"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Can the Labels

By Micky Wolf

Cinnamon. Check.

Cardamom. Check.

Paprika. Check.

When gathering the seasonings for a recipe, it is critical to have the proper ingredients on hand, or what is intended to be sweet and tangy may turn out to be a palette punishing dose of pungent and bitter.

Sometimes a glance indicates which spice is the required ingredient. On the other hand, there are enough varieties of paprika that eye-balling several samples side-by-side is sufficient to confuse any but the most knowledgeable of chefs.

All of which leads to a recent experience, unsettling enough to cause me to catch my breath, somewhat in disbelief with what was being said. Sitting in a meeting (a Christian group in church no less) one participant uttered a single word to describe a particular segment of our population. Mind you, it wasn’t a profanity—oddly enough, that may have been easier to hear. No, this single word was a combination of two words, which, in being put together in such a manner, was so demeaning—downright ugly—that I will not repeat it here.

Sadly, it is likely the speaker did not realize how it sounded to the rest of us.

Taking a position is not the same as issuing a judgment…

As the conversation unfolded, the word was used to define a particular category of people the speaker believes to be un-Christian and sinners at best, despicable and vile members of society at worst. Either way, the end result is they determined this word-label to be apropos.

It is one thing to take a stand on an issue near and dear to one’s heart. To express a personal perspective with honesty and sincerity, even when further insight and understanding might show that perspective to be incomplete. But to pronounce, with teeth-clenching vitriol, that a person or a group of (American) people live as little more than perpetrators of genocide—if only in a conceptual context—is beyond being Christ-like in any sense of the description.

There is little doubt Jesus took what could be considered a hardline approach with many aspects of day-to-day life. Yet, he did so without falling into the trap of name calling and labeling. Yes, calling someone a hypocrite could be construed as such, but here is an important difference: he comprehended the bigger picture. Naming their behaviors by noting their attitudes got their attention which, hopefully, would serve to manifest a change of heart.

We don’t know what we don’t know…

Had I been called home to the throne of the Most High in my teens or twenties, there would have been a pretty intense come to Jesus meeting. In the short term, thanks be to God for the prayer of “forgiving the sins of our youth.”

Nonetheless, one of the perks of getting older for many of us is stepping—or in some cases slipping and sliding—our way into the reality there is a whole lot more we do not know about the mysterious ways of God than we could have ever imagined.

High on that list has to be letting go of the notion that it is okay to speak of other people as if we know the intent of their heart, based primarily on what we can see or hear. True, we are exhorted by God that we will know a tree by its fruit. However, if you can’t stand persimmons and that is what is planted in your neighbor’s backyard, are you entitled to cut it down because you prefer peaches?

There are those within my circles of acquaintance who make choices that wouldn’t occur to me to choose at this point in my life. I am also keenly aware of the reality that a perspective I hold today could change in an instant, or be very different tomorrow. Why? For no other reason than the seeker, the one aspiring to be and become more Christ-like, will not be left unchanged by our great and good God who continues to shape and mold us into His likeness and image. New people. New experiences. Different challenges, difficulties, or joys. All is ever changing.

Can the label label…

It is because each of us are the living and breathing handiwork of God that we can let go of our need to put people into boxes of our own making.

It is important to hold fast to the principles of our faith and chosen religious affiliation, but the fact remains—we are constantly in a process of change, and being changed.

Our bodies are aging. Our minds are encountering new ideas. Our emotions are being impacted and moved by different experiences. Or, maybe, for the first time, we are choosing to feel an emotion we have previously worked hard to suppress.

Lining up people like cans on a shelf or spices in a jar and slapping a label on them is not helpful anyway you look at it. As human beings, God chose to breathe us into existence. We are so much more than a pejorative word or two.

Maybe a good course of action is to choose to give others (and ourselves) the benefit of knowing God can heal, restore, and transform in ways we will never fully comprehend. And then to accept the Divine is not constrained or defined by our sense of the possibilities for how, when, where, in what way, or with whom, that might happen.

How do I feel when I hear an unloving or judgmental word-label directed toward me?

Do I tend to label people from afar? 

Is there a word-label I need to stop using, beginning with this moment?


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