Taking Another’s Place

Who will take her place? Brilliant, elegant, articulate, iconic! Who could possibly take her place? Maya Angelou not only personified America at our best, she had a unique gift and fierce zeal for revealing humanity at our best.

“I am gay,” Maya Angelou told a gathering of an estimated 4,000 predominantly LGBT people celebrating gay and lesbian choruses in 1996. She then paused and continued: “I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Native American. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Muslim.”

I don’t know her religious heritage or affiliations. My belief is she transcended narrow definitions and denominational pettiness. She did manifest a mature and passionate concern for the dire state of religious practice in a poem certainly worthy of the Hebrew prophets: 


Petulant priests, greedy
centurions, and one million
incensed gestures stand
between your love and me. 

Your agape sacrifice
is reduced to colored glass,
vapid penance, and the
tedium of ritual.

Your footprints yet
mark the crest of
billowing seas but
your joy
fades upon the tablets
of ordained prophets.

Visit us again, Savior. 

Your children, burdened with
disbelief, blinded by a patina
of wisdom,
carom down this vale of
fear. We cry for you
although we have lost
your name.

But Maya Angelou’s brilliance is not found in petulance. Her iconic status is not founded upon her inimitable eloquence. Quite the contrary!

Maya Angelou’s insight and brilliance was nothing more than her willingness to embrace the shared humanity of all people—regardless of race, gender, or religion—and she prodded everyone to embrace our common humanity as well.

We salute the Apostle Paul for his ability to proclaim: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor 9)

Paul exhorts: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil 2)

Who will take Maya Angelou’s place of distinction is totally beside the point! My hunch is she would reject that speculation as trivial and trite. Rather, I am certain she would exhort each and all of us to proclaim with passion and eloquence: “I am gay. I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Native American. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Muslim.”


I am indebted to Out magazine for the 1996 quote and my initial inspiration [link]. 

Savior © Maya Angelou is from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Random House. 1994., p 250.

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