The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Review


Professor James H. Cone

WARNING: This essay contains graphic language and images.

James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011; Kindle edition) was a difficult read, at times excruciating for an American child of upper-middle class white privilege like myself. Yet if healing is ever to come – if we are ever to live as one race, the human race, for whom skin color is no more important than a dozen other interesting but secondary characteristics – then we must return to the scene of the crime. Reconciliation begins there.

For Americans, the crime scene spanned at least sixty years, from 1880-1940. Over that period, nearly 5,000 black Americans died at the hands of white lynch mobs (Cone, 3). The victims included a handful of women but were mostly men strung up on trees, castrated, pulled behind automobiles, flayed into unconsciousness and burned alive.

Lynching on 9 August 1930, in Marion, Indiana

Lynching on 9 August 1930, in Marion, Indiana

No due process of law was given to these black men often accused of raping white women. In many instances, white anger was provoked by consensual sexual intercourse between a black man and a white female (Cone, 127).

The Marion, Indiana lynching (pictured above) inspired Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allen) to pen the poem, “Strange Fruit,” later recorded by blues singer, Billy Holiday (cited by Cone, 120):

Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree.

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Jeddie’s bread

A large pizza, loaf of bread and coffee cake, all from a single batch of dough

A large pizza, loaf of bread and coffee cake, all from a single batch of dough

Part of the fun of being on extended holiday is trying new things. Amy divulged to me the secret of her tasty pizza, a yeast bread recipe from her friend, Jeddie, shared years ago in French language school:


1) Into a large bowl, pour 1 cup warm water. Add 1 teaspoon yeast and stir. Let rest 5-10 minutes.

2) To the mixture, add 2 cups sour milk.  To sour the milk, add 2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice.

3) Next, add:

- 3/4 cups oil

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 2 teaspoons salt

- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

4) Knead in 6-8 cups flour.

(Optional during step 4: play Anne’s Murray’s “You Needed Me.” – yes, that’s Greg’s punny humor…)

At this point, you can either put in fridge overnight (covered with a kitchen towel) or use the dough right away.

The recipe makes a lot. Amy and I made pizza and a loaf of bread, plus some coffee cake – see photo.

Note: For the coffee cake, she took half of the dough and added an extra large egg and 1/4 cup sugar, sprinkling with brown sugar, a variety of brown spices, some margarine and apple sauce. You can also use the same modified dough for sweet rolls. Be creative.


An engaging tale in search of a broader audience

51TQQwFVyBL._AA160_Every good writer should write about what they know. As one born and raised in the vicinity of Elbridge, New York, where A Rifle for Reed (Amazon Kindle, 2013) takes place, author Amy Crofford is well-suited to craft this young reader’s tale. Well-researched and fast-paced, the story follows the 1851 adventures of twelve-year-old Reed Porter. It is a time of ferment in the country as people take sides in the great debate over slavery. Reed’s family is caught-up in the drama surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act and must decide where their loyalties lie.

Crofford is a newcomer to the genre and offers a wholesome alternative to much of the darker themes that dominate youth literature. The main drawback to the book – and the reason for my four star rating – is its limited marketing as a self-published work of fiction. One can only hope that a publisher will latch onto this engaging story and give it the wider audience it deserves.

An inspiration for all achievers

Myan Subrayan -Unbelievable! - HRYou may not be a swimmer, but if you’re an achiever in any area of life, you’ll enjoy Unbelievable: A Book About Family, Values, and Perseverance (Penguin, 2014; Amazon Kindle edition). Author Myan Subrayan had done an excellent job introducing us to one of South Africa’s sports heroes, 2012 Olympic swimming gold medalist, Chad le Clos.

Mr le Clos surprised many when he bested the legendary Michael Phelps in the men’s 200 m butterfly in London. What has been equally impressive since that high moment is Chad’s down-to-earth way of handling success. Thanks largely to his strong family, he has stayed grounded, including throwing himself into a handful of worthy causes. These include the fight against breast cancer, following his mother’s battle with the disease, as well as the campaign to save Africa’s rhinos from extinction.

Unfortunately, on some topics, the book stays in the shallow end of the pool. As a person of faith, I would have appreciated more about Chad’s religion. From time-to-time there was a hint, such as this line : “God has given me talent and opportunities, and I want to use these to make a positive difference wherever I go” (location 1736, Kindle). Hopefully, future bios will confidently swim into deeper waters.

All-in-all, Unbelievable accomplishes what it sets out to do. At a time when some other South African sports heroes have spectacularly imploded, it’s refreshing to see a young man who has already accomplished much yet kept a positive and balanced outlook. Keep up the good work, sir.


