Labels . . .

The Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. (Genesis 2:19)

label: Pronunciation [ley-buhl]: noun, verb, -beled, -beling or (especially British) -belled, -belling.

  • a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc.
  • a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification.

–verb (used with object)

  • to affix a label to; mark with a label
  • to designate or describe
  • to put in a certain class;classify

I’ve been struggling this week with the hurtful ways we all label each other. I’ve been praying especially for a more redemptive way to deal with my own feelings. I’m not prone to being gentle about dealing with put-downs. Friends in college used to say that I had a Mac-Truck syndrome. When I was offended by something someone said or did, I turned into a female version of robo-cop. But that was yesterday. Today I tell my Father my feelings are hurt. Then I wait for Him to help me cope. It’s not easy “turning the other cheek.”

We’ve had this authority to classify from creation–it’s part of our Stewardship assignment. But after the Fall, Naming turned dark. It became a way to label other folks as “less than” and inferior to us. Naming deteriorated into name-calling, slander, cursing, backstabbing, gossiping, put downs, condemnation and other forms of aggression (when folks don’t agree with who wants to be in charge)–like violence, war, and murder.

That predisposition hasn’t improved much in the centuries since Jesus redeemed us all–our first instinct, when we feel threatened, challenged, or otherwise compelled to establish our dominance in the human family is to let everybody know who is on top. Monkeys do it, apes do it, all animals do it. We do it too.

It happens to all of us. Given any amount of authority and power, most of us assert our dominance. “I’m on top, you’re not.”

We classify other folks by what we want to see as their ‘inferiority,” as if God sees any of us as inferior to each other! We dominate each other by reason of our “insider-outsider” labels–race, ethnic origin, language, gender, neighborhood, social or economic position, who we are, what we’ve accomplished, or what we own. We all have the unredeemed compulsion to look down on someone else and have them look up to us. It’s time we all got over ourselves!

Jesus told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the pharisee, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14)

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