“Black people did not land on Plymouth Rock; that rock landed on us!” – James Cone
James Cone, a fiery professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, presented his talk on Theology, Justice, and the Old Testament at the UK Diversity Seminar this past Thursday. A little slow going, for sure, since there was a lot of presentation on the diversity program itself, and a few treats including an African American musician who filled the room with a soothing but very powerful gospel-like song on living for God, and it not being in vain. Once a James Cone stepped up to the podium, his appearance of aging and his initial soft spoken words were enough for my mind to criticism him as a boring lecturer that I was going to have to strain through to hear for the next hour…
…James Cone blew my socks off! And with it flew all the judgments I made of the seemingly elder gentleman. That Ol’ man has got spunk!
Through out his lecture, my fingers flew over the keys of my computer, never ceasing for than a moment, as I tried to capture everything he was saying. When someone speaks with as much passion as what that man did, it’s hard to not feel like every statement is important to record and remember.
Idiom after idiom my fingers recorded James words like the one quoted above at the top of this blog. As he brought reality foreword of the racial segregation, discrimination, and racism that is still present in today’s culture, he was not particularly nice to any one group of people. James focused on the distorted image of Martin Luther King in today society, and how the leaders of this nation (Governmental and Spiritual) have stuffed MLK into the nice little box where he is used to ‘prove’ our advancements in racial equality, and represent peace and forgiveness.
“America loves their image of MLK! He is more useful dead than alive – dead people don’t talk back.” – James Cone
MLK was not a peaceful man, he was not nice, and not necessarily forgiving. But he was just! He’d be roaring with rage to see the way we have used his name, lifted him him – given him a holiday! – yet are doing absolutely nothing to follow his words by fighting for the justice of the poor. MLK was a God fearing man, who lived under the influence of a just God, where the Old Testament God of power and justice reigns in full! He walked after Jesus “denying himself, taking up his cross daily and following him.” Which in King’s mind meant seeking justice, as Jesus did, for the lowest and the least of society.
This idea of a God of justice and wrath, who, as James quoted, said “Be still! And know that I am God. If you don’t obey me I’m going to break the backbone of your power!” is much more of an Old Testament God, that is portrayed more just, and forceful, and angry. (Its not that Jesus did not have his shining moments, but the overwhelming mentality of justice, anger, and law, is associated more with the Old Testament God.)
In class we have studied the varying character traits of God as different authors have presented him. His presence in some stories is under the radar, and in others, flat out in your face – laying down the law. MLK was an in-your-face kind of man who associated with the in-your-face side of God. Morality is simple; do what’s right. Period.
May the wrath of God reign on the unjust = May the wrath of God reign on the leaders of America. God’s wrath reigned on Israel. It was a wavering union, where the intensity of the punishment could be begged and bartered for. This paints a picture of a common parenting situation when a child does what’s clearly wrong yet begs the parent to ease the punishment for the sake of repentance. MLK related with this aspect of forgiveness, but James’s point was that if he were here today he’d tear down the governmental monuments that have masked the truth of our disobedience to God’s call for justice – for all people.
“It’s easier to build a monument than to change the world” – James Cone