What’s Next?

Song of the Divine

I greet you in the name of the Liberating one, the One whose name has been spoken by many,  but savored by too few, the Rabbi put to death for loving the people into revolution, the one who robbed the state bank on it’s biggest day of business, with a ragamuffin army waging peace at his back, and was hung from a tree for it. Hero to the orphans of the world like me, counselor to the widow’s heart, the transformation in the flesh, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, amen. 

Well we know I don’t do anything small and this time of personal transformation, rebirth, healing, and spiritual warfare have been like everything else I have done since you met me.

Big. Expansive.

Erratic in its logic and full of raw emotion, authenticity, and truth as I currently understand it. Or, not to get too esoteric, but more accurately living truth’s understanding of me. 

That was before the truth became a moving target. Now with the dissolution of universal truths we have entered an age where no one truly knows the Divine. Only the frauds claim they have grasp on what has happened to you and me over the last few years. While it has been a worthy endeavor over the last few years to try to articulate or narrate that sacred story from the position of professional clergy, specifically from a Lutheran theological system that allowed me to actually question its leading assumptions, I think that time is over for me. 

 I don’t want to ever take away from what the ELCA gave me. 

It has given me more than I have ever truly given it back. In the halls of the ELCA’s seminaries I learned a shared language to explain an experience I had been having my whole life. From it’s pulpits I discovered a Black Queer Homiletical voice that was undergirding everything I had been saying all along, but held in contrast to the power of theological ancestors and their fire. With it’s people I had a deep remembering of the community and how the souls, stories, songs of freedom and dances in defiance of Empire are truly what we come here on earth to do. 

I found not a safe space in the ELCA, but the perfect amount of intellectual curiosity, strange respect to the point of festization of the African Descent experience as it was internally called by my elders, and just barely enough Queer affirmation to grow into a more embodied, sensual and incarnate ways of moving in this work. This combined with just enough systemic racism or Queer, Trans, and Two Spirited violence to help one not be lulled into complacently. 

In this strange gumbo I discovered flavors, ingredients, and recipes fit to be served at the banquet of the Creator that I could never have made anywhere else. I am too Black in thought and politic to make it some other white denominations, and way to fucking queer for most historically Black denominations. 

In this sense I am always grateful for the ELCA. The way one is grateful in my neighborhood the first time someone sucker punches you in the face. After the initial pain and embarrassment you are grateful for the lesson. Why? Because next time you walk down that block you are ready. Let me be clear with y’all. 

I’m ready. 

So what am I doing now?  I am finishing three books. August 10th I will announce a passion project that is so big you won't miss it. But that's content. That’s something you always got from me until recently. Now, I’m transitioning from producing to something deeper. 

I believe that's because United States of Grace was truly the first piece I have ever written where I paid my muse the full price and toll she exacts. You see I think a real artist understands they are nothing more than a channel, a gateway, a door maybe at best. You become a vessel for something more to come through you and at the end of the day you are nothing more than a device the collective consciousness uses occasionally. To go one step further, I think the true aeons of the craft, Baldwin, Morrison, Hughes, Hurston, knew they were getting the whole thing wrong. The task of telling the story of who are, were, and might be is beyond any generation of artists. You see, chasing the impossible in literature, in art, is a deep knowing that if you catch it,  you are just a witness to something that was never yours. The great ones actually remember to write down what they see. In that sense the price for United States of Grace, for the privilege of framing, reframing, and sharing pieces of the inner recesses of my soul and jagged lines of my story in the hopes of connection, well the cost is everything. That sort of endeavor can eat one's life away. 

I call it the shift from bystander to witness. A bystander watches the world roil by, they may or may not be moved by it, they may or may not even be caught up in swirling  beauty and possibility, but whether its life or death, they let or choose to allow the world wash over them the way a wave washes over the shores of this land. 

A witness is someone trapped in what I call the observer effect. You see, instead of bystanding as the world seemed to unfold around them, they started to make sometimes public, sometimes private, observations about their spiritual lives. They realized that the two bifurcated “realities” of the so-called spiritual and material world was a lie of the Empire. 

The movement for Black Lives is the largest sociological example of this perhaps in the republic since the civil war. Black women observed a series of patterns, stories, and systems that appeared to be designed to destroy their community. Starting with our children. Like others before them they sensed the sentient and living energy of Radical Evil. White Supremacy. That the forces they were up against were vast and beyond their power to reckon with. 

But I have to imagine simultaneously they could hear the nascent cries of liberation and the possibilities of a shared tomorrow in this weary but still standing republic. You see I imagine that while they were transformed by the trauma, the pain, the raw wound that was Blackness in the so called America’s but they also heard what I call the song of the Divine. The overture of salvation conquered and captured for the community. The chords, lyrics, and rhythms people throughout time have all played together in times like this. A song that invites us into a shared space where the ancestors hold you close, and your future descendants tell you a better day is within reach. 

I imagine this is what happened to these black leaders, because that’s what happened to me.  I heard the song.  But I’m nothing special.  It’s simply that their observations led them to bearing witness to something that they can’t unsee. And I can’t unsee. Once you see, you are changed. You become a witness, and this means you are living testimony and walking clemency. Or you at least try to be. 

And professional ministry within an institutional framework gets in the way of that. Respectability gets in the way of that. The Bishops are in the fucking way. The inauthentic way I offered liberation to anyone I met, but never once thought of the same offer applying to me. Not truly. Not in my bones. That was in the way of the work, of bearing witness, of even remembering to write some of it down for y’all. 

In “United States of Grace” I try to reveal the outlines and contours of a hidden Kin-dom among the republic. A realm full of life, growth, possibility, love, the bonds of shared struggle and affection. The process of writing about it called me back into living the story, the song.

While I pursue my PhD, I have decided I am going back to what I call the “old ways” and joining those on the road to a better tomorrow in a land that has denied them today. I have bought a teardrop camper with the least amount of frills possible. No water, no sewage. Just some solar systems and a way to transmit my work to y’all. 

As of August 1st, 30% of Americans are facing houselessnes. I will spend time among my people, living as I once did, as the sparrow does. The way the Master did when he walked the Earth. I will share their sacred stories when appropriate, and share what it's like to serve God while Houseless in America. I will teach them all what I was taught and I will love them with every bit of love I received. I’m witnessing, I’m listening again to the song of the Divine. I’llI hope you will join me. 

Written in Love and Liberation

Lenny Duncan