Pictured above is Bob Marley’s dad. Yup, that Bob Marley. If anyone is qualified to be a voice of the oppressed it would be one Bob Marley. When I think of blackness I think of him. He had a singular ability to be the clear voice of people of African Descent the world over while being readily accepted by others. I mean worldwide. How could anyone listen to tunes like “Ambushed in the Night” or “Slave Driver” and even think about questioning the authenticity of that voice? But there is his Dad. A white con artist of sorts who claimed to be an officer but was most likely a private in the British Army. Really look at that picture, that is perhaps the “whitest” picture I have seen. The people from Bob’s rural village called him half-caste because he was half white. When you are “Mixed”, “Multi-Racial”, “Mulatto”, “High Yellow”, “Half Unoriginal Man”(a favorite from high school), or any of the others I have heard, you look for hero’s. People you can relate too. Who knew what it was like to grow up in the world, specifically black culture, and have that label. Bob was mine. I’m a Gen X’er and we didn’t have Obama. We had Bob, at least if you were mixed. So for my part I prefer the term half caste. If you ask me what I am, which I’m endlessly asked for the last 37 years, I will now defiantly reply “I am Half Caste.” Its sort my eff you.
I’m also Unchurched. I know, I know. It’s an awful term in many ways but stick with me. I wasn’t raised in the Church. This can be a hindrance in some circles. In fact, it makes me downright offensive to some when you consider I’m a few years away from being a leader in the ELCA. I have little to no tolerance for things that I perceive as bars to Grace. In fact, I find your Church pedigree hilarious. I’m the bull in the china shop and the wider church invited me in! While I think I have a proper sense of history and Church history in particular, I refuse to let anyone use it as a club in which to beat others into the “Status Quo.” That’s mostly because business as usual in the Church is failing. Miserably. Now I can’t speak about every context, but in the ELCA there is a strong sense that change is afoot. I actually wrote about that in my post “Dear Church: You Aren’t Dying You Are Becoming a Minority.” At the time of this post, it is my “working theology” for the times the ELCA finds itself in. But seriously, I listen to congregations pine about getting their hands on the unchurched and when you get your hands on one you go about the business of trying to mold them like you. Note: I’m not talking about discipleship, which is a radical process where Christ is awakened in the heart of those dreaming in our midst. No I mean the other stuff we do to the unchurched when they show up. We belittle their ideas and passion and try to stuff them into a box that works for us and our context. So I proudly wear the badge of Unchurched because quite frankly, it’s my other way I say eff you. It’s my way of saying “This is a Holy Time and I stand here unafraid because I was called.”
Here is my mom.
I stand before you Unchurched and Half Caste in a time of Holy Uncertainty and radical racial reconciliation. That is my context. Sorry, not sorry. I have been beaten for being a nigger (in a few states actually) and chased home for being a “white boy” in West Philly as a kid. Call it Willy Lynch syndrome or just the way the world was, or is. I have felt the sting of hatred from both sides of my heritage. I know I will never be fully accepted by everyone. That is what being Half Caste means. The question I have wrestled with recently is, does this mean that I don’t have an authentic voice? Because I was steeped in the Stylistics and “Songs and the Key of Life” but ended up on Grateful Dead tour in the early 90’s. Because I knew all the words to Dolomite by the time I was 6 but the first record I bought was “Remain in the Light” by the Talking Heads. Does it matter the very next week I got copies of “Illmatic”, “Ready to Die”, and “Reasonable Doubt” with the money I saved? Does it matter that I used to dream what it was like to meet Marcus Garvey or Jack Kerouac? That I have been accepted in some of the whitest places in America and some of the strongholds of Black America? Well to be honest, yes. I have spent my entire life being the reluctant bridge between the two cultures that made up my heritage. How many whites have you explained “Black Lives Matter” too? I have literally spoken to hundreds about why this is one of the most important things in our culture and the church right now. I have been a reluctant bridge, but no more. Since I have been called I have become a willing one. I have taken heat. Been accused of profit motive, and I have decided to march on.
I believe that I have been called to the body of Christ at a time of Holy Uncertainty. Not to preach about race, but oppression. To bring good news to the poor. To speak to the prisoner about liberation. In a time of reformation and revival. I’m still a work in progress. Just like you. I am aware of the problematic nature of my context and view. Thank you, I will walk them out with my Savior. My names is Lenny Duncan and I’m Half-Caste and Unchurched.