Photo credit: Penguin Books (South Africa)

There’s only one race

img-0-7268608-jpgWith one observation, anthropologist Charles Gailey changed my worldview:

“There is only one race, the human race.”

His “we’re all in this together” claim took a wrecking ball to the way I had previously seen people. Until then – why, I cannot say- I had always begun not by seeing what makes us all alike but by identifying what makes us all different:

He is tall, I am quite short;

She is athletic, I am not;

I am musical, he can’t carry a tune;

She is Roman Catholic, I am Nazarene;

He is black, I am white.

The 1970s Joe Raposo Sesame Street jingle only reinforced the point:

One of these things is not like the other,

One of these things just doesn’t belong.

Can you tell which thing is not like the others

Before the time I finish my song?

And so at grade school I dutifully focused on what was “not like the other,” the dark skin of Bruce and Julie, the only African-Americans in my primary school. Or Tony, the Italian heritage first grader with the big nose and Coke bottle glasses who from first grade on was the outcast. Then there was awkward Patrick, one of the few worse at sports than I was, always chosen last when we picked teams in gym class. As long as I could find among my classmates a “them” who was different and so “didn’t belong,” my fragile ten-year- old self could be sure of my position among the “us” who were alike.

The “us and them” narrative continues in 2014 America, subtly woven into the very words we use to talk about how we relate to each other. Do we not realize that sometimes the words themselves are a part of the problem? Some who rightfully protest inconsistent standards in policing based on skin color speak of “racism,” thereby unwittingly conceding that what differentiates us is more important than what unites us, in this case whether our skin is black or white. If Gailey is right – that there is only one race, the human race –  then the word “racism” misses the mark.

How can it in the final analysis be about “race” if we’re all part of the same one?

The problem lies elsewhere. The problem lies with mistakenly focusing on the adjective, not the noun:

Rich man, poor man

Christian boy, Muslim boy

Down’s Syndrome baby, healthy baby

Black girl, white girl

No matter our group of origin, we have all swallowed the same Kool Aid. We have all been socialized to think that what makes us different from each other trumps what makes us the same, and so we immediately underscore the adjective and ignore the noun.

We forget that what our Creator sees is not..

a man with money and a man with little

a boy who worships Jesus or a boy who worships Allah

a baby with a birth defect and a baby who appears flawless

a girl with dark skin and a girl with light skin

In each case, what God sees is only…

a man

a boy

a baby

a girl

…each one fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s own image, who together make up not many so-called races but a single race, the human race. Look around you – we’re all running the same race, the human race. Are we going to trip each other up or help each other cross the finish line?

Whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, or Tehran, Iran, when we’re ready…

- to no longer start the conversation with our differences and so engender fear of the other

- to begin the conversation with what makes us alike and so create unity based on our similarities

…then maybe during this season of hope we can genuinely wish for peace on earth, good will toward all human beings. For truth be known, upon every precious one of us, God’s indiscriminate favor rests.


Image credit: The Now Newspaper

Magesa on African Spirituality

51nfH883olL._UY250_In What is not Sacred? African Spirituality (Orbis, 2013, Kindle edition), Laurenti Magesa, a Jesuit from Tanzania (East Africa), opens up a new world to Westerners unconsciously fashioned by an individualistic frame-of-reference, a different way of being where the primary category is not “I” but “we.” This communal worldview takes into account not only the present but reserves a large place for the past, ancestors who have gone before, those who though dead, still live.

Magesa acknowledges that arguably there are many African cultures; however, he maintains that there is a unified way of viewing the world and life together that unites all sub-Saharan peoples, what he calls a “sameness of spirit and intention” (location 147). What is not Sacred? addresses a variety of topics related to this worldview. He argues that a truly African Christianity must allow Africans to preserve from their pre-Christian religious heritage elements that are not in conflict with the Gospel.

This essay shall limit itself to three topics that Magesa addresses, namely: 1) the role of vital power; 2) sex and community, and 3) reconciliation.

The role of “vital power”

What is “vital power”? Magesa observes (location 620):

Vital power requires and demands the active ‘skill’ inherent in created order so as to negotiate relationships between the visible and invisible elements of the universe. Vital power implies that nothing is what is seems to be on the surface. To realize this is to begin to know the meaning of life and to start living it well and fully.

The author calls this vital energy “primordial,” a force that helps the “universe to exist harmoniously and with all its constituent components” (location 633). Importantly, the ancestors are a “fundamental link in the force of life” and the “dispensers of morality and (the) venerated patriarchs of the community” (location 645).

