Waterless Clouds, Hopelessness, & Freedom Rides: About Last (Monday) Night


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…… 

(Jude 1,12)

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

Black Political [PUPPETS] Pundits: Why Their “Black Lies” Matter

Black Political Puppets

• black lie [blak lahy] – a lie told to hide wrong-doing and to protect the liars from the trouble likely to arise if the full truth were known about a core secret of secrets.

• A half truth is a whole lie. –Yiddish proverb

• “There are always people willing to put [what’s perceived as] their special knowledge at the disposal of the dominant group to facilitate the tightening of the chains. They are given positions of prominence, and above all a guarantee of economic security and status. To love such people requires the uprooting of bitterness of betrayal, the heartiest poison that grows in the human spirit….”  Howard Thurman    (parenthetical phrase added)

A couple months back I posted the following on Facebook:

“Please understand that putting a “black person” in front of a camera that parrots racist, uninformed, ahistorical, & oppressive views does not fool us. It does not transform bigotry & willful ignorance into righteousness & intelligence either.”

This post was inspired by the onslaught of folks who justify problematic positions & views concerning race, class, & injustice in America by amplifying the voices of people of color who hold similar views. It’s an old play from the playbook that seems to be much more prevalent & disheartening in the age of social media. Like clockwork it happens when a black person posts a video on Facebook either documenting a “sweet encounter” with police, or chastising his or her people for not “caring” about black-on-black crime, or brilliantly parroting the colorblind, I’m an “American” first, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps rhetoric that some folks salivate over. It doesn’t take long for these videos to go viral and for the people who posted them to be invited to share their “expert” opinions on national television. Even sports analysts like Stephan A Smith, who spend very little time wrestling with history, sociology, and economics become the “exceptional negroes” who “get it”.  Once a minority has “co-signed” a portion of the dominant culture’s ill-informed views it makes it 10x harder to penetrate their conscience with truth.

Racially illiterate conservative AND liberal black men with large news media platforms like Don Lemon, Juan Williams, & Allen West have an intoxicating effect on their constituencies. They are like a STRONG hallucinogen that makes bigotry & willful ignorance look like righteousness & intelligence to those who cannot bear to look at the grim realities of racism in America. They are “weapons of mass manipulation” used to delegitimize & scapegoat movements seeking to undo REAL injustice!

Recently, I read a piece written by black conservative political pundit Allen West.In it, he rightfully seeks to condemn the hate-filled rhetoric of a self-proclaimed “black-supremacist” while wrongfully making the assertion that the misguided man represents the black lives matter movement. (WATCH VIDEO HERE)

Before I go any further, let it be known that I believe that “black supremacy” is neither a good, godly, or fruitful response to the 400 year legacy of white supremacy. Hate cannot drive out hate & it would take centuries of pillage to even come close to repaying an “eye for an eye” the atrocities committed on the bodies of people of color in the Americas. All that said, let us not be fooled by Allen West’s intellectual dishonesty in this piece. He is stoking the fear & apathy of his constituency & falsely trying to connect this hate-filled man to the “black lives matter movement”. All movements are imperfect & should be fairly critiqued. However, its irresponsible & inflammatory to say that this lone man represents the thoughts, goals, & intent of a WHOLE movement.

One would need to look no further than the 2nd video shared in the article to disprove West’s erroneous claims. The “black supremacist” clearly says that he believes “the black lives matter movement wasn’t enough.” In essence he says that attempts to non-violently appeal to political power through protest was an ineffective strategy. Two very obvious conclusions can be made from his comments:
1) In saying that black lives matter activism was/is not enough he is distancing himself from the movement.
2) He is calling for a distinctly DIFFERENT kind of movement. In doing so he is admitting that the idea of “picking off police officers” & “open season on white folks” is in no way, shape, or form a part of what the Black Lives Matter movement is about!

But that type of honest analysis would be like scratching chalkboard within the echo chambers that are conservatism AND neo-liberalism. While racism can regularly be found dripping publicly from the mouth of conservatism, neo-liberalism is just as deadly as it gives mere “lip-service” to the poor, the working class, & people of color. The “flavor” of racism doesn’t matter a whole lot. Once digested it has the same sickening consequences.

I am deeply grieved by & for people of color who sell their souls for a big platform & become puppets of the American empire. The rapid fire of “half truths” & BLACK LIES (pun intended) that spew from their mouths help protect the racially unjust status quo of America. In many ways, they are what the tax collectors were to 1st century Jews. Jewish tax collectors were members of an oppressed group but chose to side with the oppressive Roman empire in order to achieve “success”. They put their individual prosperity over the collective liberation of their ethnic group. As someone who is committed to being conformed to the image of Jesus I am challenged to STILL LOVE THEM! They are in need of forgiveness, liberation, & reconciliation much like Zacchaeus was in the Gospels. Howard Thurman’s words in “Jesus & the Disinherited” have been extremely helpful for me in this pursuit. Of the tax collectors & the call of Jesus to love them he wrote:

“It was they [tax collectors] who became the grasping hand of Roman authority, filching from Israel the taxes which helped to keep alive the oppression of the gentile ruler. They were Israelites who understood the psychology of the people, and therefore were always able to function with the kind of spiritual ruthlessness that would have been impossible for those who did not know the people intimately…..
To be required to love such a person was the final insult. How could such a demand be made? One did not even associate with such creatures….
All underprivileged people have to deal with this kind of enemy. There are always people willing to put their special knowledge at the disposal of the dominant group to facilitate the tightening of the chains. They are given positions of prominence, and above all a guarantee of economic security and status. To love such people requires the uprooting of bitterness of betrayal, the heartiest poison that grows in the human spirit….
To love them means to recognize some deep respect and reverence for their persons. But to love them DOES NOT mean to condone their way of life.”

While vigorously contending against their lies we cannot allow their internalized oppression to stop us from loving them or anyone for that matter. The Way of Jesus is no easy task  & demands that we be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit. Baptism in The Spirit should create an insatiable love for God & neighbor expressed through passionate worship & the pursuit of reconciliation (vertical & horizontal) & justice. We will hit brick walls at times as we labor to this end. As much as we want to see EVERYONE get it, we must understand that some people are addicted to their own MIS-education.

It does not matter how powerful & compelling your arguments are. You can put forth a thorough statistical, historical, & theological analysis & do it all with a spirit of gentleness & humility but it will not matter. As one dear sister in the struggle put it, they will look for “that ONE black person saying other black people are wrong and crazy for thinking racism is alive and well.” They are attracted to misinformation like a moth to a flame. They exchange sobering truths for intoxicating lies. Inhaling the opium of deception they hallucinate & see a world where there is no injustice & oppression to be concerned over. It matters not how many cell phones, surveillance videos, & body cameras capture unspeakable brutalities that communities of color have talked about for centuries,  “seeing they will not perceive.

This is not merely a problem of flawed logic or bad camera angles.  It is a problem of the heart that causes them to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. As a result, “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.”

Yet, we who believe in the revolutionary call of Jesus cannot relent in our worshipful pursuit of reconciliation and justice!

Bear your crosses well!