Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Trouble With Labels

"Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins." -1 Peter 4:8

When I read this last night at Converge (one of Oshkosh's student ministries), it jumped out at me.

First Peter, like many of the epistles, is a letter written to the early church, and contains instructions for what the life of a Christian should embody. Or rather, how someone who has decided to follow Jesus should emulate him in their lifestyle.

Apparently, one of the marks of a follower of Jesus is to show a deep love for one another, continually.

Can you imagine?

I am not a fan of religion. I think that often religion takes genuine, passionate love of something and turns it into a chore. I think that religion has the potential to steal authentic joy, and lose Jesus' message in a list of rules, regulations and requirements.

The reason this verse stuck out to me is because it is so simple, yet true.

Love each other deeply. Love one another as if you are loving God.

In society we have labels for everything: Prude, emo, hippie, black/white, gay/straight, trendy, nerdy, liberal, agnostic, conservative...

We love our labels because they are, in essence, identity. They give us a sense of belonging, a sense that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

It is a noble goal, to be a part of something greater than oneself, that is.

Human labels, however, are the source of much injustice in the world. They can create a sense of superiority within the individual. Once this is instilled, it becomes oppressive toward others. It strips them of their dignity and humanity.

The term "hate speech" is often used in American society to silence dissenting opinions. It is used to oppress those who carry a different label, all the while claiming to be liberating the oppressed. Hate speech is just one example of the difficulties human labels present.

But Peter was on to something different...

When he refers to a love that covers a multitude of sins, he is referring to an identity which transcends the identities that humans manufacture to instill some sense of worth within themselves.

This idea is the citizenship of heaven.

The language of heaven is love. When the world is restored, it is love that will be spoken on the tongues of its citizens.

Love crosses social, economic, and racial barriers. It is the heartbeat of humanity, though we don't realize it.

Can you imagine a world where people loved each other deeply for the people they are? A world where everyone is viewed not for their created labels, but for the one true label which is the seal of the divine?

I'm becoming convinced that living and loving in this way would, in fact, cover a multitude of sins. The sins caused by racism, sexism, injustices against the poor, oppression...

"Sin" isn't what the church has made it seem. It isn't the word used to keep people from happiness, creativity, and pleasure. Not at all.

The more I come to understand it, sin, is what keeps humanity from living as God intended. It keeps us from living full, joyful and harmonious lives.

Anytime a woman is raped or abused.

Anytime a child is forced to join a "freedom fighter's" army.

Anytime a religious person defames, slanders and is hateful toward those who disagree.

Anytime someone takes their lives, along with the lives of other innocents, in the name of an ideology.

These are the things that keep the world from the way of God.

It is no wonder He is grieved. His creation, His children are set on destroying one another.

If you are a parent, you may well be able to imagine this feeling, if your children instead of living together in love were set on destroying one another whether physically, emotionally, spiritually.

What I'm learning from Jesus' example, and from this passage above, is to strive to love deeply. To love others more fully, but not just fully...to love others daily. Continually.

Individuals will have disagreements in life.

This is important to note, because I think there is a wide misconception many hold, that loving others requires full agreement, or endorsement of an individual's choices.

We will not be able to resolve every conflict, or to accept everything that others believe. But I don't think that is what love is, and I don't think that is what love requires.

Love requires accepting a person for where and who they are, regardless of whether or not one agrees completely or disagrees on some things.

I have very strong opinions about many things. I also have friends who see life completely differently than I do. I don't love them less. We don't agree, but I respect them and their views.

Yet, even in this, Jesus is still working within my heart. Exposing the labels that I allow to separate me from others. The labels that keep me from loving and respecting another as nothing less than beautiful.

So what I'm finding is that it is not the disagreement that causes the multitude of sins but, rather, it is the method in which one relates to others.

We can disagree and speak our disagreement in love.

Or we can disagree and speak our disagreement in hateful, hurtful ways.

It ultimately comes down to choice. The free will that humanity has been given, and that we use liberally on a daily basis...

Will we choose the language of heaven?

Will we allow the transforming power of love to cover a multitude of sins, and tear down the labels that divide?

***If you are reading this, please know that I am grateful for your time, and that I love you! I hope you have a blessed and fantastic day, and that you may encounter the language of God. That love would be spoken to you, not just once but time and time again!***


Karson said...

Thanks for the visit yesterday! I really love hearing that people have read my writing and enjoyed it! I figured you probably do as well, so here I am again! This is such a wonderful piece of writing. People often struggle to truly grasp the concept of love, myself included. Your words here paint a very clear picture of your ideas and thoughts on it, and I find it quite beautiful! Well done!

LAENA said...

i have always believed that it is our job only to love... He will sort out the rest. 'they will know we are christians by our LOVE' not by our ability to point out the shortcomings of others or by our desire to prove our 'holiness' through our religion. we are to love. period.
great post!