‘Risk of Being Woke’: UCC selects Judson Press title for Lenten study series

VALLEY FORCE, PA (02/23/2024)—Judson Press titles are treasured widely! Themes from the Reverend Dr. Curtiss DeYoung’s book “The Risk of Being Woke: Sermonic Reflections for Activists” (Judson Press 2023) have provided a framework for United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Lenten book study series “Join the Movement: Woke Lent 2024.” The book was the focus of the inaugural session of the series on February 8.

Judson Press title "The Risk of Being Woke"

Judson Press title “The Risk of Being Woke” by Curtiss DeYoung.

“If Jesus’ time in the desert teaches us anything, perhaps it is that there are risks to the heart-opening, mind-expanding, gut-wrenching, new life-awakening path of liberation,” reads the UCC series webpage. “And we need messengers and journey companions who will meet us along the way, bearing comfort and strength. This Lent, ‘Join the Movement’ is inviting us to turn toward one such journey companion: Curtiss Paul DeYoung’s new book ‘The Risk of Being Woke: Sermonic Reflections for Activists.’”

The Reverend Dr. Velda Love, the session’s co-convener, introduced DeYoung as a “national speaker, preacher, teacher, reconciler, truth teller, as well as [an activist with] expansive global experience in South Africa, anti-apartheid work (with Allan Boesack).” Describing her time at North Park University where DeYoung was also teaching, she added that she “was walking with a sibling in solidarity, who can stand for justice, and stand with me.”

DeYoung delves into the history of the word “woke” in the introduction to his book. In 1938, blues musician Lead Belly used it in an afterword to a song about racism, cautioning listeners to “stay woke,” that is, remain awake or alert. The term reentered the public consciousness with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, where activists incorporated it into protests against police violence toward African Americans. Today, being “woke” entails a certain degree of risk because it challenges white supremacy culture and its hierarchical structure. Some are so intimidated by the term that they have turned it into an insult in their efforts to demonize it. In his book, DeYoung reasserts the word’s radical original meaning.

Introducing “The Risk of Being Woke” to the webinar audience, Love said, “In Curtiss’ latest book, he is thoughtful, yet intentional in [his effort] to connect us to activist language, ‘woke,’ and provides relevant texts from the Gospel of John that makes it plain and intuitive that Jesus’ daily interactions and common encounters were solid theological truths that woke people up.”

DeYoung’s career, during which he has served as chief executive officer of the Minnesota Council of Churches, director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago, and professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University, has centered on racial justice and equity work. He has authored 13 books on racial justice and reconciliation, social justice activism and cultural competency.

“The Risk of Being Woke” is available for purchase on the Judson Press website.

DeYoung will be appearing at ABHMS’ national gathering Space for Grace & Spiritual Caregivers Conference 2024, April 9-11, 2024, in King of Prussia, Pa., as a featured presenter. He will also be joining Judson Press there in celebration of the publishing ministry’s 200th anniversary. Register for the event and join ABHMS in person or virtually.