Looking beyond the label
Yesterday, we saw how God told the prophet Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman.
Which led me to think about labels. Because that woman was known as a promiscuous woman. That is what people saw when they looked at her. Maybe she was a known prostitute And that is what she was defined by. That is how people described her to each other.
But she was also someone’s daughter. Maybe a sister. Maybe she had a great sense of humour or was kind. She could have been great at cooking or have awesome dress sense. She may have had incredible eyes or beautiful hands. Perhaps she sang as she washed her clothes.
Do you see what I’m getting at? There was so much more to her than this.
I’ve just finished watching a couple of seasons of Bosch. He’s an LA detective who had a tough start in life. He’s a good man – yes, with plenty of flaws and doesn’t do much by the book, but always ruthless in his pursuit of justice. His mother was murdered when he was about 12. And no one did much to find her killer. Why? Because she was a prostitute. But he doesn’t remember her like that. He remembers her as the loving mother she was to him. He remembers how beautiful she was and how much she loved him and how he meant the world to her and she meant the world to him. He is determined to get justice for his mum. He is not ashamed of what she was. He knows she was so much more than that.
Jesus was great at looking beyond the labels. He was criticised in his time on earth for spending time with people like this woman. With sinners and tax collectors. He didn’t see them as defined by these labels however. He saw them all as needing his love and healing touch. He saw them all as human.
Earlier this week, I found myself sitting at a table in a cafe drinking tea with a group of young women. We’d all attended a yoga class together. We were chatting about how great yoga is. In that moment, we were all the same – women who have a passion for yoga. But I knew that each of these women were suffering from the effects of trauma in their lives. Many had been diagnosed with PTSD. I can only imagine some of the back stories that brought these young women to this point. Most were struggling with addictions. And yet these women were not letting their labels define them. These women were trying to create a better life for their kids, were going to the gym, were in therapy, were drinking healthy smoothies, were rediscovering hope and joy and life.
There is always a common ground to be found.
Everyone is born the same. A helpless baby with the same needs. Every single person is born fully human and yet created in the image of God. Every human being is born with the breath of God within them. That’s what Hindus recognise and remember with the greeting Namaste – the divine in me bows to the divine in you. There is an essence of the divine within every human being, whatever their race or religion or sexuality or political beliefs.
This is the starting point. This is what Jesus sees when he looks at an individual. When we strip away the labels, every single person we meet is a human being. With a family and pets and likes and dislikes and talents and humour and humanity.
I don’t need to know what religion you are to connect with you. I don’t need to know if you’re gay or unemployed or have a criminal record. I don’t need to know if you’re an addict or known to social services or an asylum seeker. Let’s sit down over a cup of tea and get to know each other. The really interesting stuff. In the TV series Lucifer (I know – I’m watching a lot of TV at the moment), Lucifer has the special power to make people answer the question ‘What do you most want in life?’ honestly. That’s the interesting stuff. Hopes and dreams and deep, deep needs. The essence of the individual – what makes them unique.
My husband and I had an animated discussion the other day, because I believe that God can speak His truth at any time in any place and through any human being (and through anything in His creation for that matter). That we can be surprised by God and learn from all sorts of unlikely people in the most unexpected of situations. I can listen to the words and the wisdom in the moment without judging the source. Even if that person has hurt me in the past or struggles with integrity or aspects of their own behaviour and thinking. My husband has reservations about this approach.
I just love that moment where all the labels are stripped away and there’s a meeting of the souls. An authentic connection. A recognition as our eyes meet that we are equal in God’s sight and both gloriously human. And in that moment, you have as much to teach me about life as I do you, because we each bring the sum of our experiences to the table to share.
So please, let’s ditch the labels. And let’s discover the divine in the most unlikely places.