Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 116: II Samuel 19-21; Psalm 96; Acts 11

It was in Antioch that the word was first used to describe the people living in community who were following the teachings of Jesus, whom many called the Christ of God. The translation that I am reading translates the word used as "labeled." More often, the word used is "called." They were called Christians. Today, the word used is labeled.

Nowadays, we are warned not to label things or concepts. Labeling limits, and controls what we think, see and presume about a thing. Label something "natural" or "organic" and we presume it to be healthier than that which is not labeled in the same manner. Label something "new" or "improved" and we get excited, even when the changes made are minuscule and measurable only in a laboratory. Label something "dangerous" or "hazardous" and we are either appropriately repelled, or drawn to the object or practice in question. Labels might describe something, or direct us to assume something, about the thing labeled; but they can never be the thing itself. They are only labels.

We make the mistake of assuming that labels reveal truths about things, people or concepts; when really, they are just convenient triggers that allow us to align, even impose, similitudes. Something labeled is like the other things labeled, and can be expected to offer the same characteristics of similar things, people or concepts we have experienced in the past.

In case you have not noticed yet, labeling has less to do with the thing in front of you than (often) your assumptions created by the label itself.

So it is with the label "Christian." I have seen that label expressed and applied with the highest esteem. People given that honor are seen as exemplary: people like Desmond Tutu, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They embody for us what a follower of the Christ should look and act like...much as Barnabas (son of encouragement) was to the people of Antioch.

The label can also be misused. I have seen that as well. One can be told that their behavior falls short of being "christian." As well, because of the Church's checkered past...Christian can be used as an epithet.

My point today? I note that the people of Antioch did not set out to establish a brand, if you will. They were simply attempting to live out the teachings, and assume the practices of their teacher and savior, Jesus. Simple enough. Not about labels.

So, in order to follow Christ, we must be a bit more cautious with our tendency to label. Beyond the label is a story...and in that story we might just find a community of practice. In that community of practice, we might just find the trail of a person who lived, died and rose as the incarnate Son of the Most High. That one takes all of us beyond labels and into a kingdom where the only knowing God more fully and completely than we right now could ever ask or imagine.

Please, be cautious of labels....

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