Thursday, April 19, 2018


A goat. Image source.
1. Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis (posted April 11) [content note: racism, death of babies] 

2. Disabled People (Might) Finally Get Emojis That Represent Us (posted April 9) "Look at an emoji keyboard, however, and you’d never know [disabled people] exist at all. But if you’re a vampire or a merperson, you’re covered; there are currently seven emojis representing fantasy characters like fairies and elves."

3. The anti-abortion hypocrisy of proposed pro-Down syndrome legislation (posted April 10) "But Republican legislators, at every turn, have sought to dismantle the safety nets that would keep these families from tumbling into an abyss from which no one can return on their own."

4. A Thief in the Night: Traumatizing Children for Fun and Prophet (posted March 30) "Instead of protecting children and contextualizing their sometimes out-of-control fears, fundagelicals try their best to hijack those responses to brainwash their kids."

5. Andy Savage and the Problem of Evil (posted April 4) [content note: sexual assault and coverup] "Thousands of Christians located their car keys after praying for them and found divinely-ordained love." Yep, this is why I don't pray.

6. China's Weibo site backtracks on gay censorship after outcry (posted April 17) "'The response shows that we LGBT people in China are slowly realizing our rights,' Hua said. 'Gay people who would not have spoken out years ago are now letting their voices be heard.'"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Xiamen, China (part 2)

More photos from our trip to 厦门 Xiamen~

(These are all from 鼓浪屿 Gulangyu Island.)

You know how in last week's post there was a piano museum? Well there is also a completely separate organ museum.

From Gulangyu Island, you can look across the water and see the tall buildings of the city of Xiamen.

This is a giant statue of 郑成功 Zheng Chenggong, who got took Taiwan back from Japanese rule.

There is a statue garden dedicated to 林巧稚 Lin Qiaozhi, a (female) Chinese ob-gyn who helped make a lot of advances in China's medical system. (The writing under the statue says she lived from 1901 to 1983.)

Another statue related to Lin Qiaozhi


Series of posts with photos from my trip to Xiamen:

Taking the Train in China
Xiamen, China
Xiamen, China (part 2)


If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Strange Fruit"

Fannie Lou Hamer speaks at the Democratic national convention in 1964. Image source.
Let's look at chapter 5 of James Cone's book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It's called "Oh Mary, don't you weep," and it's about black women's role in fighting against lynching.

Cone starts out by saying that black women were lynched sometimes too- about 2% of lynching victims were women. He says this about Mary Turner:
[content note: graphic description of lynching]
When a mob in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1918 failed to find Sidney Johnson, accused of murdering his boss, Hampton Smith, they decided to lynch another black man, Haynes Turner, who was known to dislike Smith. Turner's wife, Mary, who was eight months pregnant, protested vehemently and vowed to seek justice for her husband's lynching. The sheriff, in turn, arrested her and then gave her up to the mob. In the presence of a crowd that included women and children, Mary Turner was "stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death."
Holy shit.

How could this happen?

Howwww? Mary Turner wasn't even suspected of any crime. She was just angry about her husband being lynched- like, yeah obviously anybody would be angry about that. And her husband wasn't even accused of the murder, why was he lynched? And why did the sheriff hand Mary over to the mob- this sheriff should be punished because that is THE OPPOSITE of what his job is supposed to be.

I think the answer to the "how could this happen" questions is this: A lot of white people back then believed that blacks didn't belong in their society. Like, they're not supposed to even be here, but we'll let them, as long as they don't make trouble. When a black person was suspected to be connected with some crime, it wasn't like "but do they deserve to be killed just for this crime?"- it was like "ugh, see, this is why black people aren't even supposed to be here anyway, just get rid of them."

That's the explanation I've come to, anyway. And I wish I had learned more about that in school- I wish that, as a white person, I was educated about how white people have justified their racism, historically. So that I can recognize it when I see those same sorts of attitudes in modern politics. Or in myself.

Because I think for a lot of white people, when we read that account of Mary Turner's lynching, we're shocked and disgusted- it's so graphic, so violent, so obviously unjust, it's unimaginable. It feels like a horribly scary thing from history, a long time ago, with no connection to our current society at all. And that's a problem.

