Labels

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).

Labels

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

7 comments

  1. Labels are convenient tools, but never the thing labeled. When we label a sentient entity we diminish, limit, contain, and fool ourselves into thinking we “KNOW AND UNDERSTAND” what’s labeled. How sad and limiting. Take care of you, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It certainly got me thinking too, Anne. People with obvious disabilities often suffer dreadful abuse. I think to myself, thank goodness I don’t do anything like that. Then I began to think of how sometimes the reason for labelling people isn’t quite as obvious – it could be something like someone who speaks with a different accent or someone who holds different views and opinions to ourselves. It’s made me aware that I need to be conscious on a daily basis that I don’t simply label someone, but look beyond differences, e.g. I can often be wary of people who don’t feel for animals the way I feel about them. It’s something I need to be aware of.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Labels are convenient for putting people into categories so we can put them on the shelf and go our way. God made everyone different so we could see a bit of who he is. He loves us despite how we often act. When we really get to know people, beyond the labels, we see someone very precious and valuable. Each person no matter how they may appear, add a richness to our lives as we embrace them.

    Liked by 1 person

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