While what Magesa observes is undoubtedly correct, he seems incapable of stepping outside his own frame-of-reference to offer meaningful critique. He passes by without comment the term “venerated patriarchs.” Can females have no place among what John Mbiti calls the “living dead,” those who take an active interest beyond the grave in the earthly vitality of the people group? According to Rev Gift Mutkwa of Africa Nazarene University, the Shona of Zimbabwe do acknowledge Mbuya Nehanda as an ancestor, but primarily for her status as the wife of Sekuru Kaguvi. In any case, if women are almost never acknowledged as ancestors, this has ramifications for the here-and-now role of women in societal leadership. If women will not be venerated later, why should we consider their point-of-view now? Magesa’s own faith confession (Roman Catholic) does not allow for the ordination of women, but for Christian traditions that do, one may ask: Is an element of prejudice based upon gender hard-wired into the African religious worldview?

Laurenti Magesa

Laurenti Magesa

A second area where Magesa offers no corrective is the question of spirit possession and libations. Speaking of herbalists who heal, he portrays them as “guided by other powers such as that of the ancestors through dreams of possession” (location 697). Likewise, he speaks of “ancestral spirits” who are capable of “bi-location,” dwelling in the “sky” but also able to “possess any creature for a certain purpose” (location 774). Later, Magesa explains: “Broadly speaking, spirit possession can be benevolent or malevolent, depending upon whether the possessing spirit fulfills positive or negative expectations” (location 1551). Because (on Magesa’s reading) the spirit can guide a family regarding the seemingly recalcitrant but justified behavior of some of its members, this type of spirit possession can have a “pedagogical value for the larger society to reform unjust systems” (location 1564). In no instance does Magesa critique the practice of spirit possession. Instead, he appears to ascribe to it positive value. For the reader reliant upon Scripture as the rule of Christian faith and practice, this is no small offense. Followers of Christ are called upon to “test the spirits, to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1a, NIV). One must wonder whether some have unwittingly invited demon possession in the name of so-called ancestral possession. Could this explain why the frequency of demon possession seems greater in Africa than in the Western world where the cult of ancestors is largely absent?

Further, Magesa describes “daily veneration of ancestors through prayer, or frequent pouring of libations to them” as “acts of piety” and as “necessary for the good ordering of the life of the community” (location 1306). Does Magesa’s language of piety as related to ancestors introduce an element foreign to Christian faith? Pouring out libations to the ancestors treads dangerously close to a similar practice that Paul declared out-of-bounds. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, he warned the Corinthians to avoid participating in both the table of the Lord and the “table of demons,” of drinking the cup of the Lord and drinking the “cup of demons.” To do so is to practice idolatry (v. 14) and to risk arousing the Lord’s anger  (v. 22). The error was split religious loyalties. God will brook no competition. Would this not include competition with the mini-deities called ancestors?

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On the occasion of ANU’s 20th anniversary celebration

DSCN6669“Agents of Positive Change”

by Gregory Crofford, PhD

Coordinator for Education and Clergy Development

Africa Region Church of the Nazarene

Transformation is what Africa Nazarene University is all about. For the last four years, ANU has encouraged today’s graduates to resist unworthy habits and – as individuals of integrity – to make a difference in their chosen fields of work, their families, communities, Kenya, Africa, and beyond. Living as agents of positive change is at the heart of the teaching of Jesus Christ. He calls everyone who would follow him to be salt that preserves the earth, yeast that permeates society, and light that brightens dark places (Matthew 5:13-15, 13:33).

The Church of the Nazarene, Africa Nazarene University’s sponsoring denomination, is a holiness church that traces part of its heritage to 18th century English evangelist and theologian, John Wesley. Wesley believed that the people called Methodists were to be different, known for love of God and neighbor. He insisted that the hallmark of a true follower of Christ was their beneficial impact on others. Wesley and his associates inspired people to avoid the compromises that yield quick gains but ultimately damage self and others. Hymn-writer Charles Wesley agreed with his brother, John, that education was crucial for enabling the pursuit of nobler things, pleading: “Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.”

Africa Nazarene University stands on the shoulders of spiritual giants like the Wesley brothers, bringing to the 21st century their warmhearted approach to the things of God, including education. Yet for the Wesleys and for ANU, faith is never to be quarantined to Sundays. The transformation that the Holy Spirit works in our heart and character is contagious, touching those around us every day of the week.

ANU graduates have become known for their academic proficiency, solid work ethic, and integrity. It is a reputation that is hard-won but easily damaged. May the 2014 graduates of African Nazarene University join the ranks of ANU alumni to be change agents – salt, yeast, and light – to positively impact our world.


This article appeared in Issue 002/October 2014 of Aspire, a magazine published by Africa Nazarene University.