“Labels”

Humans like to label. We label to organize. To categorize. We even like to RE-label, to rename the things that make us uncomfortable. We even relabele the term “relabel,” and instead we use euphemisms.

We relabel our actions. It’s not downloading music illegally, it’s “file-sharing.” We aren’t counting the number of civilians dead, just the “collateral damage.”

Volunteering at MACC this week, I encountered a plethora of people and activities to label. Sometimes we called the homeless people, “guests,” and sometimes we called the guests, “homeless people.” I don’t think one is more politically correct than the other, but the context in which I was discussing the subject determined the label. By the end of the week, I discovered it wasn’t the label or the context that mattered at all.

I had an opportunity this week to spend the night in the shelter. I met a lot of people over the course of the week; volunteers, guests, homeless, whatever you want to label them. But getting to spend the night in their home was when the labels dissolved and they became individuals. Putting names with faces and motives behind the actions forced me to see past any label I could stick on or use to categorize. It forced me to see the heart. When you see the heart behind the face, or the heart that goes into a service provided, there’s no going back to the initial label. The “homeless man” becomes David. The “hand-out” becomes Davids toothbrush.

I think we are all aware of how we stereotype people around us, but it’s the labeling we do of our own lives that slips by unnoticed. When it’s our own actions, we relabel them without even thinking about. So what really caught me off guard this week was not the labels I was giving to the people I met, but it was when the people I met challenged me to think about the label I was putting on my own life.

The university I attend does a really good job of drilling their mission statement into students’ heads. “To educate students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world.” It’s plastered above doorways and printed on every syllabus. I believe that they are doing such a thorough job of applying this label to my education, that I have come assume that no matter what I end up doing when I graduate, I will undoubtedly be a Christian servant and leader in my workplace.

The night I spent in the shelter, I had a conversation with one of the guests that shattered this belief. This conversation clearly revealed the subconscious assumptions I have been making about the career path my education should take me.

Seconds after introducing myself to this guest, explaining to her where I was from and what I was majoring in, she asked me how I planned on being a Christian in my job. She didn’t beat around the bush or use any labels. She wanted to know how I was going to tell others about Christ with my life. She didn’t want some answer about the way I live or how I was going to slowly be noticed for being slightly different. She wanted to know what action I was going to take to evangelize to others around me, and how majoring in journalism could do that for me.

I fumbled around with shallow words about the need for Christians in the media and all I could offer her was an answer of words regurgitated from things I occasionally hear my professors say. I didn’t have specific actions I could tell her I hoped to do, only labels.

I quickly realized that until I made the conscious decision to act in Christian service so that I can become a Christian leader, the mission statement was just going to be another label on my resume, not something I had actually accomplished.

I am thankful for MACC and the guests that allowed me to reevaluate the labels I have been applying externally and internally. Over the course of the week, more labels were dissolved and more hearts were heard. I believe this is exactly what MACC is doing for the Manchester community. The are removing the label of homelessness and the burden that so many assume it has on a community. They cannot eliminate it, but they can hear out the hearts that suffer from it and help them escape the labels.

– Madeline Orr | ACU Student

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