Tuesday, October 7, 2008

And now for something completely different

Southern trees bear strange fruit…
Billie Holliday

My family and I got our lazy butts out of bed on Sunday and actually made it to church for the first time in weeks. Despite having to shush my daughter 400 times, I’m glad we went because there was a very interesting speaker after the service.

Dr. James H. Cone spoke on the topic of Black Liberation Theology. An offbeat choice for an Upper East Side Episcopalian church with lots of Old New York names on the roster, that’s for sure. When I heard he was Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s teacher, my first reaction was to close off. Like a lot of people, I didn’t love what Rev. Wright said about AIDS and 9/11 and all those roosting chickens. And I didn’t particularly want to hear the rehashing of old YouTube clips.

But I’m glad I stayed around. I won’t go too much into his speech, because I wouldn’t be doing it justice, but Dr. Cone lived through the days of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the Jim Crow South, and most of his viewpoints about Christianity were formed in that environment. This was a time when the public meaning of Christianity was white, even within the black community itself. A time when theologians ignored white supremacy and the black struggle against it. He drew parallels between the Cross and the lynching tree. It was a shocking and painful but heartfelt speech on a subject most people try to forget (lynching as well as crucifixion.)

I think we, especially as writers, but also as citizens, are always enriched when we hear things from another point of view. His speech doesn’t necessarily change my opinion on Rev. Wright, but I do feel that I’ve gained some insight as to where all that anger was coming from. Parishioners after the speech were talking to each other about social justice, and my husband and I debated it as well. (That’s actually a big theme in our family—that and the broader theme of kindness—we have ongoing discussions with our daughters on these topics.)

Seeing things from another perspective is a good thing, as Martha would say.

13 comments:

Janna Qualman said...

Wow, Wendy, this post sent a chill coursing through my body - twice! I wish I could have been there. Sounds like it was a poignant speech/sermon to have observed.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Love that song! Got to see a film presented by the local Jewish Society something or other (excuse my age-related brain blip), and a good portion of it featured the author of the poem which the song came from. Interesting. Surf here for more--> http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACstrangefruit.htm

Melanie Avila said...

I always appreciate hearing other people's viewpoints, even if I don't agree with their beliefs. It sounds like he touched a lot of people.

WendyCinNYC said...

It really was interesting. Even with the content aside, his style of speaking was fascinating to see in front of this particular audience.

Angie--Thanks for the link!

colbymarshall said...

Really interesting post...it's so fascinating to hear others standpoints on topics such as this

spyscribbler said...

Wow, what a great opportunity! As a teacher, it's a little scary to me that I'm judged by my students. Maybe Dr. Cone taught Rev. Wright that anger, though. I don't know. Just interesting to remember I'm judged by my students! Kind of scary, lol.

WendyCinNYC said...

Spy--I guess I should be more specific than "teacher." Rev. Wright was a self-described disciple of Dr. Cone, specific to the subject of Black Liberation Theology. So I guess he was more of a mentor.

And I'm not writing all this to extol the virtues of Dr. Cone. There are many things he says with which I disagree.

He's a clip of him on Bill Moyers Journal, talking about the cross and the lynching tree:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11232007/watch.html

Joanne said...

It seems like part of what's important is what came afterward - talking and debating the issue among the parishioners and you and your husband. It sounds like it opened a dialogue encouraging critical thinking, so important.

WendyCinNYC said...

joanne--I think so, too.

ac said...

Perhaps because I'm a minority but Rev. Wright's position doesn't upset me. Nor does it upset anyone else I know (that isn't white, I mean).

That isn't to say I agree with all his positions, specifically AIDS.

And I'd also like to add that I think if I were white that I would take offense to his 911 comments. But I'm not. So I don't.

WendyCinNYC said...

I do have to wonder, though, if Rev. Wright would have delivered that speech just days after 911 if he was a pastor at a NYC church. Many of his congregants would be dead, or have just lost someone, or be suffering from shock or depression.

Maybe he would. But I have to think he would be more sensisitive to the needs of his church members.

I take more issue with his timing than anthing else.

WendyCinNYC said...

I do have to wonder, though, if Rev. Wright would have delivered that speech just days after 911 if he was a pastor at a NYC church. Many of his congregants would be dead, or have just lost someone, or be suffering from shock or depression.

Maybe he would. But I have to think he would be more sensisitive to the needs of his church members.

I take more issue with his timing than anthing else.

ac said...

I can't presume to know if he would have. There is a time and place for everything. However, I will presume that he would have given the speech at some point.

After all, what he said in full context is what many said the day of 911 and days after. Heck, even years after.