Let's Get Rid of Labels

9:51 AMHeather

I like to sort things, by color or category or by use or function.  I like to put things in order and then pull out my favorite gadget.  The one that makes me so very happy-- my beloved label maker.  I love nothing more than looking at a shelf with baskets or plastic containers all nicely sorted and labeled.  

This past Saturday was a good day for me.  I spent several hours in my craft room, sorting supplies and reorganizing.  Getting things in their proper place. And it brought such a sense of satisfaction for me.

Sorting and organizing is a good thing.  But, unfortunately, I think we can all tend to do this with people.  I am as guilty as the next person.  To be honest, maybe I'm worse than the norm?  You know, because I do love to sort.  

I'm not sure why we tend to label people.  Maybe it's our natural tendency to try to make sense of the world?  Maybe it's an effort to feel better about ourselves as labels might bring a sense of identity and belonging?  Maybe it's our way of defending ourselves?  To create a sense of "us" and "them?"  We are the safe place.  They are not.  

The popular crowd.  Or those not in the "in" crowd.  Athletes and scholars. Democrats.  Republicans.  Stay at home moms.  Working moms.  Middle class.  Upper class.  Have.  And have nots. And on and on.

This past weekend, I had two different conversations with friends that really left me chewing on this tendency to create labels.  

One conversation was with a friend who has a special needs child.  We were discussing how diagnoses and labels are the gateways to special resources within public schools.  We chatted about parenting kids, with and without labels, and how to advocate for our kids no matter what their bents are.  We sorta laughed together at the irony of needing a label to unlock the help our kids might need.

The next day, I had a conversation with a friend about how restrictive labels can be.  We were discussing the freedom of looking past labels.  At our tendency, in the faith tradition in which we were both raised, to have an "us" and "them" mentality.  To fall prey to the trap of self-righteousness because we saw ourselves as following the rules and doing the right thing.  While others were not.  I had to admit to myself that while I wish I have always responded to others with compassion and grace, it was really something more akin to pity.  Poor them.  They just don't know what I know. 

Except for one huge problem.  The truth that I am grasping more and more the older that I get.  

Labels aren't for people.  

Jesus didn't die so that we can throw out labels and place people in categories.  He didn't come so that we can neatly call people either saints or sinners.  He didn't leave heaven so that we can sit back in our holy huddles and label outsiders.  He was never about the good and accepted or the bad and rejected.  He didn't come just for the Jews.  Or just for the Gentiles.  He didn't cave to the religious hypocrites trying to pin him down to rules and traditions and labels. 

And he certainly never won a follower by debating labels or stirring up a debate.  In fact, he stirred up great controversy by seeing PAST labels.  By daring to eat with the tax collectors and befriend the prostitutes.  By throwing all sorts of labels and expectations out the window.  

He was a rebel who had only one label to offer.

Forgiven.

For the rich.  And the poor.  The minority and the majority.  The religious zealot and the outcast.  The Jews and the Gentiles.  Men and women.  With a special affinity for the children who were generally to be seen and not heard.  The prisoner and the prison guard.  Those who had it all together and those who were falling apart.   

All of us.  Everyone.  Regardless of political affiliation or socioeconomic class or sexual orientation or race or culture or gender.  

The truth is that I have wasted too much time with my label maker when it comes to people.

Because the truth is that we are all on a sinking ship.  We are all doomed and going down.  Whether you are traveling first class or steerage.  We are all sinners.  We are all sinking in our human condition and we are all in it together.  Not one of us is better off than anyone else.  

And Jesus came for every single one of us.  He died for every one of us, regardless of any category or label.

The only label he ever saw was lost and sinking.

So he made himself the life boat.  

He alone is the life preserver.  The way out.  The Rescuer and Deliverer.  

And we have a choice to make.  We can cause a stampede, running over each other and demanding special treatment and throwing out labels, while we rush to the exits, placing all of us at risk.

Or, recognize that we are all going down.  And assist each other in an orderly fashion.  

Because there is a rescue for all of us.  There is a way out.  There is a lifeboat big enough to handle every last passenger.

If we can only take a step back and recognize our shared condition.  And let that unite us.  Bind us together and bring out the best of us. Quit squabbling and debating and name calling and finger pointing.  
Because it wastes precious time.  

Instead, band together and move together toward the emergency exit. Letting our shared condition bring out the best in humanity rather than the worst in us.

After all, he is not willing that any of us should perish. He wants us all to come to him as our only way to rescue.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 
2 Peter 3:9

What if we did this?  What if we really did see ourselves, collectively, on an even playing field?  In need of each other?  In need of rescue?  What might happen if we really could rip up labels and just be looking out for each other?    

What if we saw people as Jesus did?  Sinking on their own.  Just like us.  And worth the highest price paid to give us deliverance and freedom and rescue.

That the only label we would see is the one Jesus had on his mind when he died on the cross to cover us.

Loved and forgiven. 

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