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Preach Brother Preach: James Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology Lights Up the Lessons Taught by James Baldwin and Colin Kaepernick

Preach Brother Preach: James Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology Lights Up the Lessons Taught by James Baldwin and Colin Kaepernick
Christine Passarella By

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"Every human being is an unprecedented miracle." —James Baldwin

In a world of everyday people, we indeed find extraordinary courage and determination. In each of us are gifts we can give to the world to transform, uplift and sustain beauty, love and justice. The men and women who answer this call to be Coltranian forces for good nourish this earth. These are the people I am on a journey to meet, learn from and write about.

Walk with me as I explore the Coltranian paths of theologian Rev. Dr. James Cone, writer James Baldwin and athlete Colin Kaepernick as they offer this world pristine illumination in the darkness to bring hope to our human condition.

In my view, one is living a Coltranian life based on integrity, love of self and love of humanity while blazing an individual trail to continually grow into a higher self. James Cone was the founder of black liberation theology. He enriched this world with his courage to be unsettled daily and would not rest knowing the suffering his people faced and continue to face. He passed away on April 28, 2018, but his message is as alive as ever.

During the time I was blessed to live in a historic building connected to Riverside Church, I found the experience to be quite surreal as the vibrations in this apartment resonated at different decibels. Partly because literally, the apartment shared a wall with the church and the organ music floated exquisitely into my being each Sunday morning elevating me. But It was more than that as this complex also housed many brilliant scholars from Union Theological Seminary. I had the miraculous experience of riding the elevator randomly with the acclaimed African American theologian Rev. Dr. James Cone as he lived two floors below. I ran into him frequently by chance noticing he was in his sleek jogging attire on his way to run along Riverside Park. His presence inspired me simply because he was an elderly man with the discipline to jog every day. But soon this frail-looking man with a high pitched musical voice came into my consciousness with a scholarly body of work and a dedication to black people with such a fervency that my mind was forever expanded.

I soon realized I was sharing the elevator with one of those everyday people who brings the majesty of his humanity to be that force that changes the molecules in a room. Rev. Dr. James Cone was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary. He recently passed away at the age of 79, but his presence on this earth has made an impact on his friends, colleagues, family, students...and me, a lady who shared the elevator with him once in a while.

It was my friend and mentor Dr. Cornel West who introduced me to Dr. Cone. He recently stated in memorializing his close friend and colleague, "James Cone was an exemplary figure in a tradition of a people who have been traumatized for 400 years but taught the world so much about healing; terrorized for 400 years and taught the world so much about freedom; hated for 400 years and taught the world so much about love and how to love. James Cone was a love warrior with an intellectual twist, rooted in gutbucket Jim Crow Arkansas, ended up in the top of the theological world but was never seduced by the idles of the world."

In his phenomenal book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Rev. Cone lays it out telling us that the lynching of black people in America was like the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Dr. Cone authored 12 books and 150 articles. His last book, Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian will be released this fall. Cone's outstanding corpus forces America to look in the mirror and examine its history as it relates to the treatment of black people.

"Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a 'recrucified" black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy," Reverend Cone told us.

Born in 1936, he was raised in Arkansas which was a lynching state. Young James Cone watched his parents deal with segregation and the threats of lynching. He was deeply affected by the sacrifices they made for the family and the examples of courage and love their lives represented. James Cone is now gone but his challenge to us to continue the conversation must be ongoing if we are to rise and fulfill America's promise. He places the cross metaphorically next to the lynching tree and challenges us to see Jesus in America in a new light. His clear understanding of how the oppressor treats the oppressed is something he teaches and preaches to America's citizens in a belief we will finally wrap our hearts and minds around the travesty of injustice brought to African American people.

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