Praise the Lorde!
Praise the Lorde! That is never a typo for me, nor a bad pun meant to be tongue in cheek. On the altar in my office at Starr King School for the Ministry rests one of those tall multi-day votive candles with a photo of Audre Lorde on the front. It proclaims, “Praise the Lorde!” The friends who gave me that candle said it reminded them of how I speak of my love for our students, for the co-creators and co-learners that grace my classroom. I was honored. I have turned frequently to the words and witness of Audre Lorde in these days and weeks when it has been my privilege to serve as one of three Interim Co-Presidents of our Unitarian Universalist Association. So often we engage her teaching: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We remind ourselves of those words in times of struggle when we seek trust in that inner knowing born of our living; when we long for new pathways on the journey toward justice.
Unitarian Universalism turned a high level of attention in recent months to the culture of white supremacy that impacts the power, authority, relationships, assumptions, and norms of our beloved tradition. We are holding in our hearts the need for an intersectional approach to the dismantling of racial oppression and anti-black racism, an approach that brings me right back to the wisdom of Audre Lorde, a self described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Her phrase about the master’s tools comes from an address she gave at a conference on women’s lives and difference where Lorde nevertheless found herself to be on the only panel that included a black or lesbian voice (hers). In it she insists that racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. I think many of us would add several other issues that seek to lessen our humanity, such as classism or ableism.
Over these weeks of transition and change many UUs have expressed their concerns that a central focus on issues of race will somehow detract from all the other justice work that we are committed to as people of faith. I want to encourage us to lean into vulnerability and respond to that fear, when it arises, with determination and spiritual practice. As a queer woman of color, I experience the diminishment of my own humanity when people try to convince me that focusing on racism somehow ignores sexism, heterosexism, and all the other “isms” that work to make us small. Instead I understand white supremacy to cast a wide range of identities as somehow less than, in order to maintain systems of unearned privilege that benefit the few over the many.
In response I return to tools of liberation left to us by Audre Lorde. She closed her presentation by insisting that the interconnected oppressions so many of us live with each and every day are a real part of all of our lives. She invited those in attendance to “reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside… and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears.” This practice, I believe, can help us return to our own Universalist tradition that calls for an All Embracing Love. May that love keep us steadfast in the work of dismantling the culture of white supremacy, and may it shelter us in our LGBTQI communities as we work to be in solidarity with all that leads to greater wholeness.