It seems that we are living in an age when people are more prone to react to labels than to carefully listening to others.
One of the potential encumbrances in life is accepting labels put on us by others and even by ourselves. Learning about our identity in Christ from Scripture helps us to assess possible labels. Prophetic names encourage, edify, and comfort. We do not need to accept for ourselves labels that discourage, put us down or, cause grief. For example, two descriptors I receive for myself are disciple and ambassador. Disciple describes my relationship with Jesus. Ambassador describes my relationship with others. During my childhood, whenever someone would call me a name, mom would recite the familiar adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Reality is that non-prophetic labels we accept for ourselves do hurt us and weigh us down.
In the Spirit of Jesus’ “Golden Rule,” whenever we feel the need to assign a label to another, it should be done as a prophetic act. Disciples of Jesus Christ can develop the ability in the Spirit to see others as God intends them to be, rather than how they are at the moment.
The author of Hebrews was motivated to live an unencumbered life so that he could finish his assigned life race:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)
There is another benefit to living an unencumbered life. It is the ability to be present and mindful in the current moment. There are a variety of weights that potentially rob us of this reality. Jesus identified anxiety about future physical provisions as one such weight. This translation of Jesus’ counsel from The Message Bible is insightful:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
(Matthew 6:34, The Message)
For the Apostle Paul, the nature of his consciousness toward his past was a potential weight:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:13–14, ESV)
Paul cannot eliminate his memories. He can structure them in a manner that does not distract him or weigh him down in the present moment. During pastoral counseling, I often listen to the memories of individuals seeking counsel. As they tell their stories, I picture a closet strewn with all theses past moments in a haphazard, disorderly manner. My goal as a counselor is to help the one seeking counsel gift wrap these memories and place them in an orderly way on the shelves of their memory closet.
God desires to participate with us in our daily life. These two verses are foundational for one of my philosophies of how to live well. They also are a source of motivation for being attentive in the “now” moments of life, not to be weighed down and distracted by past moments or anxiety about future moments.
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way.”
(Psalm 37:23, NKJV)
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9, NKJV)
I have always been a planner, looking forward to the future and how I might direct my path into it. Along the way, I have learned the importance of not over-planning. My plans can be held with open hands and can leave room for God to show up and surprise me.
As I wrote, one of the potential encumbrances in life is accepting labels put on us by others. The need to label others, especially those with whom we disagree, is also a self-inflicted encumbrance. Labeling is not an inherently wrong exercise. Labels help us to sort and order life. This computer I am using has a myriad of files to help me organize my life. I can use the search function to find what I need at the moment. However, labeling can be an excuse for intellectual laziness. We can think we are simplifying and organizing our lives by labeling other people, the media, political parties, etc. There is a risk in doing this. The risk is believing that now that a label is applied, I know what that person thinks, what the media outlet will publish, or what that political party will promote. I may feel justified in not taking the time to have a conversation with that person because I already think I know what they believe. Pre-assigning a label to a particular media publisher becomes my self justifying reason for ignoring anything published that media outlet. Assigning political labels to individuals and parties helps me to feel comfortable lazing in my ideological echo chamber.
As followers of Jesus Christ and hosts of the Holy Spirit, we believe that God desires to be actively involved in the moments of our lives. He may surprise us by orchestrating an encounter with someone we would usually not go out of our way to meet. God may surprise us by arranging a seemingly random contact with a media post. Pre-labeling the individual or the media publisher could cause us to miss the moment and God’s intention for the encounter. Forgoing labels enhances our ability to critically ponder and asses new ideas or opinions that invade our space at any given moment.
