The following extract and poem are taken from Disguises of Love by Eddie Askew.
Another problem is that labels can restrict our own development. Our traditional piety sometimes makes us less than fully human. We curb our ability to enjoy life, or feel pain, because we feel we must conform to an expected role, to labels we stick on ourselves. Yet the most important thing is not that we can recognise others, labelled or not, nor that they acknowledge our labels, but rather that God recognises us. And the thing he recognises is love, not labels. That’s what he identifies with. Not the classification by which we proclaim our separateness from others, and certainly not the critical labels we apply to them, but the caring which shows our identification with them. What we claim to be is not as important as the presence of Christ in our lives. That’s what leads God to call us his children. ‘Because those who are led (not labelled!) by the Spirit are sons (and daughters of God’ (Romans 8:14).
They put labels on you, Lord,
Friend of sinners, Sabbath breaker.
Disturber of the peace.
They put all their fear and anger,
all their hate, into their labels.
It was easier to label than to listen.
Easier to condemn than to have their world altered
their customs questioned.
Easier to keep the blinkers on than face the light,
the discomfort of truth,
Your truth. Living truth.
They even nailed a label to your cross.
Just above the thorns of a bloody crown.
King of the Jews, it said.
Label. Laugh. Turn away. Forget.
Is that what I do, Lord?
The mockery of quick judgement
that takes fear as evidence,
prejudice as reason.
That shoots on sight
and leaves the bleeding body of truth
dead in a ditch.
And close my eyes, lest I remember.
Lord, when I meet someone new,
someone who threatens me by his strangeness,
whose presence asks for adjustments,
whose ideas don’t mesh with mine
and which shake the assumptions I wear
like a favourite jacket shaped to my comfort,
then help me to look,
not for his label, but for his humanity.
Not to close my mind, but to open my heart,
and see your presence in him.
Let me see you not just in my comfortable friends,
but in the eyes of strangers around me.
And Lord, help me to see
the only label that matters is love.
It’s not always easy to recognise.
Sometimes it looks like a bloody crown.
Eddie Askew (1927 – 2007) Previous General Director of The Leprosy Mission