I’ve been thinking about the human need to label and categorize everything. I suppose this is partly the result of the various debates bouncing around the online Christian community (some of which are pretty acrimonious). Of course, we’ve been naming and categorizing things since God gave Adam that job in the Garden. And knowing how to classify something is an important organizational tool. For instance, if you have an insect or rock collection you can consult any number of helpful resources to figure out what it is you’ve got. (Though, after editing some lessons for the 4-H geology project I’ve realized that classifying rocks isn’t always as straightforward as one might think.) A dictionary or encyclopedia would be useless if it wasn’t organized in some way.
My point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with applying a label to something, as long as the label doesn’t become the substitute for what something — or someone — really is.
We do this with books, too. I think it’s Randy Mortensen who said that when he was pitching his children’s fantasy (just recently published by Barbour) Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle he had to come up with a recognizable hook to hang it on. Sort of Harry Potter meets Narnia or something like that. (Apologies to Randy if I’ve got that wrong.) But of course, the story is much more than that. (Little plug here: Randy is taking the Christian Fiction Alliance Blog Tour in December and you can find out more about Landon Snow then.)
We feel more comfortable when we can put a label on something: her book is a mystery, he’s written an inspirational romance, he’s charismatic, she’s a lawyer, they’re vegetarians. Admit it — those phrases all conjure images in your mind, don’t they. If we’re not careful, we let the labels become substitutes for actually getting to know those people. The worst crimes against other humans are committed when we objectify people.
Jesus had a nifty way of dealing with these sorts of prejudices — he told stories that turned the stereotypes on their heads. How about The Good Samaritan or the Rich Man and Lazarus? Jesus could always see past the label to the person underneath. It’s a little harder for us, not being divine and all, but we have the Holy Spirit to augment our vision.
It’s important to remember that each one of us is known by many labels, but those labels do not completely define who we are. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, writer, editor, blogger, singer, friend, neighbor and probably a few other nouns — but I’m more than that. I’m a sinner saved by grace and perhaps that leads me to the only label that matters — Christian. And so are many of the other people we might happen to disagree with. Just something to remember.