Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Labels and Faith

A teacher friend of mine wanted to share a spiritual concept with his nonreligious class - but in the middle of speaking, he stopped himself. "I'd better not say it," he said. Lucky (or unlucky) for him, I happened to be in his class, and knowing he was on the brink of opening his heart to everyone, I piped up, "Oh, go ahead!"

So he went ahead and briefly mentioned the belief he identifies with. His spiritual connection. His faith. His religious affiliation. His born again experience. See how each of these phrases carries its own connotation? Every label has its judgment. Which is the right label to use? How ever can we talk about God when we all cringe at various words and warm to others?

And yet people practically drag that info out of you, because they want to know "where you stand." Someone said that to me once, and I almost gagged. Sorry, but you won't know where I stand by the label I use, but by getting to know me and watching my life.

The fact remains: identifiers are easy. Labels are quick.
My teacher friend was correct in knowing that the wrong phrase would make some people prickle. And yet being the wrong color can also make people uncomfortable. Hailing from the wrong country. Wearing the wrong thing on one's head.

And all these differences are seen, noticed, identified in the blink of an eye, the turn of a phrase. ("Oh, she said that. She must be one of those.")

When are we going to learn to simply let the other person be different? Fact is, most of our differences circle around language. When it comes to true experience of our Creator, of Jesus, of the Divine, of love, of transformation, we have so very much in common. But how you reacted to some of the above words shows the orientation you have. "Jesus" may have sounded wrong. Or "transformation" seemed new agey.

The first step to breaking down barriers is to recognize them in your own life! Notice what makes you balk, what ruffles your feathers and gets you all opinionated. There are whole cultures nextdoor to you - different communities, neighborhoods, churches - whose main difference is the words they use, the books they read, the radio and TV they watch.

These divisions don't further the kingdom of God. Only love furthers the kingdom of God. (Again, this phrase may or may not be in your personal faith lexicon. Just go with it for now. Thanks.)

When you see the other as brother, sister, whom you can love and reach out to, learn from, learn with - you are living like a little Christ. Yes, even if you call it something else.