When my children were toddlers, we had a variety of toys and games, which required them to learn to sort and place things into categories based on size, shape, colors, or types of objects. It was a great learning activity that would help prepare them for more formal education a few years later.
My six grandchildren enjoyed updated versions of similar toys and games and it was fun to see them learn.
I recently attended a conference that gave me new insight into this skill we all learn in one way or another at a very early age. It has been a month since the conference and I am still reaping nuggets from the plenary address by Dr. Diane Langberg.
You see, we continue to use those early childhood skills throughout our lifetime. How much we utilize them for practical purposes will often depend on our jobs, how much order we prefer in our surroundings, and what solutions our daily life might ask us to solve. There is no question the skills are a valuable tool long after we leave school.
I am not a fanatic when it comes to organization, but my closets, drawers, and cupboards would likely demonstrate a preference for order and structure.
There is another side to this skill we learn, however. We also categorize other people and label them.
The challenge when we apply a label or a category to a person or a group of people is that we fall prey to divisiveness. That divisiveness, even when we are looking at true categories, can destroy us as well as those around us. This isn’t something new. There is a subtle power connected with it, however, that can seduce us into believing something that contradicts our tenets of faith and belief as Christians.
Adolf Hitler used labels and seduced a people to follow him. Initially, he said things many wanted to hear about the greatness of a nation defeated from the previous world war.
It happened when Hitler placed gypsies, Jews, the disabled, and others into categories he deemed to be a subset of humanity that needed to be destroyed so as not to harm his concept of a pure Germanic race. In doing so, he dehumanized millions of people and yet was so skillful in his seduction that the people of Germany did not realize what they were signing on to and what would result.
When we label and categorize, we dehumanize.
When we disagree, we must never dehumanize another person. When we do so, we are not Christ-like and totally secular, ungodly.
Labeling, putting into categories, and dehumanizing are not new. It is likely as old as mankind.
It was present when Jesus walked the earth.
You see evidences in the gospels. There were tax collectors, Sadducees, Pharisees, Samaritans, slaves, and more. Were they true categories at the time? Yes, but they were also used as in Hitler’s day to dehumanize and degrade anyone not in his or her own category.
If you listen carefully, you hear it today in the secular world as well as the church. It turns us into an “us and them” polarization and divides us over and over again and mars evidence of being Christlike. It shows itself as pride, self-righteousness, and more.
We see it when a homeless person slips into the back of our church. It shows up when we see a woman we believe looks like a prostitute, but those are only the more obvious ones. You see, we measure others by ourselves, so if the person doesn’t look like us, talk like us, dress like us, take communion like we do, or baptize as we do, we label them and the body tears apart just a little bit more.
Jesus crossed into our categories or we would have been dismissed. We were the Gentiles, not welcome in the synagogues of the day. He crossed categories when He spoke to women, slaves, tax collectors, a centurion, Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, a wee man in a tree, fishermen, and more. Jesus, God made flesh, crossed every category. He looked at the heart of the person. He gave dignity to those who had been dehumanized. He did not fit in with the secular world or the religious world.
He has left us here in His stead, to occupy until He comes.
We are citizens of His Kingdom, the real “undocumented immigrants” of this world, but while here serving citizens here no matter their categories.