The Rev. Frank Logue
Behind the Mask
The congregation gathered here today is a testament to Chris Duncan. Who else could gather such a unique combination of people. Family and friends. Parents and students. Not someone who was tied up in labels, it would is just like Duncan to be remembered at a gathering that includes the drama crowd, jocks, tweekers, art … guys, goths, everybody. Why not, Duncan was the guy you remember, Larger than life. He was a symbol. A man on a mission. A force. And besides all that, there was the smile. That Chris Duncan smile.
It was the smile, OK, his brains too, that got Duncan out of a lot of trouble. But then it was that smile and an overactive intelligence that had gotten you and him into the mess to start with.
Smart. He was always taking things apart and making stuff. He had a natural way of working with wiring and mechanical things. Who else but Duncan would have figured out how to take apart disposable cameras to make them into tasers?
One friend remembered how shortly after meeting him, Duncan had tried to talk this new found friend into using a Bowflex machine to smash his old guitar. Not Duncan’s old guitar, but the guitar of this guy he had just met. Of course, they did it.
Why not? Duncan was charismatic. His Mom remembers how at age eight, Chris was a neighborhood leader, not just a leader of kids his own age, but of older kids. He came up with the ideas of what to do and everyone followed. By age 10 he was going around the neighborhood getting one neighbor’s junk to sell to another neighbor. As soon as he figured out how to download music, and this was long before Napster, he was selling CDs he had burned for other kids at school.
Duncan always had a scheme. He always had something to do, somewhere to go.
That’s just one side of Chris Duncan. He was also an artist. He loved to play in PhotoShop on the computer. It was Duncan who created the cover art for our bulletin today. I got it off his website, trusting that he won’t mind.
Chris was also into drama, acting in a number of plays including Annie and The Mousetrap. And as his drama friends remember, he was always willing to help out backstage. He would do anything that was needed. Like getting his band, The Paste Eaters, to play songs for Camden High School’s Much Ado about Nothing.
The Paste Eaters. Now there is another story. Duncan was out there. He was who he was and he didn’t care who noticed. So, of course, The Paste Eaters played whatever they wanted when they played downtown. The music and lyrics were not, how do I put this, to everyone’s taste. The Paste Eaters became infamous with that one show. I asked Duncan’s brother Jesse, how Duncan felt about what I can only call The Paste Eaters incident. I had my suspicions. “He enjoyed it,” Jesse said. Bingo. That’s what I thought.
Sure he enjoyed it. Duncan held some very strong political and economic views and he was ready to talk you into the ground about them. Let’s not forget that we are talking about a real guy here. No saint. Duncan could be annoying, talking you down until you gave up.
From Socialist to Communist, with a dose of Anarchist, Duncan became strongly anti-government, anti-authority. He didn’t work for “The Man.” At one point, he took all this to its extreme and lived for months, homeless on the streets of Pomona, California. That Chris Duncan smile helping him get up enough money to get a “dollar burger.”
He had to rely on the generosity of others. That was fair enough because Chris was always generous. One friend put it this way, “If Duncan had a dollar, you had a dollar.” Another friend remembers how Duncan asked if they were going to hang out the next day. The friend said, “No I gotta rake the leaves.” So Duncan stayed. He spent the night, and the next morning he and his friend got the yard raked faster because they did it together. And this was no small job. It took 3 hours even with them both working.
This is the part of Chris Duncan that comes straight from scripture. Listen again to the words from the First Letter of Peter and hear how these words describe the Jesus Christ-like qualities he had,
That is Duncan. Showing deep love by listening, really listening, to someone else as they confided in him. Sharing his home, making sure his friends had a meal or even a place to stay. He let that generosity that we all get from God flow through him. The great tragedy was the one who never saw the gifts he had been given, the gift that he was to others, was Duncan.
As I have talked to his family and friends, I see what Chris Duncan never fully saw. Chris Duncan was loved. Loved. Fully. Completely. He was uniquely himself and people naturally loved him for it. But he could never quite see that love, feel that love, live into that love. If he could have, then we would not be here this afternoon.