Cone then goes on to talk about the "unspeakable black suffering" caused by lynching, and how people have found comfort in the biblical story of Job, laments found in the psalms, and in Jesus' suffering.
Just as Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" many lynched victims made similar outbursts of despair to God before they took their last breath, hoping for divine intervention that did not come.
In some ways, it was more difficult for black women than for black men. Men might be more able to flee to another city when they were threatened with lynching, but women often needed to stay because they had children to take care of.

Next, we read about Ida B. Wells, who made it her life's work to fight against lynching through her writing and in speeches she gave all around the country. She started her anti-lynching work in 1892 when her friend Tommie Moss and two other men were lynched because whites' "envy of black economic success." In her essay "Lynch Law in America," Wells wrote:
It is not the creature of the hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an 'unwritten law' that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.
YES. See, I had always understood lynching as "an angry mob got out of control and it's not really anybody's fault." Like the murderers didn't even realize what they were doing, they just got caught up in their emotions or something, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe later when they can think clearly they would feel guilty about it. Wells says no. I now think it was probably more along the lines of "a lot of white people just wanted to get rid of black people in general, so they were happy to have an excuse to do it." (With slight variations depending on if we're talking about the white people who were active participants, or the white people who just kind of condoned it or did nothing.)

Rape was often used as a justification for lynching- white people said black men were "beasts" who often attacked white women. But: "In her research, Wells discovered that rape was given as the reason in only about one-third of lynchings. In many of these cases, the claims referred to consensual sexual acts, while in others, the claims were often false."

Cone gives the example of William Offett, who was accused of raping Mrs. J. C. Underwood in Ohio. Offett said that the sex was consensual, but was put in prison anyway. After he had served 4 years in prison, Underwood confessed to her husband that actually it was consensual, but she had lied to protect her reputation. Offett was then released from prison. Cone points out:
Had the Offett-Underwood sexual encounter occurred in the South, a white mob probably would have castrated him and strung him on a lynching tree or "burned him alive." This is what happened to Ed Coy in Texarkana, Texas (1892), as well as to many blacks in the South and sometimes even in the North and West.
And, I should point out, this idea that black men are dangerous because they rape white women is a thing SOME PEOPLE STILL BELIEVE. In 2015, Dylann Roof said "you rape our women" before he killed 9 people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Also, black women pointed out the hypocrisy of rape being used as a justification for lynching black men, but white people not caring about black women being raped by white men. In the citation list in the back of Cone's book, we find At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power; maybe that would be worth reading too.

Cone talks about how Ida B. Wells risked her life in her fight against lynching- she was almost lynched because of it. She found strength in her faith to keep fighting. And she had Some Opinions about white Christianity:
Wells was especially critical of evangelist Dwight Moody, who segregated his revivals to appease whites in the South. "Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians."
Damnnnnnnnn that'll preach.

Also this:
Black people did not need to go to seminary and study theology to know that white Christianity was fraudulent. ... There was no way a community could support or ignore lynching in America, while still representing in word and deed the one who was lynched by Rome.

I am SO DONE with the "high view of Scripture" Christianity which says you can't trust your own heart to know injustice when you see it, and instead you have to find bible verses that say so. I am SO DONE with the endless arguments about "what did Paul really mean" about how women shouldn't speak in church, or about how same-sex relationships are sinful, or whatever. By their fruit you will know them. Just look at how bad and harmful it is when you teach women they're not allowed to be leaders. Just look at how bad and harmful it is when you make gay Christians believe there's something wrong with them. (And how bad it was back when white people were using the bible to justify their racism.) We don't need to carefully comb through the bible in order to be allowed to show basic decency to people.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

Next, we read about Billie Holiday and the song "Strange Fruit" (which was written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish man, but made famous by Holiday). Here is a version from youtube:

