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The scene was overwhelming: Herringboned clouds bleached blueness, overhead; centuries-old oaks, freshly leafed, shaded the rolling hills, the grass resembling grown-out buzz cuts of new recruits; asphalt roads serpentined among clearly marked plots filled with the remains of women and men who had served our country in combat or peacetime. Thousands of American flags cast a pink glow upon the white oval faces of the headstones, resembling gothic doorways of ancient monks.

Cars inched around turns with tent-covered lemonade stands, with groundskeepers welcoming visitors and helping with directions. Children in T-shirts and shorts walked Indian-style behind their parents, holding pots of flowers. A heavyset lone senior leaned on her cane while scanning the row of headstones for her loved one.

It was Memorial Day, the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery outside of St. Louis, Missouri, and my first visit to this historic site.

I weep with those who weep.

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.

 

 

Hold on for dear life should you pick up this historical novel, an international bestseller that was released in America in 2009.

Hitler’s Berlin, rife with sadism, snitches, crippling restrictions, and brutality, mirrors the evil that terrorized the populace. Into this world the troubled German author Hans Fallada (1911-1947) recreates the true story of Otto and Eloise Hampel, a middle-aged hardscrabble couple, aggrieved by the death of Eloise’s brother during the invasion of France. Their fury fuels a two-year stint of dropping hundreds of postcards, filled with civil disobedience, in Berlin’s public places. However, instead of rousing their finders to take subversive action on their own, they hand over the cards to the police, who then send them on to the Gestapo. A heated search for the perpetrators follows.

What makes this story gripping, however, is Hans Fallada’s witness to Nazi atrocities. A best-selling author before the establishment of the Third Reich, he chose to remain in Berlin and pick up work from the Party to support his wife and children, rather than immigrate to London. However, literary restrictions placed upon his creativity eventually plunged him into alcoholism and drugs, for which he was interred in a Nazi insane asylum in Alt-Strelitz.

After Fallada’s release in 1945, a sick and broken man, Johannes R. Becher, in the employ of the Soviets, gave him the Gestapo file on the Hampels and urged him to write their story. However, hospitalizations delayed this project, only begun the following year. Within twenty-four days, Fallada produced the first draft. He died before its publication in 1947.

In 2009, Melville House Publishing picked up Michael Hoffman’s English translation of Every Man Dies Alone and released it to wild acclaim.

Unfortunately, many little people are still caught up in totalitarian regimes around the world. Their stories speak to those willing to listen.

 

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Available on Amazon

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