: Just Mercy

See also: Divided by Faith and13th The Movie

I am not a big podcast person, but these two are exceptional!

Lisa Sharon Harper, “Unequally Saved: The Church’s Role in Racism,For The Love with Jen Hatmaker. April 24, 2018

John Biewen, “Seeing White” Scene on Radio. 14-part series, 2017

Race in the USA: My Own Learning, Part 2

Image Credit: Elizabeth A. Eccles

A few personal notes:

I spent about 3-4 years reading the books in part 1, getting that information settled in my head, and re-arranging my view of the world around it. The resources that follow are those I am finding helpful now. (clicking on the titles or images takes you to interviews or organization websites related to the author; to purchase, use your favorite booksellers)

First, continual self-reflection is essential. Check out

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

An Examen for White Allies.”

My favorites: Might from the Margins and The Third Reconstruction

Long but important: The Color of Law and The Warmth of Other Suns

This chart is helpful for explaining the balance that white allies need to maintain:

Myths America Lives By by Richard T. Hughes

I wanted to talk a bit about this one because it’s somewhat different from the others here. It’s very important, though, because it puts into words the things everyone knows about America. As a Third Culture Kid, the one I have noticed the most is, “America is the greatest country in the world.” This is just something everyone knows. It gets repeated regularly. And…maybe because I grew up in Belgium, or maybe because I’m a very literal, logical person, I would always think to myself, “Based on what?”

Dr. Hughes might call this “The Myth of the Chosen Nation.” Or maybe he would categorize it under one of his other myths. Or maybe “the greatest” refers to all the myths together. In any case, this is a book worth reading, so that Americans can take off the lenses that we see through but don’t ever look at, notice their size and shape and how they affect non-white Americans, particularly black people. The title and the book cover link to an interview that will give you a sense of the book.