Thursday, February 3, 2011

Warning: Label

I read labels.  This is a habit learned through bitter disappointment: the sweater that should have been dry-cleaned but instead was shrunk to 25% of its original size in the laundry; the suit that looked so great in the store but wrinkled beyond belief when worn; the calcium pills containing oyster shell that caused my neck to break out in itchy and uncomfortable (not to mention unattractive) hives; the soup that turned out to have 500 calories per serving.  Labels can save us a lot of grief.

Labels, when applied to children, can have a variety of outcomes.  Some are helpful; some are detrimental.  We need to be extremely careful with the labels we throw around in our families because we run the risk of creating destinies that might not be God-intended.  Most of us have had obviously negative labeling knocked out of us by the self-esteem studies of the 1980s and 90s.  We don't say, in reference to one of our children, he's the fat one or she's the dumb one.  We all know better than that.  What we can easily do though, is label by omission: applying positive labels to one child but not another.  "We call him our little genius" tells all the other kids in the family "we call them our little dummies."  We can also send our child an unintended message because of a neutral or even positive label: "She's the serious one" or "he's our artist" might be construed in a number of ways, depending on the context and the people involved.  The medical community has fought against labels, e.g. "the gall bladder" in room 502, for years because they found that labeling a patient by disease instead of by name changed the quality of care.  Labels must be used with extreme caution.

Jesus mastered the art of the label.  This week I have gathered with groups of people to examine the meaning of "You are the salt of the earth."  What is Jesus saying?  Are we seasoning?  Healing agents? Preservatives? This is an ambiguous yet inspiring label.  I don't know for sure what it means, but I can't find a negative connotation.  Ordinary? Sure, salt is the cheapest and most universal seasoning, but to be a seasoning, to improve the soup of the world is a wonderful label!  We turned this over, and over, adults and children, and just kept finding new and enriching qualities to this declaration. Salt water freezes slower and boils faster. Salt melts ice but can allow water to reach a higher temperature.  Salt preserves fish and destroys roads.  Things float better in salt water.  Salt can serve as money in some parts of the world.  We are salt!  If you've ever tasted sweat, blood, or tears you know that you are, indeed, salt.

The you, in "you are salt," is plural.  That means that here, in Texas, all y'all are salt. Embrace this label and go out with your little "saltines" to heal, flavor, and keep the world.  Whatever that may mean for you.

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