The song starts out like this:
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 trees.
Cone writes this about "Strange Fruit":
With vivid and horrific imagery, deep and disturbing emotions, Billie Holiday's rendition of "Strange Fruit" forced white listeners to wrestle with the violent truth of white supremacy. No white person could listen to Billie's "Strange Fruit" without feeling indicted and exposed by the sound of truth and contempt in her voice. She made whites look at the brutality they wanted to forget. That was why "Strange Fruit" was often banned from many radio stations and several clubs would not let Billie sing it, especially when whites walked out, claiming that it was not entertainment. Those who stayed to listen were eerily quiet as Billie told the story of lynching in the South. Billie's record company, Columbia, refused to record it, fearing that the South would boycott them.
Cone also talks about Fannie Lou Hamer's work during the Civil Rights Movement. For her, Jesus' cross was an inspiration, and she taught that blacks should follow Jesus' example and "take up the cross." However, Cone writes:
Yet Hamer did not embrace the cross uncritically. She was aware of its dangers. "We have always been taught," she said, "that we have to suffer as Christ suffered. He was killed and all of his followers persecuted. But I think in terms of what David had to do. David was a shepherd boy. He was giving service to his people. But it came a time in his life when he had to slay Goliath."
(I'm assuming that "aware of its dangers" refers to the ideology that says suffering is a good thing in and of itself.)
After telling the country and the world (at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City) about her attempts to register and vote and the vicious beating that followed in a Mississippi jail, Fannie Lou Hamer asked the poignant question that stirred the conscience of most Americans watching her speak over live television: "Is this America?" Her power and eloquence captivated the nation. She knew that even liberal whites could not deny the truth about white supremacy in America. Yet, they did not want to hear that truth, the fact that America's democracy is hypocrisy in the lives of its black population. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, knew all too well the hard truth of Hamer's testimony. Immediately, after seeing and hearing her speak, he called a news conference in order to get that "illiterate woman" off live television.
You can listen to her whole speech on youtube.

This is shocking- black people were beaten for registering to vote. (How did I not know about that? I mean, yes we learned about it in history class, but I didn't really *get* what that really meant.) But this isn't ancient history- voter suppression of black Americans is still a problem today. (Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, closing polling stations, not allowing early voting, etc.)

And Jeff Sessions was involved in blocking black people from voting, back in the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, Jeff Sessions, current Attorney General of the United States. This isn't ancient history. This still matters now. Remember Senator Elizabeth Warren, reading Coretta Scott King's letter about Sessions, in the year 2017? King had written, in 1986, "The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods."

Near the end of the chapter, Cone talks about Delores Williams, a womanist theologian:
She rejected the view common in classic texts of the Western theological tradition as well as in the preaching of African American churches that Jesus accomplished human salvation by dying in our place. According to Williams, Jesus did not come to save us through his death on the cross but rather he "came to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships." She argued that if Jesus were a surrogate, then his gospel encourages black women to accept their surrogacy roles as well-- suffering for others as Jesus did on the cross. But if the salvation that Jesus brought could be separated from surrogacy, then black women were free to reject it too.
I believe this is SO IMPORTANT. It's good that different people have different interpretations of the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. And it's extremely important that we examine the effects of our theology- like Williams criticizing the "Jesus died in our place" ideology because it can be used to teach people they're supposed to suffer in others' place and they should just accept that.

Overall, this chapter of The Cross and the Lynching Tree shows us how lynching affected black women and how they fought back. Cone says that even though the most well-known leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were men, it was "also a women's movement," and that "If Rosa Parks had not sat down, Martin Luther King Jr. would not have stood up."


Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree (by James H. Cone):

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem
For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon" 
Dr. King and What Taking Up the Cross Actually Looks Like
"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"
"Strange Fruit"

Thursday, April 12, 2018


A puppy. Image source.
1. How 2 Women Are Working to Erase Anxiety Around Being Plus-Size in Public (posted April 5) "I have scrolled through more photos of ravioli than you can imagine, when all I really want to know is if a restaurant's booths have tables that move or tables that are bolted down".

2. Film Theory: The Cost of Disney's DARKEST Business!! (Pinocchio) (posted April 3) An analysis of the economics of Pleasure Island.

3. C.S. Lewis' Trilemma is Naive and Unhelpful (posted April 7) Yep.

4. Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (posted April 8) John Oliver talks about crisis pregnancy centers as if it's *shocking* how dishonest and manipulative they are, and how they take advantage of vulnerable people. But as an ex-evangelical, I am not shocked. Not a bit. Even though I was never involved with crisis pregnancy centers back then, every single thing Oliver says about their dishonesty rings true to me. Because I used to do evangelism in basically the same way. I know all about trying to manipulate people into giving the right response in a "life-or-death situation" that they don't even believe is a "life-or-death situation." I know all about pretending to respect people's right to make their own choices.

