Labels

We are all guilty of name-calling from time to time. It’s human nature when you are frustrated, angry, or have been mistreated to lash out with an insult.  We like to label people too.  We label people by political leaning, intelligence, attractiveness, personality, behavior…. Even our Lord had labels attached to him:  glutton, drunkard, blasphemer.

But name-calling and labels aren’t helpful.  In fact, a recent study showed that the way to end racial bias, for instance, is not by calling people racist.  It puts people on the defensive and makes them resistant to the kind of dialogue needed for change.  The results of the study seem like common sense to me, but we still do it.

The Scripture has no shortage of instruction regarding the words that flow from our lips:  “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4.29) – “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4.31-2).

And then from Jesus (and this is pretty tough): But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’* will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (*empty headed/imbecile)

I’ve got a lot of work to do!

Even seemingly innocent labels can put people in a box when we are far more complicated than conservative/liberal or introvert/extrovert, for instance.  Labels do have a way of cutting to the chase in order to make a point, but it’s good to be reminded that labels don’t tell the whole story; and in a society that is experiencing much division, it is ever more important that Christians pay attention to the precision of our speech.

Witness

We want to solve everything don’t we?  How do we fix the economy? Which candidate will be better? How do we cure cancer? Or obesity? Or poverty? What about violence in the Middle East?

It is, of course, natural to be solutions oriented.  When there is a problem, we try to fix it. If someone is crying, we want to help them stop and then fix their broken heart. And yet we’ve all heard or known someone to say, “I don’t need you to fix my problem, I just want you to listen.”

As Church, we must be cautious of the fix-it mentality.  No doubt, there is a call to fix things in church and world at times and Christians should play a part when needed.  But we are not called as Christians to be fixers first.  Jesus didn’t say say, “Go therefore into all the world and fix it.” So what are we called to do?

Witness.

jean-vanierOne of my Catholic heroes is the philosopher Jean Vanier.  Vanier is mostly known for founding L’Arche, a coalition of communities throughout the world for people with developmental disabilities and the men and women who live and work with them.  To understand the philosophy behind L’Arche, Vanier describes it this way: “Look, there are two realities, two cultures. There is a culture of power and there is a culture of relationships. The men and women I live with see that it is good to be together and we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world when we are together. They teach me to lighten up.”

Indeed, the point of L’Arche is to be taught by those who value relationship over power. Power is deemed of greater value in the world and we often spend too much time adoring it and those who have it.  The community of L’Arche is a witness to a different way of being, a gospel way of being.

If we believe that our role as Christians in the world is to fix everything, we can become tempted to power over relationship.  Jesus did not come in power, but in weakness.  And he came to be in relationship with us, which is the witness we offer to the world.