Rev. Lenny Duncan’s first book, Dear Church, implored the ELCA—the whitest denomination in the US—to stop hiding behind its social statements and take action for racial equality and justice. His newest book gets even more personal. United States of Grace is a memoir of growing up Black and queer in the US while experiencing racism, homelessness, addiction, incarceration, and redemption.
The book hit me as I was spiraling into such a deep cynicism about this country (hello anti-trans legislation at every turn) I was pretty sure I would be stuck there. It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. It gave me much-needed perspective and made me think more about my own beliefs and principles.
“I believe systemic racism, patriarchy, queerphobia, colonialism, and free-market capitalism are destroying the human spirit.”
Duncan’s prose is hold-your-breath beautiful. The way he talks about himself and the people in his life so thoroughly recognizes the complexity of human beings, you simply cannot fit them into neat good vs. bad boxes. Before you know it, you’re holding space for uncomfortable and conflicting feelings, as well as more grace than you ever realized you had.
United States of Grace calls out the liberal-racist narrative of “the margins” and the inhumane systems in our country that claim to be helping solve problems. But it’s also a brutally hopeful book that has its thumb on community, the essence of America. It reminds us that the relationships we forge with others are what make this country what it is, and that’s a source of joy worth holding onto.