the cross and the lynching tree by james h. cone

the cross and the lynching treeWe have been watching a lot of the World Cup here. Atticus, who is very into superheroes, wants to know about the good guys and the bad guys. That hasn’t been a big deal to me until the USA/Germany game when I noticed that there were some jokes about Germany being bad guys on Twitter. Nothing too extreme – nobody went so far as to actually reference Hitler, but it’s clear that those of us who grew up learning about WWII and the Holocaust have some conflicted feelings about how to talk about Germany.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on an enormous topic like WWII and the Holocaust, but I do think it’s interesting to see that we as a country are more comfortable referencing the difficult history of another country than we are with our own. In my education, the treatment of Native Americans and the history that Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed in his reparations article were covered and dismissed as quickly as possible. Let’s face it, when the majority gets to write the history books, the stories of the minority are going to continue to be marginalized. Those of us who grew up with these imperfect understandings of the relationships between different racial and ethnic groups in our own country should take it upon ourselves to seek out other perspectives.

One book that I recently read from a different perspective was The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. Once you consider the idea, it is not a stretch to see how the lynching tree, where innocent men and women hung after being tortured by angry mobs, could be connected in the minds of many black Americans to the cross on which Jesus died. The book explores the lynching tree in the black community and makes a powerful case that it should be a more prominent symbol in American Christianity as we wrestle with our sins as a nation and specifically as white Christians who did not act against this terror.

I came away from this book with a strong sense of how white my Christianity has been, and a desire to broaden my perspective. It is challenging and moving to read about other ways to view God, especially when you suddenly see through the eyes of the oppressed rather than that of the oppressor. This is a short book but not a light read. I hope you will consider reading it, and I would love any similar recommendations of books that have challenged you to see history or your own faith from a new perspective, especially from a minority perspective.

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2 Comments

  1. As usual, your perspective hits the heart and in this case the stomach. Several movies, 12 Years A Slave specifically, I was sickened by the brutality while scripture was being quoted. The Trail of Tears aptly describes the native Americans forced marched in much the same way as prisoners of war in the Pacific Theater during WWII. When asked for his thoughts on Christianity, Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. They are not very like your Christ.”

    Posted 6/30/2014 at | Permalink
  2. Christiana

    Such a worthwhile book. I think everyone at all interested in theology should read some James Cone. Another one (much longer and more academic) is Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter. Two historical books I’d also recommend: Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns (Coates’ article kind of picks up where she finishes her book–hers is focused on the Great Migration) and Thomas Holt’s Children of Fire.

    Posted 7/7/2014 at | Permalink

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