5. The Courtship Constraints of Homeschool Erotica (posted April 11) "The “homeschool erotica” I created in my mind, then, had to involve circumstances that would result in marriage anyway—because that was the only context within which romance or sex were allowed." This is a really interesting topic- about how those of us who grew up in purity culture used to fantasize about the love story we wanted, and how those fantasies had to be constrained by the rules about when romance and sex were or were not sinful. (And I'm realizing my own fantasies were ... a little more on the asexual side.)

6. Ultimate SCB Film Bracket (posted April 7) Fill out this bracket of the best Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Harry Potter movies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Xiamen, China

Here are the photos from our trip to Xiamen, China! (厦门, pronounced kind of like "sha-mun.") It's a well-known vacation spot for Chinese people, in southern China (about the same latitude as Key West, Florida). We were there during winter but the weather was super-nice, in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit. (Note that China uses Celsius though.)

There is a big touristy island in Xiamen called Gulangyu 鼓浪屿. The whole thing is beaches and pretty scenery. There aren't any cars on this island, just a ton of pedestrian paths, and some smaller electric vehicles.

Anyway here's part 1 of our photos:

Taking the ferry from the city to the island.

Ferry terminal

There is a caligraphy carving museum. It's all artwork of Chinese characters carved into wood or other materials.

There is a piano museum there. It has pianos from Europe and the US. Some were pretty old.

I don't even know what's going on with this piano.

Narrow pedestrian streets and little restaurants and souvenir shops.

Xiamen is so beautiful! I'll be posting more pictures next week~


Series of posts with photos from my trip to Xiamen:

Taking the Train in China
Xiamen, China
Xiamen, China (part 2)


If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"

W. E. B. Du Bois. Image source.
[content note: lynching]

This week we’re looking at chapter 4 of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, which is called “The Recrucified Christ in Black Literary Imagination.” In this chapter, Cone talks about how black artists and writers connected the crucifixion of Jesus with the injustice of lynching in their own society.

The chapter starts off with the poem “Christ Recrucified” by Countee Cullen:
The South is crucifying Christ again
By all the laws of ancient rote and rule:
The ribald cries of “Save yourself” and “fool”
Din in his ear, the thorns grope for his brain,
And where they bite, swift springing rivers stain
His gaudy, purple robe of ridicule
With sullen red; and acid wine to cool
His thirst is thrust at him, with lurking pain.
Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue,
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women too,
Shout, battling for black and brittle bones.
Cone says that white pastors were silent on lynching, and black pastors sometimes talked about it but not as directly as black artists did. He asks, “What prevented these theologians and ministers, who should have been the first to see God’s revelation in black suffering, from recognizing the obvious gospel truth?”

Oh. Hmm. Well on the one hand, yes, lynching was basically the same thing as what happened to Jesus. And as I’ve said in previous posts about this book, I’m kind of angry that nobody in the church ever mentioned that to me. So yes, we can ask this question along with Cone, and be astonished that white Christians weren’t making the connection.

But… um. Actually, I kind of know why they didn’t recognize that lynchers were “crucifying Christ again.” Or rather, I can give an answer from the perspective of the type of white evangelical Christianity I was taught.


Reasons Why Christians Don’t Conceptualize the Unjust Suffering and Death of Marginalized People as “Recrucifying Christ”:
  1. Jesus was “innocent.” In the Christianity I learned, a big deal was made about how we are all sinners and deserve to die and go to hell- with Jesus being the one and only exception. Jesus suffered and died even though he was 100% innocent and didn’t deserve it. Regular people suffer and die and that’s a sad thing but they technically do deserve it- we all deserve it. (And to be honest, when I started reading this book, I was getting a little stuck when Cone refers to a lynching victim as “innocent”. In the Christianity I learned, there’s no such thing as an innocent person- though it may be the case that the victim was innocent of the specific crime they were accused of.)
  2. Jesus’ death was “God’s Plan.” My impression, from reading this book, is that Cone views Jesus’ death as much more of a bad thing than white evangelicals do. We talk about it in grand spiritual terms, find symbolic meaning in each part, and go on and on about how it was so graphically violent and how it HAD TO be that way because of this or that theological reason. I’ve never heard anyone say anything along the lines of “isn’t it terrible that Jesus was so brutally murdered when he was innocent?” We don’t see it as a bad thing. We don’t see it as an injustice. It’s called “Good Friday” for god’s sake. On the other hand, when we see injustices like lynching in our own world, we wish those things didn’t happen. We wish we could prevent them. They are the result of sin, whereas Jesus’ death was the result of “God’s Plan.”
Yes, in my church I heard people talk about “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” and how we have a responsibility to help poor people in other countries because it’s the same as helping Jesus. But there was never anything anywhere near as direct as the “Jesus is a lynched black man” idea that we here in this chapter.

