Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Dangers of Labelling

This follows on from my post a couple of days ago about not belonging to Christian sub-groups. If you missed that you might find it helpful to go here first.

We have had a lot of discussion over the last few years about packaging. Where was your shirt made? What is it made of? How many calories are there in it and will it contain anything hypo-allergenic. My shirt contains a single nut but let's not go there.

In a world where everything is labelled (cue the movie-trailer voice) one man refuses to put his story on the packaging.

You see as I grew into this whole Jesus-following, truth-seeking business I discovered that people, knowing the church which had brought me to discover shavings of mustard seed in the first place and my journey through training, would ask questions. Are you an evangelical? Are you a conservative evangelical? Are you a charismatic? Are you sound? Are you thoroughly biblical? Do you denounce liberalism and all its ways?

The answers to these have changed over the years and have all, at one time or another, been yes, no and not sure.

I was talking to a Bishop I know on Monday. The bishops of Bath and Wells visit all the clergy in their diocese during Lent over a three year period. Good work. Thanks. In reference to my evangelical credentials I was asked 'You tick all the boxes don't you?' Do I? Three days later I realise I avoided the question.

So part two of my plan for the last ten years of full-time ordained ministry, my second conclusion in my continuing journey of faith is this. I'm going to take the labels off my garments. Labels can be for other people. You watch me and if it helps to decide what I am called then call me it. I won't self-designate any more. It won't be that hard; I've virtually stopped anyway.

I recall my dislike of my school nickname of Willy. I could, with a concerted effort, have become incredibly unpopular by telling everyone who ever used it that I didn't like it and would like it changed, getting teacher support (as if, in those days) if I dared. It would have been like turning back a tsunami.

I am, from now on, seeking to express my conviction that Jesus is worth following, in the freshest words I can find for each person I meet. You may attach labels if you so wish. Hopefully not Willy.


Red said...

mmm, couldn't agree more. Labels are not usually helpful. More often than not they put people in boxes that would perhaps rather not be in. Ultimately it's about who we believe in and how we follow Him personally. Everything else is just blurring the edges...
red :)

Revsimmy said...

I have become a resolute non-joiner of groups that seem to entrench sub-divisions in recent years. There was one I thought of joining a while back, but have recently realised that my views on certain subject don't fit even with this party line. In the end, it seems to me, all these labels do is attempt to put people in pigeon-holes so that you never have to engage with real arguments and what people actually think or believe to be the truth. They all seem to be "I am of Paul/Apollos/Luther/Calvin/Arminius/Rob Bell/Katharine Jefferts Schori" etc. All good people, no doubt, but just that. But truth is found fully only in Jesus.

flyingbishop said...

"If you label me, you deny me."
Wayne (as in "'s World")

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Wally would be more apt??

Katherine said...

Any fresh words about why Jesus is worth following for my 10 year old son, who says J was a good man but can't have been the Son of God, and doesn't see why Christians are so hot on blood redemption?

St said...

Hi Katherine,

Possibly rather than insisting Jesus is the the Son of god (which is but a metaphor) I'd explore more how your sonm understands Jesus. If Jesus was just a good man he either thought he was the Son of God which makes him bonkers or knew he wasn't whccih makes him a fraudster.

I'm not really that hot on blood redemption either.

St said...

Dreadful typing in previous answer. Sorry.

Katherine said...

Thanks, St. I never insist Jesus was the Son of God; some idea he picked up at church. But that's a helpful and interesting way to get for'arder on this: thank you.

My l33t typing skilz tend to have me greeting people witj "hit here", which is Just Wrong. Sympathies re terrible typing therefore.

Thank you again for responding. I really do appreciate it.

dingbat said...

I had a next door neighbour called Wilf. He had been called "Willy" for his entire career (as a steam engine driver) and had never bothered to correct the assumption on his first day that W stood for Willy. Part of his retirement was enjoying using his actual name everywhere.