Wrestling with Ableist Language

Graphic from UU Congregation of York

Not Done Yet!

Whoops. I just realized that my business name uses ableist language. Aurgh. I just heard someone talking about using “walking together” as a sermon title. Dang. I heard from my dear friend that, yet again, our organization picked a theme that included “standing” in the title.

Did not the UU movement just embrace a commitment to undoing ableist language? But that one vote this last Summer didn’t finish the project. We have years of tried and true metaphors to catch, examine, and release. We have language passed down to use from our heritage. We have habits and we have internal resistance to overcome.
Please tell me that you are finding ways to sing, work for justice, explore, move and develop spiritually without restricting that to people who can “stand” on the side of love or “walk” a spiritual path. (The UU justice organization made the change from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Side with Love”. Jason Shelton, the author of one of our favorite hymns made the change from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Answering the Call of Love”… we can all be inclusive too!)

Walking and Rolling on Our Own Paths

And of course… each person can and should use whatever metaphors they want in personal conversation. I’m talking about hymns in worship, the names of organizations, slogans, newsletter titles, etc. places where one is representing more than just yourself… Where a higher standard applies. (As far as individuals, your approach and choices may vary based on context-it is cool to pay attention to the words you use, but I’m not here to shame you for your choices. We all have days when it is all we can do to use words at all, much less examine them for inclusivity. The less marginalized your identity, however, the more important it is to consider the experience of he marginalized folks.)

Let me be clear here. I did not say (and would never say) you should purge such language from your vocabulary. But good grief. A major slogan that represents our justice aspect of our movement? A significant hymn? The name of a congregation? The go-to metaphor for rituals? The title of your newsletter or CUUPS group? Heck no! That’s a completely different thing from using a variety of metaphors in daily speech. We don’t need to “police” personal conversation. We DO need to be mindful of using ableist language in official and high profile contexts.

And… I find the experience of searching for new metaphors and different language to be freeing and exciting and fruitful. I personally am happy to monitor my language for body-based metaphor and make thoughtful choices. YMMV.

Updating Beloved Prayers and Songs and…

I have a prayer that has been incredibly important to me that I still want to use only referred to daughters. So I changed it to sons and daughters. Then I became aware of how that excludes gender non-confirming folks. So now I don’t use it in worship… waiting to see what might unfold there. Mary Kroener-Eckstrand, who is a DRE, mentions that “Our UU youth often use the phrase “siblings in spirit” in one song in place of sisters and brothers…” I love how our youth lead us in many of the invitations for more compassion! (See the prayer below. And your suggestions are welcome!)

I’ve been sharing a worship service called “living like a tree” based on Betsy Rose’s song “Standing like a Tree” so I talk about using that as a mantra and invite the congregations to use “living” instead of standing… and to feel how that works as a mantra…

And I’m owning the fact that I didn’t realize that my own business name was ableist until I began writing this (I’ve been using “Listen to Heart Song” for four years now. It is time for me to find a better, more resonant, and more inclusive business name. I welcome your suggestions!) I’m by no means perfect. But I have found that engaging these questions makes me a better person.
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