Mom was going to my first six weeks' parent-teacher conference to meet with my homeroom teacher. You know, get to know the teacher, see how I was doing in school, find out if there were any problems that needed to be addressed.
"Mom, while you're at the school today, you absolutely have to meet Coach B---, my social studies teacher. He's my absolute favorite teacher this year."
"Where will I find him?" Mom asked.
"Oh, you can't miss him," I replied. "He's HUGE! He's way taller than anyone else at the school. Just walk up and down the hall until you see a man who is bigger than everyone else - that'll be Coach B---."
Mom did find Coach B--- that morning. "Hello, I'm Camille Stricklin's mother, and she told me I absolutely had to find you and introduce myself..." Turned out, Mom liked Coach B---, too.
Over dinner that night, Mom was telling me about meeting this super-awesome-amazing teacher. She had wandered up and down the hallway, peering into one classroom after another, searching for the "HUGE!" man I had described. Finally, another teacher directed her to Coach B---'s classroom. "Camille," Mom laughed, "why didn't you tell me he was black?!"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot that." Yeah, that piece of information might have made Mom's search a little easier! In addition to being very tall, Coach B--- was the only black male teacher in my school. Well, maybe back in seventh grade, I was much more impressed by the fact that Coach B--- was the biggest man I had ever seen (and that he was kind and a good teacher) than by the fact that he was black.
I've been thinking a lot lately about labels - you know, those little tags we use to help us remember and relate to other people.
If you meet me for the first time ever on the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart, there are a few things you'll know about me before our shopping carts even pass. I am a woman. I'm white. I'm middle-aged. I feed a LOT of people a LOT of food every week!
If you say "Hello," you'll figure out as soon as I open my mouth to reply that I am Southern.
What you probably won't be able to determine at first glance are things like: I am a Christian. I am a Calvinist. I am a writer. I am introverted. I prefer red wine over white.
Labels are not bad, in and of themselves. They help us to communicate a great deal about ourselves and about others in just a few words. "My son is an avid hunter." Unpack that: my son knows how to handle firearms; he owns a closet full of camouflage; he provides meat for our family; he is not a huge fan of PETA.
When labels are not helpful is when we use them to pigeon-hole people into a categories that we feel authorized to demean or dismiss.
How many of my mom friends have heard the line, "Oh, you're just saying that because you're a Mom" - when a child wants a quick, easy (and weak!) excuse to ignore his mother's instruction?
Or the line, "Well, what do you expect from a woman?" - or - "He's a brainiac" - or - "She's totally blonde."
Sometimes we use labels not to know and understand people better, but to avoid the effort of having to know or understand them at all. Which is very sad, and very wrong. Because one thing that can be said of every single person that you meet today is that he is an image-bearer of our great Creator.
And that's not something you can dismiss with a label.
3 weeks ago