Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. – Romans 12:10
Today got started in the best way possible. First, a relaxing walk with Scout Labradoodle; next, easing into the morning with Rebekah; finally, heading into downtown Wake Forest for coffee and conversation with one of my good friends, Tim.
I often refer to the Wake Forest Coffee Company on White Street as, “my downtown office.” It’s my go-to place for meetings – the kind where you sip coffee, relax, catch up, and have a real conversation. I’m certainly willing to get together if someone only has 15-minutes, or a half-hour, but I like it best when we don’t need to look at our watches, and a good hour slips by before either of us notice.
LABELS: This morning our conversation was wide-ranging, but we kept coming back around to the obvious brokenness of this world. We’re both concerned at the sense of hostility that clouds so many relationships (individuals… groups… races… religions… nations…), and most especially relationships between people who don’t understand one another… or can’t understand one another… or won’t understand one another.
We talked about how easily and how dismissively we assign labels to others; and how – once the label is applied – everything is then viewed through that very narrow lens, regardless of who they really are.
Unfortunately, labels tidily sidestep the necessity of actually getting to know someone. Because the label means we already know all there is to know. The problem is that every label is always, without exception, one hundred percent of the time, wrong.
The problem is that every label is always, without exception, one hundred percent of the time, wrong.
Think about that for a moment. When we use a label as a classification shortcut it actually becomes a relationship detour – it re-routes us away from the truth about another individual and it takes us somewhere else. More than that, once we go there we tend to dig a moat around the position – the assumption – and defend it, thereby making it even more difficult to come anywhere near the truth, and close to impossible to actually get to know the other person.
GOOD LABEL: Ultimately, there are only two labels about any individual in this whole wide world that matter at all. The first is “Child of God,” and the second is their name, as an individual. So here is mine: Derek Maul, Child of God – that should be enough.
Under the umbrella of that label we have established the only two things that are important to know. I have my own identity as a unique being, and I am the much loved child of my Creator. In consequence, any other person that I meet stands on common ground with me, and that common ground becomes the basis of a potential relationship.
I believe this is a critically important principle if we are to move forward from this precarious balance point, this fulcrum in history, with any sense of hope that peace and reconciliation are possible.
Vive La Différence!
So we own different points of view regarding politics, or religion, or equal rights, or energy, or how resources are allocated and shared, or music, or gay marriage, or foreign policy…? Fine; we can still relate as completely equal, honestly searching for answers, in need of one-another’s perspective, open-spirited, Children of God.
I have to quote my mother here, who was once asked (by label-happy friends) how she was able to feel okay about joining a Presbyterian church. “If we all insisted on a church where everyone agreed with everything we believed, then soon we’d all attend churches with a membership of one!”
At Wake Forest Presbyterian Church my mum is one of (most recent count) 830 members. But we don’t rally around any label other than the name of Jesus! We love each other on that basis, and it’s because of unity in Christ that we can learn to understand and respect the literally hundreds of nuances of opinion, and preference, and opinion that mark us as individuals who simply cannot be tidily categorized under any other label.
So here’s my recommendation. Find someone you have previously labelled and likely dismissed as “wrong.” Sit down and talk with them. Listen. Then give them a new label. “Much loved Child of God.”
Peace – DEREK