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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Designing labels

From Labels To Liberty « The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom
Instead of seeing the people through their circumstances or choices- lazy, waiter, addict, slut, cashier- we need to see them first and foremost as people, human beings created in the image of God who need to be connected to in relationship and with love.
This is a critical reminder.  Much of our work in the inner city has us sharing life alongside those who are most prone to be labeled: homeless, prostitute, gang-banger, poor and mentally ill.  While referring to people through these labels is not always done negatively- most often it is simply convenient in addressing the need you are seeking to meet- it is all too easy to reduce those people to their circumstances and/or choices.  This dehumanizing approach robs us all of possibility for deeper relationships borne out of the complexity of our mutual beautiful and broken lives.
My response (with a couple of minor change- adding links that I could not add in the response):
I think one of the reasons why labels are so prevalent is that it effectively dehumanizes people and erases (at least in the mind of the labeller) the need to treat the labelled as a person. [Insert derogatory term here] is the enemy and, since “they” are the enemy, “they” deserve whatever treatment “they” receive since we’re ontologically superior to “them”. However, a word of caution should be raised here: it is hardly a malady confined to those we disagree with. For example, I couldn’t help but notice that in your interview with Tripp York that he throws out the term “fundamentalist” (while it’s from a quote of Geez Magazine, he seems to approve of it). As a fundamentalist (at least in the original sense), I disagree with the suggestion that the narratives of faith are something that need to be untangled from me and I wouldn’t be too surprised if we had far more in common than he thinks (although I could be wrong about this. However, my conservatism does not extend beyond theology into social issues).
Philip Yancey writes about teaching a class that dealt, in part, with the portrayals of Jesus in popular culture.  The topic one day turned to how those who society and the synagogue deemed undesirable were welcomed by Jesus, yet were now once again being deemed undesireable by society and the church.  He continues:
Someone in the class suggested that legalism in the church had created a barrier of strict rules that made non-Christians feel uncomfortable. The class discussion abruptly lurched in a new direction, as survivors of Christian colleges and fundamentalist churches began swapping war stories. I told of my own bemusement in the early seventies when the redoubtable Moody Bible Institute... was banning all beards, mustaches, and hair below the ears of male students- though each day students filed past a large oil painting of Dwight L. Moody, hirsute breaker of all three rules.
Everyone laughed. Everyone except Greg, that is, who... raised his hand....  "I feel like walking out of this place," he said, and all of a sudden the room hushed. "You criticize others for being Pharisees.  I'll tell you who the real Pharisees are. They're you [he pointed at me] and the rest of you people in this class....  You find a group to look down on, to feel more spiritual than, and you talk about them behind their backs. That's what a Pharisee does. You're all Pharisees...."
Greg had caught us red-handed. In a twist of spiritual arrogance, we were now looking down on other people for being Pharisees.
-([Never Knew], pp. 85-86)

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