Here is a snippet of the exchange between Moyers and Cone:
BILL MOYERS: If the President asked you for one book of Niebuhr's, which would it be?
JAMES CONE: THE IRONY OF AMERICAN HISTORY. That would be the book.
BILL MOYERS: And the core of it is?
JAMES CONE: The core of it is, is helping America get over its innocence. Helping America to see itself through the eyes of people from the bottom. And you see, America likes to think of itself as innocent. And we are not. No human being is innocent. And so, I-- that would be the book I would recommend him to read. But since he's a Christian, I would especially recommend that he reads Beyond Tragedy. Niebuhr tells us that Christianity takes us through tragedy to beyond tragedy by way of the cross to victory in the cross.
BILL MOYERS: Meaning?
JAMES CONE: Meaning that the cross is victory out of defeat.
BILL MOYERS: And the lynching tree?
JAMES CONE: And the lynching tree is transcendent of defeat. And that's why the cross and the lynching tree belong together. That's why I have to talk about the lynching tree. Because Christians can't understand what's going on at the cross until they see it through the image of a lynching tree with black bodies hanging there.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
JAMES CONE: Because what the Christian Gospel is a transvaluation of values. Something you cannot anticipate in this world, in this history. But, it empowers the powerless. It is-- what do you mean by power in the powerless? That's what God is. Power in the powerless.
BILL MOYERS: But, the victims of lynchings are dead.
JAMES CONE: No. Their mothers and fathers aren't dead. Their brothers and sisters aren't dead. I'm alive. I have to give voice to those who did die. And all of us do. That's why we can't forget it.
BILL MOYERS: But, you know, Dr. Cone, I went online and-- and watched the video version of your speech at Harvard where you talked on Strange Fruit-- the Cross and the Lynching Tree. I must say that audience didn't seem very comfortable with that-- with that linkage, right?
JAMES CONE: No, they did not. No, because I said it at a divinity school. And that's mostly whites there. Blacks felt comfortable with it. They're-- they like that. They like that connection because it gives them a perspective on the lynching that empowers them rather than silences them.
Good Friday invites us all to look at our own guilt, collectively and individually. As Cone says, America likes to look at itself as being innocent. This is, obviously, not psychologically or spiritually healthy. It impedes the kind of growth necessary for expansion of consciousness. Although it is difficult to do, Good Friday invites us into this kind of desert.
Below is an image of Salvador Dali's The Christ of St. John of the Cross that inspired him. It is Dali's representation of the sixteenth century mystic's sketch of his vision of the cross.