A while back, my family moved into a brand-new subdivision with no homeowner's association. Everyone's paperwork included an agreement that during the final phase of the subdivision's development, the homeowners would gather and create a homeowner's association to support all the restrictions the developer had placed on the properties (which included things like outlawing backyard sheds, banning privacy fences, flag poles, storage pads for campers in the side yard, and so on and so forth).
After we had lived there about a year, one of our neighbors decided to try to organize this association. We weren't thrilled. Homeowner's associations always seem to end up being an excuse ambitious neighbors to indulge their inner Barney Fife.
When we went to the organization meeting, that impression didn't get much better.
The neighbor who most wanted the association was trying to organize it because she couldn't tell other moms at her kids' grade school where she lived and have it be recognized. Apparently this was happening because we didn't have a homeowner's association to levy a tax...er, association fee so we could purchase a sign for the entrance to the sub. "If I tell the pizza delivery man I live in the Split Rail Sub, he doesn't know where it even is - I have to tell him it's attached to Beacon Square and that's just embarrassing. We need to have our own sign and our own identity!"
When an older neighbor objected to the expensive yearly fee, the organizer told him, "Well, people of your generation didn't care about things like this, but my generation likes to have a real identity."
As if you can call being defined by what group of cookie-cutter houses you live in "identity".
People today cling hard to their labels. It's a shortcut to avoid deeply knowing people and valuing them by character. Character takes a while to learn and experience to assess. Labels take a few seconds to assign.
It may have been at that homeowner's meeting when I began to realize I relied heavily on labels. And while some labels are unavoidable (I will always be a girl and not a boy, for instance), many are superficial and can really blind us to the actual person standing there right in front of us.
That's not to say labels are entirely inaccurate. To say I'm a thirty-something homeschooled white evangelical Christian right wing conservative homemaker is true. But seeing me through a sort of computer program you can plug parameters into for a definition would overlook ME in the process. If you happened to be labeled a highly-educated Jewish liberal professional, you'd expect we had nothing in common and might even hate each other.
And yet in real life, I'm not only very fond of someone with that exact set of labels but they are fond of me as well. Because I also know other things about that person, Things about their character. They are not the sum of their labels. And neither am I.
Labeling other people prevents us from truly knowing them. Even worse, labeling ourselves prevents us from knowing ourselves.
After that homeowner's meeting, I began thinking about how to truly know people. I remember reading the list of attributes I'd made for a potential future husband and throwing it out. It was a very long list. It got very short. The difference between the short list and the long list was Goodness. I decided I needed to find a man who loved Good. In order to do that, I was going to have to love Good enough to know something about what it was.
The long list required surface attributes to measure whether a man might be an acceptable husband. The short list didn't care about the surface. The long list could've been run through a computer to find the perfect mate. The short list required thought and care and assessment of a man's actual core beliefs.
Labels are an enemy to being able to see and embrace what is Good. They let us get all caught up in whether a person comes from the "right" family and "right" religious background and "right" political background. They let us think we are doing pretty okay if we've collected all the "right" labels ourselves, like a string of Boy Scout merit badges.
I would probably never have even considered Ben as a husband had I not begun to get a foggy idea of how to see a PERSON instead of their labeling. By the time I met him, I was able to see him as a lover of Good, not as a public-schooled "baby Christian" who wasn't sure whether he'd get rid of a television in his house. (In the end, he's wound up being firmer about "no TV" than I am...and someone with deeper faith too.)
I have friendships today I might never have had if I had simply labeled them and then been disappointed they didn't end up matching the label.
I have more freedom to change my thinking and look for a "renewing of the mind" than I would if I saw my identity as bound to a series of arbitrary labels.
Here's what we are hoping to teach our children: ignore the labels. Seek out what is truly Good and love it. Don't accept counterfeit approximations hiding under nice-sounding banners. If there was ever a time when we needed to do this, it's now when "the love of many grows cold".
Because a long time ago, God's Son came here carrying his Father's name and power and way too many people with all the "right" labels couldn't recognize him because he didn't have all those labels himself. He didn't come from the right part of the country. He hadn't gone to their schools. He didn't conduct himself as they thought Messiah ought to.
And if it happened before, it's bound to happen again. When Jesus comes back, I think we might all end up being at least a little shocked who he really is when we see him in person. Only our deep and sincere love of Good is going to let us truly welcome him back.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
Please don't be shy! If you're reading the blog updates, we'd like to hear what you think. Click on the "comments" link to send us a note.