"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Of Pedestals and Pierced Ears

  A number of years ago, I led a group of teenagers and adults on a mission trip to Washington, D.C. and New York. As those trips tend to be, as the days get long and the groups get weary and tired of each other, sometimes a harsh word or two may be said. In my case, it wasn’t so much a harsh word as it was a snarky comment. Several things had gone on, and I felt my decisions had been questioned, so I unloaded with a bit of attitude toward some of the adult leaders telling them to basically trust me for a change. As soon as the comments came out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong, but my pride wouldn’t let me apologize because, well, I felt I was right. The front of the bus became rather chilly for a bit and then finally a lady whom I deeply respect said quietly to me, “Well, Jimmy, I guess you have fallen off your pedestal tonight.” My only reply was, “Well, I never asked anyone to put me on a pedestal.”  And even though that incident was probably twenty years ago, I still do not want to be put up there. And, if I know I am on one, I will probably misbehave a bit to topple myself off.

  Labels are something we put on people so easily and Christians can often be the quickest. Sometimes there is little tolerance or love shown between denominations and between different faith groups. And, horrors, don’t tell some people that you are non-denominational. You are quickly labeled as a heretic who probably has a bunch of snakes in your backpack. Many churches have labels for those who prefer contemporary music and for those who prefer the traditional hymns. Or, how about those churches who are very hands-on in community ministries and those who would rather give money to have others to do these ministries. We all do it and if we aren’t careful, those labels can define how we respond to people.

  I’ve experienced labeling in my own life over the years, but especially in the last couple years. The first biggest one came along when I began frequenting and speaking at the non-denominational Tybee Island Church (which meets in a local bar on Sunday mornings). Immediately, misunderstandings about what we do and how we worship began to surface. The label of “he goes to a beach bar for church with all these people and who knows what they do in there” was the first and biggest thing I heard. It amuses me more than it angers me because those believers are more loving and giving than so many of the organized and traditional churches around. It is a true reflection of God’s love for us.

  The next label came along last month. For many years now, I have always planned to get my ear pierced for my 60th birthday. So, I did. Nothing wild and crazy; it’s just a simple birthstone stud. But, I have heard more discussions about my mental state, my spirituality, my lifestyle choices, my poor family, etc. etc. What caused all these labels from people who have known me for years?

  I am the Reverend Jimmy Cochran, Christian, Servant of God, Disciple, a human who struggles to live the Godly life every single day and sometimes fails miserably. These are the only labels I care about. Jesus was labeled many things in His life; a liar, crazy, delusional and more. However, the only labels He assigned to people were labels of love. To be loved by God. And to love others. Let me encourage all of us (myself included) to not falsely label people without knowing them and their situations. They may just need what you and God have to offer.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.