Moving along- on page 100, Cone says, “In competition with each other, both the NAACP and the Communist Party sponsored anti-lynching exhibitions in 1935 featuring drawings, paintings, and sculptures by many participating artists.” I found images online of some of the artwork that Cone mentions. Here they are:

"By Parties Unknown," by Hale Woodruff. A drawing showing a lynched man left on the steps of a church. Image source.
"The Lynching," by Julius Bloch. A painting showing a black man tied to a tree (that looks like a cross) surrounded by a mob of white men. Image source.
Cone also talks about W. E. B. Du Bois, who wrote stories depicting Jesus as a black man in the United States, and Langston Hughes, a poet who wrote poems along those same lines. Here’s one part from Du Bois I thought was interesting:
[content note: N-word]
Whites become exceedingly angry when they hear Joshua [the Jesus character] preach: “Blessed are the poor; blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are they which are persecuted. All men are brothers and God is the Father of all.” Whites complain bitterly: “He’s putting ideas into niggers’ heads.” “Behold, he stirreth up the people.” Then “they seized him and questioned him,” saying, “What do you mean by this talk about being brothers—do you mean social equality?” “What do you mean by ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’—do you mean the niggers will own our cotton land?” “What do you mean by saying God is you-all’s father—is God a nigger?” “Joshua flamed in mighty anger,” appropriating the words of Jesus and John the Baptist in the Gospels, calling the whites “hypocrites,” “serpents,” “generation of vipers” who will not “escape the damnation of hell!”
This was surprising to me because I read Joshua’s words as cliché Christian platitudes, or bible verses I’ve heard so many times they seem mundane to me. But the white characters in the story took them as threats. And, yeah, if Jesus is talking about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, then that is a threat to those in power who are oppressing people. I believe the gospel is good news- but not for the oppressors.

And check out this quote from page 108:
It is one thing to think about the cross as a theological concept or as a magical talisman of salvation and quite another to connect Calvary with the lynching tree in American experience.
Wow, yes, wow. Well said. Christians should all think about that.

Also this, from page 115:
That is what Jesus’ life, teachings, and death were about—God’s protest against the exploitation of the weak by the strong. 
So, uh, I was raised in the white evangelical church, and uh, that’s totally not what we thought “Jesus’ life, teachings, and death were about.” Like, not even close. Back then, I might have said something like “That is what Jesus’ life, teachings, and death were about—God’s mercy saving sinners who didn’t deserve it.” We also believed we should help poor people and try to make the world a better place, but that was a secondary concern. That wasn’t the point of what Jesus did. That wasn’t “the gospel.”

But now I am the type of Christian who agrees with Cone here. And I think the “gospel” that I learned was a convenient way for people with privilege to ignore systemic injustice. Emphasizing that we’re “all sinners” so we’re all the same along the dimension that matters most. That stuff about ending oppression is just a temporary earthly concern, it’s negligible next to the eternity in hell we are all facing if we don’t believe the correct things about Jesus. …Yeah, what a convenient excuse.

One more thing I want to say: Cone talks about how there were essentially 2 different versions of Jesus in American Christianity- white Jesus and black Jesus. “The White Christ gave blacks slavery, segregation, and lynching and told them to turn the other cheek and to look for their reward in heaven.” Several of the poems Cone quotes in this chapter even talk about how white Christians were the ones doing the lynching. White Christians ignored lynching, condoned it (“to protect the purity of the white race” [page 99]), or actively participated. In contrast, black Jesus was the victim of lynching and all the other injustices that black people suffered.

This chapter emphasizes how important the roles of artists is. They find meaning and make connections that others ignore or don’t notice. Black artists called out the United States for crucifying Christ again.


Lynching is STILL HAPPENING NOW. Just in the past week or two, Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell were killed by police- even though they were unarmed. Christ is crucified again. #BlackLivesMatter


Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree (by James H. Cone):

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem
For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon" 
Dr. King and What Taking Up the Cross Actually Looks Like
"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"