Warning Labels

On a gorgeous Friday morning, my friend Ken and I pedaled up and down the hills around our county. Our first ride together offered two hours of conversation.

Of course, a lot of the talk went something like this. “You…go…on…ahead. I’ll…catch…up.”

On a longer, flatter part of the journey (just had to pop that in there), we started a theological conversation. Ken initiated the topic. “I don’t know where you stand on certain issues but…” The conversation eventually centered around homosexuality (something neither of us wrestle with just in case your mind wandered there).

The labels liberal and conservative were tossed into the fray. My comment about those labels? “Ken, those are usually shorthand for ‘I really don’t want to talk about this.’”

You may or may not agree but I think we often use labels as shortcuts that serve one of two purposes.

A label can serve as a preliminary setting of the table. We establish certain images or thoughts in the other person’s mind so we don’t have to cover familiar ground. We can move into a deeper conversation, start with the main course, as it were, because we’ve already set the table.

A label can also serve as an invitation to a fight, the proverbial throwing down of the gauntlet, in the arena of ideas. It’s like saying, “You drink root beer. I hate root beer. So, you A&W-swizzling swine, convince me you’re not a moron.”

I’ll admit that I dismiss some people and their arguments as easily as that. Why? Because I’ve taken the shortcut of tagging them with a label. Or they’ve offered the label themselves.

Ken and I moved beyond labels during that ride. He shared his story. I shared mine.

I have a relative who has been in a long-term, same-sex relationship. I didn’t know this relative very well until recently.

When I met this relative at an aunt’s funeral, homosexuality moved from an issue that didn’t touch my world to a real person with a name. The conversation with Ken sharpened that reality. In the past, I’d wrestled with a controversy. Now I filter those thoughts through a relationship.

Questions: Do you find labels helpful? How have you used labels? How would someone label you?

More on what I discovered in my ride with my friend Ken in the next post.

About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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