Posted by: minnow | June 10, 2010

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Over the years I have come to expect the images of Christians depicted in Hollywood or used on the nightly news to be derogatory.  We are seen as wimps, wackos, and perverts, cold-hearted and self-righteous extremists.  Yet lately I have wondered what stereotypes and falsehoods concerning atheists are projected from the various pulpits in town during any given service or promoted in Christian schools.  

Unlike our predecessors most Christians these days probably refrain from calling non-Christians pagans, hedonists, or godless heathens.  However we might be surprised to discover some of the terms we use regularly–lost, sinner, non-believer, or unsaved–can be equally offensive to those we reference.  While most who use these labels do not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings (I know I never have.) we would be remiss if we did not at least consider the possibility that is exactly what happens.

If asked for an example of a father, you would all know what I am asking for because you know what the label FATHER means.  At the same time, it is a safe guess that few of you came up with Bill Cosby, John Lenon, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Doug Flutte as your example.  Yet for each of these men fatherhood played a defining role.

Our labels for these men–actor-comedian, rebellious musician, civil rights leader, and athlete–mislead and limit us.  Because we understand the label we think we know the people.  Just as true, our labels for others and the stereotypes they create–atheists, cynic, Christian, religious fanatic–paint an incomplete if not outright false picture of who the individuals are we label with those terms. 

This may sound like pie in the sky, but just maybe if we were to throw out all the labels it would not be as easy to talk about someone.   And, if it is not as easy to talk about someone we might be a little more likely to talk to them.  Without labels to categorize groups of people we might have to work harder to understand the individuals in the groups. 

One of the strongest desires of human nature is to be understood and to understand.  If I am going to be understood by the people I do not understand I might get a lot farther by looking for places of connection than places of difference.  If I remove people from the boxes my labels put them in I am much more likely to find something I have in common with them because I am no longer putting limits on them.  The sooner I set aside my preconceived impressions, the sooner I open myself up to learn something new.  To be completely honest (and perhaps a little obvious) this is exactly how I want others to treat me.

While the desire to be understood and to understand others will not solve all our differences it can open lines of communication, pave the way toward working together, and build an atmosphere of mutual respect.  In turn building relationship by including rather than excluding earns us the right to be heard. 

We can choose to see ourselves and others as part of, rather than separate from, the same whole.  It is our choice.  Celebrating and embracing what each individual brings to the table affirms the unique gifts our Creator has given to His creation whether or not every member of creation affirms the gift Giver.  In truth we are best able to glorify the Lord when part of our testimony includes recognizing Him wherever and in whomever we find Him.

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