Labels And Identification.
On the night shifts of my store I am constantly faced with labels on food products. These labels help with identification so that consumers know what they are purchasing. This identification gets more and more complex as people want to know everything inside the tin, including the calories, the fat content, the energy, the additives and if it contains any percentage of horse meat! As the shelves are getting stacked it helps me as the worker to identify what goes where in the store. Every now and again a tin arrives without a label. This tin has to unfortunately be put aside as waste and written off (one of my bug bears, like why can these tins not go to the homeless or something). There is no way for anyone to know what is inside the tin without opening it first. The identity is hidden inside. In this way labelling can be helpful, especially when you need to fulfil a shopping list. A label lets us know immediately if we are getting a carrot or ham. Useful to anyone who is a vegetarian.
The problem is we love to live with labels and groupings and identifying things in every sphere of life. This includes church life. There are a million and one labels we use for denominations and church groupings and types of believers. Every label helps us identify where someone is coming from and what type of believer they are. Catholic or Protestant. Church of England or Non-conformist. Charismatic, Pentecostal, Liberal, Evangelical. Methodist, Baptist, Free-church. Assemblies of God, Elim, Apostolic. House church, Cell church, emergent church. The list goes on and on and on. Each one of these speaks volumes about where a person is coming from, what type of worship they would enjoy/endure, what type of theology they would adhere to, the list goes on. I am sure there are labels that people try to put on those of us outside the walls too (Deconstructionists?). Labels have been thrown at believers since they were first called Christians at Antioch. We just keep writing more and more on the tin so people can identify what the product is outside, believing that identification is helpful. We must be called something I have heard people say, so we take on that something, and with it we take on so much else, so much unspoken expectation to actually be what it says on the tin. I have made a decision in my life, people may want to put identities on me and my life, but I will not carry any label. I will not wear any identification other than Christ Himself. I want to be the tin without the label, the one that may be discarded for lack of identification, therefore we don’t know what to do with it, yet one that carries full identity inside unseen by human eyes but created and moulded by God. I will not be labelled.
A New Term for the Next Thing.
Bought a copy of the NME this week, a British weekly music magazine, because it had a feature on Britpop (Oasis, Blur, Pulp etc.). One part of the feature asks ‘Who Killed Britpop?’ One answer fascinated me, Gem Archer from the band Oasis said ‘The Word ‘Britpop’. This is part of his quote “The minute you define anything its day are numbered…The media is changing, but when it was just print there had to be an easy way for people to want to buy it and read about it then move onto the next thing, so there had to be a new term. Really it was a bunch of bands who happened to make music that people could link together. It’ll always happen.”
I find this fascinating and true. Most of these bands existed before the term but then the press coined the phrase and you were either in or out. Fans of the sound liked the bands that were in and the one’s outside were left to someone else. This then creates copyists who want to join the bandwagon! This defines the sound and instead of people making a choice what to hear their choice is narrowed and defined in a framework. This happens in every music movement. I remember when the excitement of music began in the late seventies with bands rebelling against progressive rock by playing three minute songs. The Ramones, Iggy Pop, the Pistols, Elvis Costello, the list goes on. It was exciting and given the name punk rock music. Then a sound gets defined. Those that did not fit the sound were called New Wave. The bands do something new and it is called Post-punk, every label killing the true movement and creating the need for a new term and a new label. There used to be just rave music, now dance music has a million and one definitions. Where as people used to love to party, now they join a party with defined categorisation. The label kills the freedom and creates a need for another label for those that do not fit. Can’t we just listen without labels? That is what I loved about John Peel the Radio 1 DJ, he just loved music that he loved and played it on his show. Now you have the metal show, the punk show, the chillout show, the soul show. The same has happened through out church history.
The Move Becomes The Monument.
The Wesley brothers are outsiders who see a great move of God through out the villages of England with their open air preaching. Let’s give their followers labels; Methodists, Wesleys. At Azuza Street the Holy Spirit is poured out in a back street room. Let’s throw on a label; Pentecostals. People in mainstream churches (who already are labelled) get filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s give them a label; Charismatics. People who are uncomfortable with the church as it is begin new radical forms of church. Let’s give them a label; Emergent Church Christians. The minute you define anything its days are numbered. When we can categorise it, label it, have an identity for it, know who is inside and outside, who has it, who doesn’t have it. That is the day it begins to die. That is when man starts to define it and build walls and barriers. I refuse to wear the labels. Jesus often said ‘who do people say that I am?’ Each answer brought with it a narrow definition and expectation of who or what He was. They even had a definition for what they thought Messiah was and what He should be doing. Labels will kill the freedom of Spirit walk and obedience. That is why I do not want to be pinned down. That is why I do not want to join anything or create anything. I want to defy categorisation. When people think they have me sussed I want to blow the identity others pin on me out of the water. I want to shape shift. I want to be wind blown. I want to create a symphony today with a full orchestra and tomorrow a death metal scream. See labels tell you what I may be playing but I want them to surprise and be unpredictable, even to me as I ride the white rapids of the Spirit. I just want to be known for being with Jesus, surely that is enough of a label to have, and even that may not be so easily defined but by love. Pioneers never start movements they just move with the wind. They don’t name it anything they just do it. Only those that follow their trail start giving definition. But I will not be labelled. I want to keep the wild ride going as long as I possibly can.