Labels: Why I Don’t Like To, But Do, Use Them

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Recently it was pointed out that in one of my recent posts there was a large point of irony: a friend pointed out that I seemed to be wanting to be seen as an individual outside of labels, and yet the image attached was of Cub and myself, and I had described myself (as I do on my profile here as well) as a Mama, Christian, artist and a number of other labels. So although this friend really said nothing wrong, I wanted to clarify my view of labels (and happened to have made some notes on the topic anyway previous to her observation) in two parts: Christian Life and Everything Else.

Christian Life

Quick summary of my life with God: born into nominally Roman Catholic family, infant baptism (>1 y/o), Church of England school (4-11 y/o) & Sunday School, Holy Communion (~8 y/o), sudden shift to Atheism (~9 y/o), sudden and full slap around the head by God at Salt & Light Church (17 y/o), full immersion baptism (18 y/o), attend Vineyard Church in University, study Theology (18-22 y/o), work as administrator and attend Church of England (23-24 y/o), moved to another C of E, then moved again to another Vineyard. End.

So what to say when people ask me what I call myself? Anglican? Vineyarder? Catholic? Recently when I simply termed myself Christian, refusing to give more of a classification, the asker seemed to assume a lesser faith than that of my husband because of this lack of label. I didn’t even really want to say “Christian” but how do you explain that you feel that the term comes with far too many connotations that don’t describe the faith I have in Jesus and His teachings?

It goes further than that when actually around other Christians when our conversations and theological language brings up terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” as if you can be only on two sides of some invisible line. My beliefs do not match up so clearly with the traditional descriptions of these labels, but more often than not different denominations will have different meanings behind each one. “Liberal” to one might mean belief in an accepting loving Jesus (including gay people, and anyone else who turns up) whereas to another it might mean someone who believes in God but barely thinks about it never mind attends church. These are pretty different and yet somehow given the same label! In the same way “conservative” can mean homophobic-racist-anti-semitic to one person, and happily pro-New-Testament-Church-tradition to someone else.

This means I try incredibly hard not to label anyone, not to assume, and not to label myself or others with any kind of Christian term. If someone asks the most I will say is what church they might attend, this gives a broad enough description and sticks only with the facts. So just because I attend a Vineyard doesn’t mean I feel I have found the perfect church, or agree with everything that the leaders do (I’m also pretty sure they’d be plenty of people arguing with me if I spoke about everything I believe in). It simply says that I have found somewhere I’m comfortable to be, and worship, and make connections.

I do not believe people should not feel able to label themselves if they wish to, but I often advise against it. There are some great denominations and there should be no shame in showing that you have a part in one, or many, but each one also excludes all others. I’m not sure God’s bride is meant to come in pieces, so to me this doesn’t feel quite right either. I use the term Christian, because I have nothing better, nothing less confusing, nothing more descriptive. It’s the best I’ve got, but I don’t like it much.

Everything Else

There are many things that I am; they relate to who I am to others, my duties in life, my choices, my loves and passions. However, they do not and cannot describe everything I am, nor am I able to come up with one other than my name; even that is something I only chose a part of for myself.

Labels often refer to who I am to others. In this respect I am a mother to a gorgeous little baby girl; this is something I will always love to be and I will never downplay the power and responsibility of this position. I am also a wife to a wonderful man; again this is something precious to me and I am forever grateful for this in my life. Alongside this I am a daughter, a sister and sister-in-law, cousin, friend, and academic parent , to name a few. These relationships all mean a lot to me and these labels hold importance because of them.

However, to suggest that I am only one of these, or even only all of these, is wrong. I am not just the relationships I have. I have most of these relationships because of who I am, not despite it. I would hate to only be considered a mother, mainly because I feel this would actually be detrimental to my daughter. Without being completely myself I couldn’t teach her how to have the confidence to be fully herself. I am also not only a wife; I could not possibly be only a wife because my husband fell in love with me before I gained this label, I changed during the time before our wedding and I will continue to change through our lives together. The label must be fluid.

Woman, tomboy, artist, writer, theologian, academic, traveller, bi-sexual (yet married monogamist), blogger, designer, ukulele-player, dog-lover, lecturer, pacifist, walker, political, liberal, marxist, minimalist, eco-supporter, pro-woman, feminist, wannabe-student, British-English (maybe), book-reader, and so much more goes into who I am. There are in fact too many labels, and yet not enough to fully describe anyone. If there wasn’t a term for these parts of my life it wouldn’t mean they weren’t still true and important. It is also fair to suggest that day-to-day the majority of these labels don’t come up in conversation; unless you ask I am unlikely to name myself as belonging to a category. Why? Because I don’t need to.

The crux of this is that labels in themselves are not a problem, but judging, assuming, or excluding someone from any part of life due to any one particular label is dangerous and often hurtful. In my previous piece I talked about being seen fully, and it is something I am passionate about. I feel we should try to ignore the 11 second first impression and care enough to take someone at their word, allow them to describe themselves and work out what this means practically for there place in the world. I try to give everyone the freedom to avoid the easy categorised boxes in life; I also hope and pray people will show me the same courtesy.

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