Place: My rural, northwest Ohio high school.
Characters: Yours truly and a persistant classmate I’ll pseudonym Chris.
Chris: So, you’re a Christian, right?
Chris: What kind are you?
Lydia: Just Christian. My church doesn’t belong to a denomination.
Chris: Oh. Are you Catholic?
Chris: Eastern Orthodox?
Five minutes later the conversation was still circling. We were beginning to veer into types of Christianity I’d never even heard of. Finally I decided to act.
Chris: Oh, ok.
I no longer remember the real denomination that I agreed to in order to end the conversation. It may very well have been Anglican. All I can say is that it gave Chris an acceptable answer and for the rest of our high school career Chris never again asked about my beliefs.
If I could step into that moment again I would be honest with Chris. Our church was influenced by the Vineyard movement of the 90s and when I was much younger previous churches had been Charismatic. Either one would have been more accurate than the unfamiliar denomination.
Why lie? I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. The conversation caught me off-guard. I thought that Christian was descriptive enough.
My labels have changed over the years but the discomfort remains. Yes, one-size-fits-all is convenient and can make communication easier and sometimes thinking inside the box make it easier for other people to understand stuff they’ve never had to consider before.
In no way does this make the label-go-round any less odd, though.
I view such labels as a necessary evil. In most conversations, the participants simply don’t have the time (nor interest) in explaining the totality of a person’s belief system. In order to get the general gist of where someone is coming from, a label provides a kind of shorthand.
Of course, the shorthand itself rarely defines where a person is at. It is devoid of nuance and the many shades and layers of what a person believes or who they are. Too often, we hang our hats on the shorthand as if it is concrete fact without a modicum of wiggle room. We don’t truly listen to what another is saying because we already have them pegged.
Your post reminded me of a comedy routine by Emo Phillips. I enjoyed the whole 4 minutes in this routine, but the part which is directly related to labels starts around 2:10 in the clip, and really digs in to the labels around 2:40.
I think the Rambling Taoist is right, labels are a necessary evil. By nature, we categorize and compartmentalize everything. The trick is to learn how to do so in a flexible way, allowing for corrections and enhancements as we learn more about a person. 🙂
I love that video! Thank you.
I find it easy to give non committal answers like hummm … i hear what you’r saying … is that so … hummm … interesting … which works well in most cases except the very specific ones as you depicted … i have said very bluntly a few times when asked to pray over a meal “No, I’m trying to quit” which brought shock and laughter from those in that moment … when pressed in a specific religious setting you never know what will rise up in me and i find myself less and less in those situations … but the day will come soon enough and that should prove interesting for sure
Heh, I may have to try that next time.