Labels

Labels keep us away from what we do not want.  They are attractive; they draw us in.  But then they give us information.  “Partially hydrogenated oil?”  Forget it.  “Enriched flour?”  Nope.  “Whole grain?”  Yes!  “Scented?”  Depends on the scent.  “Fair Trade Certified?”  Yes, please.  How many carbs?  How much fat?  What is the caloric amount?  What about allergens?  If a label gives us certain information, we cast it aside.

Sometimes, the label can save us the time of actually having to look for information.  Some may be turned off by store brands.  Just seeing “Sam’s Choice” or “Great Value” on a box of something is enough to turn many customers away.  On the other hand, many may not be able to afford a package of Starbucks coffee, so the store brand ground coffee will have to do.

We see a label, we make a decision.

Appropriate for shopping; terrible for relationships.

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I am teaching at FaithWorks of Abilene now.  We work with unemployed and underemployed individuals who are seeking advancement in life through better occupations.

And my students have had lots of labels put on them:

Black

Hispanic

Single mom

Divorced

Sick

Crazy

Disabled

Drug user

Drug dealer

Felon

These labels may even have some truth to them.  But they fall far short of telling the stories of the people in my class.

Where society at large sees a convicted felon, I see an individual making daily decisions to be the best parent they can be.

Where society sees someone who has a limited work history, I see an individual learning new skills to become more marketable.

Where society see someone in so much pain they struggle to make it through the day, I see an individual fighting, clawing, and crawling their way through each and every day (and then I get to see their classmates pick them up and walk with them).

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Too often, labels are applied to people and time is not taken to learn about the person.

Skin color, clothing style, bumper stickers, music choice, are all often used as a way to say, “I know all there is to know about you because of that label.”

Labels may give some information, but they cannot tell the whole story.  And when we use labels to exclude people from our lives, we are the ones in the wrong.

Jesus did not see labels; He saw people.  He did not see people as Jew or Samaritan or Gentile; He saw them as children of God.  He did not allow the appearance of leprosy or sickness to keep Him from touching people.  He saw beyond they physical distinction of male and female and loved everyone as children of God.

We slap labels on everyone and then arrogantly assume we know everything about that person.  (I discussed that in more detail in my last post.)  When we do that, we are no longer seeing people.  Instead, we are seeing individuals through our biased, discriminatory eyes.

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This class has chosen the name “Overcomers.”  They have overcome quite a lot in their lives.  Once they graduate, they will be ready to enter the workforce.  Unfortunately, some people will not overlook the labels.  That saddens me.  But I believe they will overcome that, as well.  Because they know they are more than their label.  They are learning who they are and what they can do.

And what a blessing they will be to those people who look beyond the label to see the person.

This Door

A month ago, I wrote about a set of doors that I had been entering often beginning in 1993.

Today, a group of students will enter through this door and begin a season of life dedicated to improving their current station in life.

Classroom Door

FaithWorks of Abilene is an amazing place.  Our mission is to help the underemployed, through personal, career, academic and spiritual development, acquire the confidence and skills for gainful employment.

We try to help restore lives.

As we begin class today, I think about lives; stories; people.

I think about people like Susan and Rosario and Tracey; former students who have gone on to work or higher education.

I think about people like Jeri and Lloyd and Rudy; students who are not working due to a variety of issues yet they volunteer and look for ways to serve in their communities.

I think about people like Michael and David and Lacey; former students who are still fighting to find direction in their lives.

I think about people like Foy and Terri and Jason; former students we wish were still here with us.

And there are so many other names:  Chauncy and Vivian and Annette and Brandi and Kevin and Mark and Darrell and Becky.  Name after name after name.

More than 350 of them.

350 lives changed.  350 families changed.

And today I have a list of 23 names.  Names like Amy and Ian and John and Colton and Nikki.  Names that belong to people with all sorts of backgrounds and stories to tell.  Names that will begin telling a new story.

I have no idea what tomorrow will look like.  But today, I have an opportunity to welcome 23 people through this door.

Hopefully, beyond this door something will be said or experienced that will spark within these new students the process by which they can realize what we so deeply believe to be true:

“It is never too late to become what you might have been.”