In yesterday’s post, I was recalling parts of a conversation I had recently had concerning Apollonian v. Dionysian perspectives in Paganism – and how I have found the reality to be parts from each. This actually dovetails with parts of the book “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn. In the book, the Indian elder that Nerburn is having a long protracted talk with mentions what he (the elder) believes is the difference between whites and First Nations folk. He notices that the whites follow a hierarchy structure – where a single individual has power over everyone else, and contrasts that to his perspective on the Indians…and like many other parts of the book, it strikes a deeply resonating chord within me. I completely understand why this particular perspective doesn’t work for me.
I’m not a huge follower of authority…I make my own way through Life. I have always been that type of person. I would hear from my fellow classmates that there was a certain way to get something done – and I would immediately examine the entire process, looking for a different way to accomplish the same task. When I started investigating the concepts of Catholicism during those same years – I examined all the information brought up in the Theology classes in school, and would immediately try to find other perspectives. When I was in the Air Force, my troubleshooting skills were valued over all others, including people who had far more experience with the computer systems than I did. Mostly because I wasn’t afraid to break things – I figured that if it could be broken, it could be repaired or replaced easily enough, and my curiosity and understanding would both be sated in the same movement.
Oddly enough, this is why I dislike labels – though I will use them. In a manner of speaking, my usage of the very thing I abhor is a somewhat hypocritical stance to take. And in a twisted way, I use labels for exactly the reason I abhor them. For me, a label is a manner of classification. Catholics, Baptists, and most Unitarians fall under the label of “Christians” for me – despite the fact that each of them approached the concepts of God and Jesus Christ from widely different viewpoints. The classification or labeling (if you will) helps me to place each viewpoint into perspective. Its a filing system, of sorts. But that filing system doesn’t always work correctly.
Too often, people (the collective “we” not the individual “you”) will utilize the labels as a be-all, end-all descriptive. Christians are purely the individuals that believe in the deification of Jesus ben Joseph. But when you break down the differences between Baptists, Catholics, and Unitarians – you find some striking differences – as well as a major set of similarities. And depending on your individual understanding of those differences and similarities – the descriptive label of “Christians” becomes nothing more than the definition instead of a classification. In short the label takes on a life of its own and becomes more than just the label.
In the end, I see the point Nerburn is making in his book. The structure that we are taught as whites – the perspective of a single individual at the top who has power over all the individuals beneath them in the structure – it serves as a label of how we think. The focus shifts from a wider understanding to a very narrow one – instead of focusing on the “we” – things shift to a singular focus of “me” or “you”…and that narrow focus has us missing all the rest of the details, much like a camera that’s zoomed in to a particular part of the scenery. Labels tend to do this to us as well – we lose the focus on what the wider community looks like…simply because we start to focus on the smaller aspect of our groups or even ourselves.
Just as a momentary after-thought…if we are going to make the wider concept of Community work – and work correctly – we are going to need to abandon our narrow focus and remove the labels we’ve attached to everything. Life doesn’t come with a price-tag attached, so why do we want to add one??