Found at spreadshirt.com.
- Header image courtesy of Beyond Belief Media. (Adapted from the Christ Pantocrator icon in St. Catherine's monastery, Sinai, 6th century.)
As a schoolgirl, I was taught plenty about slavery and segregation in the US; I was taught that both were gross injustices, shameful times in our nation’s past. There was so much emphasis on the civil rights movement in our elementary school curriculum that whenever anyone asked me who my hero was, I always said “Rosa Parks.”
What I don’t remember ever being taught about, though, was lynching—at least not in very much detail. I didn’t learn about it in school, and I certainly didn’t learn about it in church. I was aware that in the Jim Crow South, white mobs sometimes brutalized black men and even killed them by hanging, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of lynching. I didn’t know how common and widespread it was. Nor that women and children were among the victims. Nor that burning and mutilation were almost always involved. Nor that lynchings were considered community-wide entertainment events, complete with food vendors, souvenir salesmen, and free passes from school.
James H. Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2013) is both history lesson and sermon—a harrowing look at America’s national crime (as Ida B. Wells called it) and the ways it was (and was not) confronted as well as a brotherly rebuke of the white church’s silence on this issue and a proposal for how to move forward.
The two most representative and emotionally charged symbols of black experience in America, the cross and the lynching tree interpret each other, Cone says. The black community understood this; they embraced the cross of Christ in all its paradox, finding hope and empowerment in knowing that just as death did not determine Christ’s final meaning, so neither would lynching have the final word for them. But this symbolic link doesn’t serve only African Americans; people of all races would do well to ponder it and flesh it out, as it promotes a rich theology of suffering and a helpful base for race relations within the church. And in fact Cone doesn’t see such reflections as optional; he considers them necessary for the sake of the gospel:
The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly two thousand years. One is the universal symbol of the Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or tree, relatively few people, apart from the black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections. Yet, I believe this is the challenge we must face. What is at stake is the credibility and the promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society. . . .
Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy. (xiii-xiv, xv)
The Cross and the Lynching Tree integrates four different modes of writing—historical analysis, polemic, literary and visual art exegesis, and theological treatise—woven together into one vibrant, seamless cloth. I will examine each of these below. Continue reading
In February I promoted a two-day visual arts conference organized by Eyekons called “Who Is My Neighbor?”, to take place the Friday and Saturday after Easter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now all the speakers and topics are confirmed, and a video promo has been produced, so I just want to encourage you to look into this opportunity again if it’s something you’re interested in.
I really want to go, but though the actual conference cost is reasonable, the airline ticket and hotel room costs make it unaffordable for me. If it were in Boston, I’d be all-in! (Eyekons, if you’re reading this, I can hook you up with some Boston-area churches for next year!)
Two artists whose work I have long admired—Steve Prince and Linda Witte Henke—will be there, plus many more, representing a wide range of media, including painting, printmaking, mosaic, paper cutting, calligraphy, and textile art. Continue reading
I love discovering old hymns of the faith and incorporating them into my private worship. I’ve realized only in the last few years how vast the trove is, and I’m grateful for contemporary musical artists who sift through it, dusting off old gems and making them shine for today.
Thanks to Aaron Hale, whose retuning of “O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head” has made the hymn more accessible to modern ears and has really drawn out the beauty of the original text. He released the song in April 2011 on his album Lenten Hymns, Vol. 1, available for free download from his website. Continue reading