Fortitude: That is What We are Looking For

James ConeMay the eulogies for James Cone continue to rise among us.  This is an excerpt from Cornel West’s tribute at Dr. Cone’s funeral on May 7, 2018.  The entire transcript can be accessed here.  

James Cone was not just an academic theologian. He lived life-or-death. His theology was grounded in the cry of black blood, the wailing of black suffering, the moans and groans of black hurt and black pain, and it was trying to convince us not just to have courage, but fortitude. A Nazi soldier can be courageous and still be a thug; fortitude is courage connected to magnanimity and greatness of character. That is what we are looking for. James Cone served, he sacrificed for the least of these, he tried to hold up the bloodstained banner with a level of spiritual nobility and moral royalty already enacted by Lucy, already enacted by Charlie, already enacted by the best of his church by the time he began to interact with vanilla brothers and sisters. He was misunderstood, he was misconstrued. But just because he was mad and enraged, because he was focusing on the sin, that didn’t make him a hater. He had charitable Christian hatred: he hated the sin, but still tried to love the sinner. And the problem is so easy. Others look at black folk and ask, How come they’re so mad? How come they’re so angry? Well, if your children were treated that way, if your children were going to jail, your children were receiving a decrepit education, you’d be upset. But you don’t expect us to be upset?

Why Would I Do This?

RiannaBy Rianna Isaak-Krauß

This week I was arrested. I was in jail for over 14 hours.

At times it was so hot I was sweating.
At times it was so cold I was shivering.
And at all times it smelled rancid.

We sat or huddled in the women’s cell atop either hard cement benches or hard metal bunks (with no mattresses) covered by dried and crusted bodily fluids and years of dirt. A guard saw our sunburns and assumed we had contracted a rash from being in the cells. Without windows or clocks we were deprived of our sense of time. The fluorescent lights lit everything into a brightly illuminated nowhere. It took over 9 hours until we had access to our phone call. From the architecture, to the way guards ignored or yelled at us, everything was designed in a way to strip us of our sense of self and power. At one point, I overheard a guard saying “A beating would not harm that one.” It was a very long 14 hours in jail. Continue reading

Praying and Preying

BarberThis week Rev. William Barber was asked about the preacher who was asked to pray at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The white Southern Baptist pastor has spoken out against Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, gay men and lesbians, Mormonism. Barber’s response:

That same group of people will go in and pray—P-R-A-Y—with President Trump and his other allies in the Congress and bless them, while Trump and his allies are preying—P-R-E-Y-I-N-G—on the poor and the broken and the hurting and the least among. It is sad. It is theological malpractice. It is costing people their lives. It is mean-spirited. And the world should stand up and speak out against it. And clergy and people of faith should speak out against it. And we should stop, in the media, assigning “Christian” and “evangelical” to persons like this. If we say it, we should say it in quotes, or we should call it what it is. It is not Christianity. It is not evangelicalism. It is not the religion of Jesus, who, in his first sermon, said to follow Jesus was to preach good news to the poor, to care for the brokenhearted, to provide liberty and healing to the bruised, and to declare the acceptable year of the lord. Nothing in that says endorse killing, endorse hatred, endorsed meanness.

They’ll Return Week After Week

PPC, MassachusettsYesterday, more than a thousand people of faith and conscience were arrested nation-wide in acts of civil disobedience in front of state capital buildings.  The Poor People’s Campaign has returned and will continue for forty days.  It’s not too late to join up and throw in with this movement that comes with specific demands for lawmakers: federal and state minimum wage laws “commensurate for the 21st century economy”, relief from student-loan debt, a repeal of the 2017 GOP tax cuts legislation, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, an end to mass incarceration, a fracking ban, protection of public lands, a cessation of US military involvement and universal healthcare.

This is from co-director Liz Theoharis on Democracy Now yesterday:

…in almost 40 states across this country, there are people, impacted folks, poor people, who are taking action together. And we were in Marks, Mississippi. We were in Lowndes County, Alabama. We were in El Paso, Texas. We have traveled around this country, because this campaign is a deep organizing drive amongst people who need to have their voices heard, need their stories to be told, so that we hear that there are 140 million poor people in this country, that in this country there are 38 million poor children. Almost half of this country’s children are poor. And this is unacceptable. And so, people are taking action together, and not just today, but they are deep-dive organizing in their communities. They’ll return, week after week, for this 40 days and into the future, as we build a deep moral movement to turn this country around.

James Cone: The Scalpel & The Compress

James ConeThe reflections on Dr. James Cone’s life and teaching keep on pouring in from his former students.  This one is from Ken Sehested the curator of Prayer & Politiks.

I was traveling when the news of Dr. James Cone’s death was reported on Saturday. The first thought that came to mind was what seems to be a providential concurrence: His passing came two days after the opening of the National Peace and Justice Memorial, solemnizing the lynching in the US of some 4,400 black people, in 800 counties, between 1877 and 1950. Cone’s last book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was recipient of this year’s Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Continue reading

He Once Told Me

James ConeBy Marc Mullinax

James H. Cone, my professor at Union Seminary (NYC), died Saturday. He once told me something I think about every day. In September of 1987 he said: “Marc, you are too white and privileged ever to be a follower of Jesus. You’ll never ‘get‘ Jesus. You’ll use your privilege always to live apart from and out-of-earshot from the voices of the poor and underside of history. You’ll never be a Christian.” Of course, I immediately got reactive, and so missed his spot-on point.

He’s right, of course. And this one conversation and my internal dialogues ever since (”Is Cone right? Is Cone wrong?”) have done more for me than anything, in helping me to live into the kind of Christianity that might actually be worth something: less white, less privileged, less other-worldly.

Rest in peace, my life-long quarrel partner.

Marc Mullinax is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Faculty at Mars Hill University in western North Carolina. He is a member ofwww.circleofmercy.org. He is now at work on a project now called “The Tao of Justice: A New Interpretation of the Dao de Ching.”