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“This is your captain speaking. We’ve had more contact with air traffic control in New York. All planes are to land at the nearest airport and wait for additional instruction—We’ll be coming down at Indianapolis International Airport in ten minutes.”

It was the morning of 9/11, aboard Southwest Airlines for our flight to Boston and the directed retreat at Gloucester. A story larger than life was beginning to spew like torn film from a projector. From the rental car’s radio, news analysts blurted surreal facts as proportions of the disaster mounted. Stops at gas stations evoked spirited conversations: no one was a stranger. In the lobby of the Best Western at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, television sets plied ghoulish scenes to the ongoing narrative.

The following seven days at the retreat center afforded a safe place to grieve and pray. Evil had burnt the psyche of our nation: it would never be the same. From the heart of that conflagration stories still flow.

And yet another huge story encircles Planet Earth like a knife-sharp, ill-fitting corset, its ties in knots. Again, I’m at a remove from its raw grief. Yet I feel the global spirit, weighted with peril as it seeks to contain the Coronavirus from further infection. As with 9/11 we’re dealing with the specter of death.

Like grains of incense glowing atop coals in a thurifer, such stories continue yielding their fragrance, continue honing the disparate experiences into meaningful wholes, with consequent psychic growth for spirited warriors. The pandemic has yet to be resolved.

The war between Good and Evil continues …

 

Creator God of ever-expanding universes, be mindful of Planet Earth’s contagion that seeks new hosts to infect, new reversals to upend, new spirits to crush. Protect us from whoever or whatever foisted this ghoulish scourge upon us.

Continue deepening our willingness to contain its spread, whatever the cost. Continue humbling us before its enormity whose duration lies in the unknown. Continue prodding our conscious participation in each twenty-four hours. Continue helping us be mindful of others and their needs.

Our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance of this global upheaval, fraught with dark wisdom. From this crucible of suffering must emerge fresh paradigms for more meaningful care for each other and for Planet Earth.

Help us become aware of these patterns as they surface and practice them. We renew our trust in Your gift of Life: each moment, so precious.

Amen.

 

Long has been my passion for the Crucified Cosmic Christ: the mortal wounding, the shuddering silence, the lens through which to view human atrocities, specifically lynchings of Southern Black men, women, and children: Victims of white supremacist mob rule, they were hung from trees or lampposts, beaten, whipped, burned, castrated, flayed alive, mutilated, or shot.

But James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) tripwired my passion anew. Within the fiery cauldron of his psyche, he theologized the cross with lynching. Other than Black artists with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, no theologian, White or Black, had attempted this configuration.

Cone, former Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, was curiously adept to write these five essays; he fused his segregated childhood in Arkansas with advanced degrees in theology from Northwestern University and the teachings of Dr. King and Malcolm X. What agonized Cone the most, however, was the blind eye cast by Christian churches and state and federal authorities upon lynching—like it was all right. Cone’s family felt its probability at any time.

It was only Black churches, alive with Gospel hymns and spirituals of the Crucified, together with Friday and Saturday juke joints alive with the blues, jazz, and dancing that sustained families from this psychic oppression and moral disintegration. Over time, however, passive suffering with their Lord morphed into nonviolent resistance and the Civil Rights Movement. The rest is history.

In my perception, The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a dense and rich study that warrants reflection and prayer—most appropriate for Lent. Annotations and indexing offer opportunities for further study.

 

 

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