All Labels Aside

by Michael Zagar

If you don’t own a motorcycle, you may not know this fact:  Most motorcycle riders will wave to other oncoming motorcycle riders on the road when they cross paths.  It’s a camaraderie thing.  It’s one rider sharing the road with another rider recognizing what they have in common—a love for the open road.IMG_4419

It got me to thinking…

When those of us on our bikes wave to one another, there are no other labels that get in the way of this common bond.  We don’t identify each other by skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political party, religion, career path, social hierarchy, or past history.  Neither do we question how long that other rider has owned a bike or how much experience they have.  The fact is, none of that matters.  What matters is that both the other rider and I, for at least that moment, share the same piece of road, at the same time.  We are also both managing the same risks of the road, most notably that we share the same potential invisibility to those who are not on a motorcycle.  That wave also tells the other rider that if I saw you broke down on the road, I would stop to offer you help.  Even then, none of the other labels would matter.

It’s a great perspective.  One that I’ve been learning to carry with me off the bike as well.  After all, we are all people aren’t we?

Our society however, seems to have stopped seeing people and only sees labels.  In so many segments of our culture, people are often identified by some sort of label first.  For example, just listen to the news.  Any person named in any part of the news is identified by whatever label is most convenient before that person’s name or the reason they’ve made the news is mentioned.  We are fixated on labels, oftentimes to the detriment of relationships with those around us.  Worse yet, we don’t seem to have the ability to have different ideologies without petty name-calling coming into play.  If one happens to disagree with the ideology of another, they must be unreasonable, irresponsible, blind to the “real” issue, a bigot, a racist, a bleeding heart, and in times past a communist!  So much for e pluribus unum.

Sadly, in Churchianity, the same thing often seems to happen.  Church people have frequently segregated themselves along the lines of denomination or doctrine, using those as labels to define themselves, or as derogatory labels to degrade those with whom they disagree.  Many have certain perspectives and beliefs that they hold dear and will ablabelswebide by labels associated with those beliefs to the point of living and acting condemning, judgmental, or downright mean.

I don’t want to get into a list of labels here, listing these defeats the purpose of this discussion.  After all, Jesus was famous (or should I say infamous) for bypassing labels and seeing people as people.  Countless religious people took issue with those that Jesus spent his time with, identifying them with the most convenient labels:  prostitute, sinners, tax-collector, adulterer, Samaritan and the like.  But Jesus never called any of these people by their labels.  He saw them as people first and foremost, sharing meals together with them, spending time talking with them about how God originally intended our world to look.  And he made it part of his mission to openly challenge his religious critics who were primarily intent on labeling people.

For me, I’m giving the Jesus “labels aside” way a try in my life.  And to be completely honest, it’s not exactly easy to do.  It seems that we’ve been conditioned in our society (and churches) to see labels first, make a judgement or express an opinion.  And after that is all done, then… maybe… we might recognize that these are real people, and always have been!  I’m currently trying to focus my intentions on turning this conditioned label thing upside down.  I want you to know that you can ignore the labels.  You don’t have to have an opinion or play judge.  It isn’t mandatory.  You can esteem people as people first and foremost.  After all, just like being on the motorcycle, aren’t we just momentarily crossing paths as we share the same road to somewhere?

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