Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can You Live Without Labels?


"What do you mean when you say you are a progressive?" It is a good question, posed by someone in one of the Transition Forums we had last Sunday. Though I was pleased enough with my answer, maybe too pleased, I have given it some more thought over the last couple of days.

The truth, of course, is that when I say that I am progressive, the real message is that someone else is not. Progressive=good; not progressive=bad. That seems so "last decade". Surely we can do better.

This is what I have decided: I am finished with labeling myself. I can't stop others from doing it to me, but I am not going to make it easy for them by slapping it on myself like a badge. And I am going to attempt not to label them. That will be harder, and I am realistic about my possibilities for succeeding. It is marvelously easy to dismissively say, "well, she is such a 'you fill in the blank.'" Easy and dismissive but also lazy and always somewhat incorrect, certainly partial. It is a shorthand way of interacting with one another that does not benefit us in the long run. Surely we are insightful enough to know that each of us is infinitely more than some primary identification.

So much of what we know about Jesus comes through the lens of narrators with clearly defined group identities and agendas. (The Matthean Jesus, for example, is quite different form the Johannine Jesus.) Despite that, the picture we have of him is of a man who just didn't go there. I don't think he talked to the Samaritan woman because she was a Samaritan or because she was a woman. He talked to her because she was present at a well where he stopped for a little break. Beyond a doubt, his interaction with her is a remarkable and didactic moment, but I don't think he was deliberately crossing boundaries to teach us something. He wasn't being a hip, progressive Rabbi; he was just being Jesus. Maybe that is the real lesson.

Buddy just being Buddy is not nearly as good as Jesus just being Jesus. No doubt about that, but all in all it is the best I have got. Living without labels isn't really going to happen. I do know that. But it is early summer and the living is easy; it is cool enough to pretend it is never going to get really hot again. We can imagine anything we want-and maybe even make some of it come true.

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