While listening to music recently, my mp3 player on “shuffle” and me in a state of relaxation, the 1956 version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” began to play. As the sounds of piano and trumpet filled the air, I was transported by my imagination to a place that horrified me. I could actually see the bulging eyes and the twisted mouths of the black bodies hangin’ from innumerable rows of poplar trees. Billie sang of the strange and bitter crop, and I felt every passionate note. Before I knew it tears were running down my face and my spirit was heavy. This fruit…these men were my cousins; my uncles; my brothers…hanging like bloody fruit from these southern trees.
I tried all night to get the vision out of my head. But I couldn’t. So prayed and asked for it to be removed so I could rest. But instead of removing the frightening thought, God spoke to my heavy spirit “so sad the evils that are done in My name.” That’s when the song and the vision took on new meaning. The trees were religions and they’d borne not life giving fruit, but decaying carnage. Supposedly in the name of a loving and merciful God.
How did perpetuating lies and calling it truth become ‘spreading the Good News’? How did enslaving people glorify a loving God? When did persecuting others become God’s will? When did fighting to discriminate against people different from ourselves become righteous? When did denying people their God-given civil rights become moral? When did killing someone and rejoicing at their death become holy? When did the “Christian” tree start bearing such strange fruit? I’ve heard it said that more people have been unnecessarily killed in the name of Christianity than any other religion in the world; and nothing has divided humanity and turned it against itself like religion. Based on the fruit that I’ve seen, these statements are quite accurate.
One of the most powerful things Jesus said (in my opinion) was,
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
With this message, I have learned to check myself. I’ve learned to take inventory of the fruit being borne in my own life and measure whether it is good or evil. There is no way I can help some and hurt others and say I’m bearing good fruit. I can’t treat other people as though they are beneath me yet say that I represent the Most High God. There’s no way I can truthfully call myself good while showing love to those who are like me yet hate those who differ. Not only is my fruit strange, but the fruit speaks volumes about the tree itself.
I dare not say that all people who profess Christianity are like the evil and mean spirited white folk of yesteryear who took perverse pleasure in lynching black men. There is actually a great number of Christians who do their best on a daily basis to share the love they experience in their personal relationships with God. The sad thing is, there is a loud, ranting and raving multitude of strange Christians who carry out their racist, classist, sexist, homophobic and divisive agenda while clinging to their Bibles. They believe they are going to Heaven anyhow and to hell with everyone who isn’t like them. They will accomplish their goals in the Name of God and get to Heaven no matter who they have to persecute, discriminate against, lie to or on, knock down and step over to get there. And they will violently argue that they are the chosen people who represent God and His Holiness in the earth.
After thinking about all this I asked, “am I truly bearing good fruit if I practice a religion that is an elitist, hypocritical, money-grubbing, exclusively prejudiced, ‘God bless us and nobody else’ monster that has repeatedly hurt, raped, killed and stolen throughout history in the name of a Holy God”? Disturbingly, the answer is an emphatic NO! And not just for me, but nobody can!
I then remembered all the time I’ve spent studying and reading about Jesus and noticed that the only people Jesus berated or spoke badly of where the “church folk” of His time. And it struck me how the “church folk” of back then are quite similar to the “church folk” of today. Saying they believe one thing, yet doing quite another. Saying they love a God they have never seen and all the while showing hate to their brothers and sisters that they see every day. Calling the tree of their lives “good” while their fruit is screaming of their strangeness.
So, how can a person who follows Jesus’ example of how to treat people wear the name of Christ in a society filled with people who fraudulently wear the same name? Do we come up with a new name like ‘Neo-Christian’? Or do we throw out the baby with the bath water and not wear the name altogether? I say, let’s continue to follow the example of Jesus Himself and let our fruit speak for us. We really won’t have to “say” anything because our fruit will tell the truth about our lives and what we believe. My late grandfather put it this way “A truly lived life don’t have to SAY nuthin’… what it does will tell the story better than words.”
Activist and author Tuan N’Gai made waves with his 2001 book Will I Go To Heaven? The Black Gay Spiritual Dilemma and followed it up with Little Brown Boy’s Blues in 2008.