For whatever reason, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about labels, yeah- labels. In its oldest form a “label” was a piece of cloth or a ribbon attached to a garment. Since the oldest understanding of “label” is associated with heraldry, my guess is that labels were worn to identify a person.

Labels are useful. They tell us what ingredients are in a product, warning us in the event we have allergies to certain foods- and letting us know how many calories or how much salt may be in any given product. Labels also guide adults in buying toys…is a toy age appropriate for the child? Labels can worn us of dangers (smoking) or entice us with curiosity (free gift inside). But labels can be less than useful at times.

I think people seek order in their lives and one way to achieve order is to label people: weird, class clown, liberal, mysterious, caring…and the adjectives go on. I think one of the challenges in labeling people is that the labeling reflects our opinion rather than reality. How many times is the “class clown” really hurting and sad inside, in that deepest place that no one is allowed? Or the “pretty girl stuck on herself”- gripped by insecurity, constantly seeking affirmation.

I wonder if labeling people isn’t intellectual and emotional laziness. If I label someone, then I “know” them, the mystery is gone, and I can dismiss them or identify with them- but not taking the time to hear their story and share with them mine.

We label people as, “Christian”- even though we don’t really know what that means. We label people as, “conservative” or, “liberal”- and we don’t know what that means. We label people as, “gay” or, “straight”, or “transgendered”- and I don’t know what purpose that serves either. The darker side of some religions is that people are labeled as, “saved”- (meaning, I get to go to heaven when I die) and that leaves others as, “unsaved” (usually meaning they’re going to hell when they die). I don’t know if that’s helpful.

The label that matters most to me comes from a passage Genesis, “let us create humans in our image”. We are all created in the image of God and we express that image in differing ways; some ways more helpful than others. I hope that God gives you the gift to explore in your own mind how you are created in God’s image and to look beyond labels that others impose for their own reasons.