The importance of labels
We use labels all the time. Labels of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, even our favourite teams, hobbies, and interests carry their own labels.
But who are we, really, under those labels? That’s what I’m exploring in this podcast episode. (Scroll through to the end of this post to listen to podcast.)
Firstly labels aren’t bad, they’re necessary for making our way through the external world. Imagine navigating city streets or an airport terminal with no labels. Labels in this case, and many other cases, are obviously good.
Labels are also a necessary part of our internal framework and personal structure.
They help us identify where we’re from (Toronto, Canada) and who we are (man, husband, dad, friend). Labels are part of the conditioning of our childhood and we take on identities because that is what we are given. And it’s good to develop an identity, a sense of self within a family, a group, a tribe, a religion, a society.
Labelling is good. It helps us define self and gives us a sense of purpose. It provides the bumper rails, keeping us safe as we journey through life.
But we know from experience that labelling isn’t all good and isn’t always helpful.
The end of a label
A label reaches the end of its usefulness in our lives when it reinforces, or binds us to something that no longer rings true in our lives. When our knowledge and experience has led us to a new place.
A label, that at one time was comforting and purposeful, can become constricting and disingenuous.
What then? What do you do with that label?
Well, you have a few options.
You can view the disillusionment and discomfort of wearing that label as a test of your resolve. So you double-down on the long-held idea of your identity. You are determined for that label to fit, even when it doesn’t.
You might doubt your growing experience and pretend the questions never happened. You deny and suppress things in yourself to remain in the safety of your individual and group identity.
Or, you own the truth that this label doesn’t fit anymore.
I come from the Jesus tradition and I am deeply grateful for my personal formation within that environment and faith. I am who I am because of where I’ve came from.
But I haven’t called myself a Christian for a couple years. I don’t know if that label makes sense for me anymore, at least not in the way I used to understand “Christian”.
There are times I’ve wanted to disassociate entirely from that label. But although I disagree with a lot of the ways Christianity is practiced, I’m opening myself to sit in a broader and more expansive meaning of Christian faith and belief, of seeing Christ in everything and everyone.
Although I don’t call myself a Christian and I don’t want to be defined by an organized system of practice, a religion, my identity is rooted in the Jesus tradition that came out of the Jewish faith and I don’t want to entirely throw away that label.
Maybe I can just be “human”.
To be human is to be both divine and dirt.
One of the most compelling things to me about the Christian faith is the idea of incarnation, which is another way of saying Spirit embodying matter. It’s the subtext of the whole biblical story and is made plain in the person of Jesus Christ. The divine becoming human, becoming dirt. The dirt becoming divine.
This is an understanding of human that goes beyond labels to the essence of our being.
I want to know what that is. I want to experience that.
To draw from another tradition, Kundalini Yoga uses the Sut Nam mantra in practice.
Sat Nam roughly translates as “truth is my identity”. Repeating this mantra is like planting a seed in yourself to bring awareness and consciousness of who you really are. Un-attaching yourself from external labels and external definitions of self.
This fall I went to a conference in Albuquerque New Mexico where Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and beloved author and speaker, presented the following image. An image that helps to summarize (and visualize) this understanding of being human.
Spirit wants to incarnate itself. Matter wants to be God.
This is the place we live. This is what it means to be human.
We are divine, Spirit wanting to incarnate in us. We are dirt, matter wanting to be God.
I can’t think of any label more accurate than that.
Join me in this podcast where I challenge the idea that all labels are bad (they aren’t!), where I question whether Christian is a label I want to claim anymore for my identity, and where I propose that to be divine and to be dirt is what it means to be human.
Media & Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Music: “A Dream Become Reality”, “Headspace” and “The Way Things Once Were” by Hill and “Contemplation Station” by Rhythm Scott