I am reading James Cone’s ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’ at the moment. Cone writes about the crucifixion as a first-century lynching, and about how black people facing the state-endorsed terrorism of lynching identified with Jesus; they, “found in the cross the spiritual power to resist the violence they so often suffered” (p22).
It is a beautifully moving, tragic book which moves from deeply harrowing accounts of lynching, to accounts of those such as King who were encountering the truth of Bonhoeffer’s words – “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” – and having to live out a response.
It also includes the work of black poets such as Countee Cullen:
How Calvary in Palestine
Extending down to me and mine
was but the first leaf in a line
Of trees on which a Man should swing
World without end, in suffering
For all men’s healing, let me sing.Countee Cullen
What beautiful words!
One of the most striking things about this book has been reading about how clearly the black church saw that ‘The South is crucifying Christ again‘ and how utterly blind the white church was to this.
As someone who has only recently understood scripture to be the story of three trees (The Tree of Knowledge and Evil in Genesis, The Cross in the Gospels, The Tree of Life in Revelation), and who would also never previously have picked up on the vast parallels between the experience of black people in the 60 years long American lynching era, and Jesus’ own lynching, it has made me wonder about what else I am blind to.
I have also found the accounts of those grieving the injustice of lynching, their feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, despair, hope, passion and courage incredibly insightful.
At Christian Climate Action’s day of training last week, people verbalised a lot of these same emotions. Grief for the crucified and exploited Earth and peoples, powerlessness in the context of rising global emissions, and hope and courage to go onward.
For me, this is a more recent set of emotions to step into, but I am inspired by and grateful to those others who have walked this road before me, and I am learning what it means to pray and live this out:
Take this/ heavy-hearted well of grief /and draw it up/ draw it up in praise/ into a fountain/ into a well-spring of song.