“Contending for hope is a full time job!” –Christena Cleveland
Why Freedom Ride?
A week ago today, a diverse group of Jesus followers representing various organizations, churches, theological traditions, colors, cultures, & classes boarded a bus for what we call a “Freedom Ride”. The name found its inspiration from the multi-ethnic group of activists known as the “Freedom Riders” who rode public buses into segregated southern states as a form of protest in the 1960s. Our aim was to protest the powers of darkness, spiritual & economic poverty, racial division & oppression, & hopelessness in our city by lifting up prayers & prophetically raising awareness. The bus route was crafted to tell the story of Winston-Salem from the margins by visiting historic & strategic locations that are emblematic of both the pain & beauty of my city.
This was the 5th Freedom Ride and by far was the most spiritually potent one we’ve done to date. The bus was jam-packed with folks who are genuinely concerned about the trajectory of a city that is experiencing an economic renewal that seems to be “skipping” over the poor, the working class, and people of color. As God’s royal priesthood it is the Church’s responsibility to pray in AND work for a spiritual climate of liberation, restoration, renewal, & justice for all. As Christians who affirm the dignity and worth of ALL people regardless of color, culture, or class it is unacceptable that the structures of our city (and country) continue to “over-affirm” some, while “under-affirming” others. Various national research has confirmed these local realities over & over & over again.
Staying “Woke” & Fighting Hopelessness
For me, the Freedom Ride is about creating space for people to have what I call a “Nehemiah Experience”. In the biblical account, Nehemiah was a Jew who worked in a place of privilege in a foreign empire. He was the king’s cup bearer and could have easily allowed his distance to foster a spirit of apathy in regards to the plight of his people & his homeland. Yet, when confronted with bad news about the spiritual & structural condition of Jerusalem he wept, repented for the sins of his people, fasted, & prayed. Eventually he was granted permission to return to Jerusalem to bring restoration. His story teaches us what should happen in the hearts of spiritually conscious women & men when they are awakened to the reality of oppression. True awakenings to the love & glory of Jesus ALWAYS leads to an awakening to the pain & problems of society.
“When the Spirit of God gets a hold of a person, they are made a new creature prepared to move head-on into the evils of this world ready to die for God.” Cone
This crash-course collision with the internal darkness of the soul & the external darkness of society is ridden with moments where the lure of hopelessness is strong. In the words of social psychologist & theologian Christena Cleveland, “contending for hope is a full-time job”! This is SO true. Those of us who claim to be “woke” (socially conscious) can fall prey to depression, cynicism, & an overwhelming sense that we are fighting an unwinnable battle. The constant onslaught of tragic stories we encounter in our on-the-ground work & through our social media networks can have a numbing effect. We must do the necessary spiritual self-care to avoid this. We must ask ourselves the hard questions & also allow others to gut-check us when necessary. We must be keenly aware of the fact that there is a thin line between righteous indignation & self-righteous irritation. Those who long for God’s in-breaking Kingdom walk in the tension of joyous gratitude & what MLK Jr called “divine discontentment“. It is necessary to recognize that sometimes its God Himself who is inducing our tears. Yet, in other moments we must humbly accept the fact that our anguish may just be the outflow of our own sin & brokenness.
Cheap Grace & Waterless Clouds
Last Monday, seemed to be one of those days when Creator God was the cause of my grief. That morning as I went outside to my car I noticed an overcast of dark clouds that remained the entire day. As the day progressed I kept waiting for it to start raining, but the most that happened was a few occasional drizzles. Around midday, the words “waterless clouds” began to press on my heart. After pondering on those words for a few moments I was reminded of an obscure passage from the tiny book of Jude that reads:
For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.…..They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted……
Immediately after reading the passage I thought about the institutional church in my city. It’s probably an “urban legend”, but I’ve heard many natives of Winston-Salem say that our city appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records a decade ago as the city with the most church’s per capita in the nation. Whether we made it in the Guinness Book or not, it is undeniably true that there are churches on almost every corner in our city. Church buildings cover & blanket our city streets like the dark clouds that hovered over it last Monday. The rate at which old sanctuaries & new church plants appear in our city has not matched “the rate” of which a witness of God’s gracious rain (reign) has been seen in Winston-Salem from my vantage point. Are our institutional churches “waterless clouds” that give the false impression that life-giving, soul healing, neighborhood restoring, & justice flooding RAIN is falling? Yet when one looks for the evidence of such rain they only experience the drizzles of our weekly services, “scheduled revivals”, “hood volunTOURism”, & reconciliation “events”. I asked myself, “Terrance are you a waterless cloud? Are you mastering the language of liberation & reconciliation without having been MASTERED by those truths within? Are you seeking to live the Way of Jesus without being worshipfully dialed into the Person of Jesus?”
Perhaps we, like those who Jude spoke of in the 1st century, have frustrated and/or perverted the Grace of Jesus. The grace of Jesus forgives sin AND fuels righteousness. It does not give us a pass to be lax about the lost & the unjust status quo. Scripture tells us that this Grace appeared to create a people “zealous to do good works”. The New Testament term “good works” should be understood in one sense as the equivalent of the Old Testament term “doing justice”. Perhaps our unfamiliarity with the radical Jesus of the Gospels & unspoken allegiances to hyper-individualism, racial hierarchies & division, immoral capitalism, & political parties have obstructed the flow of God’s costly grace.
“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The forgiveness and the consolations of are religion are thrown away at cut prices……Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living AND incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has…..It is costly because it calls us to follow, and grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
By the time I boarded the bus last Monday night my grief had subsided & given way to a deep sense of hope. Seeing the faces of the multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-class, & multi-church crowd that had assembled only further solidified to me the reality that God is raising up a strong remnant of folks who are pressing into the Kingdom! In essence, we spent the night driving from site-to-site identifying the historic effects of “waterless clouds” over our city & praying that God would send rain. HERE & HERE you’ll find pt 1 & 2 of the Freedom Ride itinerary put together by the Drum Major’s Alliance along with a powerful liturgy crafted by Wake Forest M-Div student & Winston-Salem native, Kenneth Pettigrew.
Join us in praying specifically on these issues with the understanding that:
“The need for a city to care about injustice, poverty, or despair is not liberalism or socialism, welfare or radicalism. It is simply genuine humanness authorized by the God of the Bible.” Walter Brueggemann
written by Terrance