As my volleyball team gathered around me for the beginning of practice, one of my players said to me, “Hey, coach, everything I’m wearing is Nike.”
She was proud to be a Nike girl, but it caused me to pause and wonder why. What is it about Nike that she wants to import into her life, helping her define who she is?
When I was a kid her age, it was just prior to the time when companies started slapping logos on every t-shirt they produced. Very quickly afterward, brand names splashed across shirts became the reason why we bought them. But even before that, I was aware of what kinds of shoes my friends wore and had to have the same. I’ve always been brand conscious.
Brands and labels help us define ourselves. But they are all imported identities, not identities that arise from who we are in and of ourselves. As such, we ought to always be reconsidering these external identities.
Democrats and Republicans, do those political identities really suit you?
Tar Heels, Blue Devils, Crimson Tide, Ducks, and others, how do your collegiate sports affiliations prop up your self-worth? And are you really satisfied with tying your happiness to how your teams fare?
Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and charismatics, do you even understand the theological systems your subset of Christianity holds to?
Liberals/progressives and conservatives, have you really considered why so many people hold the opposite viewpoint and where yours might be weak?
Your address is a label. Why did you choose your neighborhood instead of another one? What are you saying about yourself by the home you live in? Where it’s located? How you decorate it?
Do you pride yourself in being a coffee or beer snob? And what makes you feel good about the name associated with the beverages you drink?
Do you dress to look professional, athletic, comfy, artistic, rebellious?
What TV shows do you watch? Why?
What music do you identify with? What music do you refuse to listen to? And how do your musical choices, both for and against, define you as one kind of person and not another?
All of these and many more are labels we attach to ourselves, making a profile of the kind of persons we are. But every single one of them is external. Yep, even the political ones. And when we add them all up, we realize just how small and limited we’ve made ourselves, our experiences, and the people we associate with. Because each label, by attaching us to one group or brand, excludes us from others. Each brand we associate with makes our world smaller.
One of the things I love about Jesus is that he was a label buster. He spent significant time with all sorts of people. And when others questioned him about it, he questioned them right back.
This is why the earliest Christians were such a social anomaly. They were comprised of Jews and non-Jews, the wealthy and slaves, priests and soldiers, women and men. Their identities ceased to be shaped by the labels of their day and were shaped by one and only one factor: Jesus.
Paul writes as much in Galatians 3:26-28 —
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul uses two external images — going into water in baptism and putting on clothing — to express this immersion into and wrapping up with this new Jesus identity. But as great as these external images are, they are merely expressions of the all-encompassing identity of being “children of God.”
This children-of-God identity has nothing to do with brands or labels, but with the heart. In fact, it calls into question every brand and label we attach to ourselves and finds them all inadequate, finds them all too small and limiting.
So, what brands and labels have gotten stuck on you that have diluted the significance of your child-of-God identity?