When we are at home in Lakeview, and the weather cooperates, I have enjoyed going for walks as part of my exercise program. When I exercise, I tend to be very focused. I have had to teach myself to chill and not to be irritated when I’m interrupted during my walk. On my route, I would sometimes encounter an outspoken individual who had been labeled by our community, often in unflattering ways. Whenever I saw this person outside, I determined to greet them and stop and engage in a conversation whenever possible. The opinions this person expressed were firmly held and passionately expressed. I tried to listen carefully. I wanted to understand this person’s perspective and discern the underlying reasons for their worldview. Surprisingly, I discovered that I agreed with this person more often than I thought I might.
One of the contemporary threats to our democratic society is the labeling of the media. A wide variety of sources for journalism are available for us today. Journalists are an essential asset, especially in a democratic society that seeks to be transparent and accountable. The labeling of the media is also one of the contributing factors to our increasingly divisive culture. Journalists are public servants. As in any profession, there is a range in the quality and accuracy of journalists and journalism. We have God-given endowments for making critical assessments regarding quality and accuracy.
Having attempted to minister to narcissists over the years, it does not surprise me that a narcissist would label the media as fake. A narcissist believes that they are always the smartest person in the room. For the narcissist, the thought of being held accountable by an inferior person, be it their pastor or a journalist is a complete anathema. Labeling the media as fake with the wide swath of a broad tip pen is just another example of intellectual laziness.
I appreciate our media choices. I regularly reference a variety of sources. These sources are not pre-labeled in my mind. One of the things I look at when evaluating a media source is their practice of holding their journalists accountable. I regard as more dependable those media sources that publish a retraction when one of their journalists publishes something erroneously. Several years ago, CNN accepted the resignation of three journalists and an editor because they did not follow standard editorial processes in the development of their story. CNN retracted the story published by that team. According to another CNN reporter, “These types of stories are typically reviewed by several departments within CNN — including fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers — before publication.”
Most media outlets have an editorial board that gives oversight to editorial policy. I peruse USAToday on my computer each day to catch the highlights of what is happening in the world. USAToday has published information about its editorial board on the web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/04/usa-today-editorial-board-who-we-are-editorials-debates/4167361002/.
Joanne and I have spent a lot of time in our car, especially in the past two decades. Frequently we drive in remote areas. Thanks to satellite radio we have access to a variety of radio stations as we travel. We enjoy listening to National Public Radio. The programs that NPR features address a wide range of topics. We appreciate the fact that these programs can delve deeper into a story than is possible by the typical local and national evening news on television or by a short article in a magazine.
I will not insult your intelligence by labeling people and media outlets for you. You can discern the difference between the facts and editorial opinion. You have a bias detector. Media bias is evident not only in the views expressed but in the selection of the issues addressed.
God has given us the intellectual ability to do our homework and to formulate an opinion on important issues. I am a preacher who has spent decades expressing my views publicly. Not surprisingly, not everyone has agreed with me. That fact did not bother me. I did object to those who failed to engage their God-given intellectual endowments and disagreed with me simply because someone they regarded as an authority in the past had promoted another view. At times those who disagreed with me played a role in my change of thinking. During the time I was the Senior Pastor at a Baptist Church, a Baptist Deacon’s wife came to my office and challenged my teaching about the Holy Spirit. She was a godly woman who had done her homework. That conversation planted new seeds in my Baptist brain. Those seeds germinated, grew, and a decade later produced fresh fruit in my understanding. While Senior Pastor at another Baptist church, a well-studied congregant, would visit with me on occasion. He liked to challenge my dispensational view of eschatology. At one point, he gifted me with a 500-page tome that supported his understanding. Knowing I was right, I simply placed that book on my shelf in the eschatological section without reading it. Over time, my view of dispensational theology and eschatology changed. I remembered this man’s gift, pulled it from the shelf, and read it. I was surprised! I discovered that I agreed with most of what I read in that text. I was glad I had taken the time to listen carefully to him in the past and not merely dismissed him by assigning him a label. He, like the Baptist Deacon’s wife, planted new seeds in my thinking. To my dismay, I had not taken the time and effort to read the 500-page tome at the time I received the gift. I might have arrived at my more enlightened understanding sooner.