This whole great story of the life we are here to celebrate turned tragic. Chris Duncan’s life went hopelessly wrong. In a life full of some admittedly bad decisions, Chris made his worst decision of all, this past Tuesday. Chris wrote that the only responsible decision was to end his life. At age 17, Chris Duncan felt that he had lived a full life, seen it all, done it all. For a smart man, he sure was stupid.
Stupid. An idiot. He had certainly not seen it all. He had not seen how much others loved him. Or more likely he did and knew that he was not the Duncan everyone saw. As one friend put it, “He was an enigma—one we all wanted to find out, but I doubt anyone ever did.”
We are all an enigma. You are an enigma, a mystery. Each of us is a mystery, known only in part by others. Not a person in this church fully knew and understood Chris Duncan and he knew that. Because when it came to summing up his own life, Chris did not use the words you his family and friends use. He did not describe himself in the glowing terms you would use. Duncan described himself as “A terrible, greedy, selfish person who will never be satisfied with life.”
Of course, that was the depression talking. Chris Duncan let the darkness consume him. Like so many people who sink into depression, Chris Duncan saw his options narrowing down to one. One bad choice that suddenly looked good. It looked good because Chris Duncan wore a mask. More likely he wore masks.
You know what I mean because you wear them too. Each of us puts on a public persona, an unreality we project for others. Chris’s mask just had a better smile than mine, but it was a mask. His mask of generosity covered his greed. His mask of selflessness covered the selfish side. He wore a mask that said, “I am who I am and I don’t care what you think,” but behind that mask was a hurting teenager who cared very much what you thought.
The wonderful, life-giving thing about naming those masks is that we can see the bigger picture. You are not the masks you wear and if you take the mask off, it will be OK. When I take off my own mask, I’m not some saint. I’m not worthy to stand here trying to sum up a life ended all too soon. After all, I lied earlier in this sermon.
I said, “Not a person in this church fully knew and understood Chris Duncan and he knew that.” That is only part true, for there is a very personal God who knew the whole Christopher Kevan Duncan and loved him completely just as he was. Chris gave his life to Jesus Christ at an earlier age. He was baptized into the church. God loved that. But then God had always loved him. God knew Duncan better then you or I. God knew the good and the bad. God knew the masks and the person behind the masks. God knew him and loved him and wanted something much better for him than the path Chris chose on Tuesday afternoon. God already knew the pain and suffering that would be caused. And God knew that there were a lot of better choices. But the message did not quite get through. So now we trust Chris Duncan to the mystery that is God’s love. In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” To which all I can say is, “Too late.” Our hearts are already troubled. But Jesus still speaks, “Trust in God, trust also in me.”
Can there be a heaven with Duncan in it? Is there room for someone like Duncan there? Will they allow him to sing Paste Eater songs? Another way of asking the questions is, “Could there be heaven without Duncan?” Jesus speaks again and says his own version of it-takes-all-kinds-to-pack-those-golden-streets. Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am.” A long time ago, Chris Duncan put his life in God’s hands. He wandered away from that, but now we place him back there. We trust Jesus with our friend, brother and son and somehow we try to move on.
In moving on, we are not unchanged. One of the things I see again and again is that God does not create tragedies. God doesn’t have to anyway. We humans are so adept at wrecking our lives. But God does redeem tragedies. The best way you can honor Chris Duncan is to live, really live. Take a look at the results of his worst choice and see that suicide is a bad option, a decision that caused untold pain. If you feel like you have no other options but to end your own life, do not follow Duncan’s path. He made the wrong choice. You have other options.
Those options begin with realizing that if I can talk openly about who Duncan was in church, then you are welcome here to. You are welcome in a place where the masks don’t work because God sees behind the mask. You are now in a place where you are known and loved, not because of the masks you wear, but in spite of them. Let your own mask slip to the floor. Begin to redeem Chris Duncan’s tragic death by telling the people you love how much you care for them. Let Duncan’s legacy be the love we started to show because we had seen the cost of not being real with one another. Parents tell your kids how much you love them, even when you are the angriest. Teens tell your parents you love them, even though they get on your nerves.
Peter wrote in our Bible reading, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” The thing Duncan never fully understood was the love felt for him by those of you gathered here today. Do not let that continue.
Know that you are fully known and fully loved.