Broadleaf, 112 pages | Published February 21, 2023
We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.“ These words were spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, read by me in 2000, and came rushing back in 2023 as I read Lenny Duncan’s Dear Revolutionaries: A Field Guide for a World Beyond the Church.
Duncan’s work is part testimony, part lament and part “Dear John letter” to the church — the church they quit and describe as “a whitewashed tomb housing the mere ghost of Christianity. It haunts us in our sleep and shrieks when we awake to its reality.” We must quit a church that is concerned only with reviving itself and get to the real work, because “God is concerned with reviving the community.” The words of a revolutionary, indeed — one with a hope that sees and stretches far beyond the institution into the hearts and daily lives of the people who God cannot, has not, and will not forget!
Duncan is clear: God has no desire to uphold structures that oppress, minimize and choke the life out of marginalized people. Yet, these very structures can be alluring, pulling you in with your very own words, work and passion. Duncan admits the excitement they felt when their earlier work, Dear Church was read and broadly accepted in the church: “To be centered, even falsely, can be rather intoxicating … I knew I was becoming a part of what I call the ‘thought leader industrial complex.’” While there are many who talk/preach/organize around reform, “(y)ou know what never happens? Another reformation.”
Duncan writes with tremendous candor, ripping off the Band-Aid so that we might feel the pain and deal with the wound. They write for those who want to know they do not face their finite disappointment in the church alone, yet hold infinite hope for the world beyond the church. It is in the DNA of every activist to say what has already been said, simultaneously guiding a new generation to feel it and be motivated to act.
The love that Duncan states “we are ready to be” is one of the quietest moments in the book, yet also the most memorable. They infinitely hope this book will shake the church awake and that dreamers will lead us to the streets with a mission aligned with God’s — to revive the community.
There are moments I wish Duncan could dial down the rage — it became overwhelming, or perhaps tapped into my own rage, leaving me uncomfortable. But Dear Revolutionaries has the potential to give us pause; to reflect on the ways we are enticed by the status quo, the “why” of radio silence in response to Black Lives Matter and the “how” of not knowing our neighbor has led to America’s current policing structure.
Duncan marks how far they have evolved — or perhaps “come to themself,” is a better choice of words, since they hope we will all “come to ourselves,” finally realizing we are the ones we have been waiting for! Nothing will happen until “We” happen.
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