October 24, 2008

More Than Canned Corn

2008 1530 page17 cap HATE GROCERY SHOPPING. I think it’s because I overanalyze everything—even the smallest of decisions. Like whether Philadelphia Cream Cheese is worth 87 cents more than the generic brand (yes). Or if one•third less fat means one-third better for my body (sometimes). Then there’s the obligatory paper or plastic choice (wait, which one is better for the environment again?).

On my latest grocery run, as I was pondering the all-important decision of Triscuits versus Wheat Thins, a little girl standing nearby tugged on her mama’s dress and asked one of those kid typical “why” questions.

“Mama, why do all the cans have labels?”

Grabbing a can of whole-kernel corn, Mother hesitated slightly before answering. “Well, honey, a label tells us exactly what’s inside of the can,” she said. “That way, we always know what we’ll get when we open it.”

I grabbed a box of Saltines and headed to the next aisle. But that innocent Q&A struck a chord. One of the biggest problems in church today is that we often approach life as if we’re grocery shopping.

2008 1530 page17When I was 11, my dad walked in on me listening to what he assumed to be music of questionable character. “But, Dad, I bought that at the Christian bookstore!” I explained, waiting for an apology. “Jimmy, just because you bought it at the Christian bookstore doesn’t make it Christian.”

I hate the sacred and secular labels we typically assign to music. Buying a CD in a Christian bookstore, hearing a song on K-Love, or even singing something in church doesn’t automatically render a song Christian.

On the flip side, I’ve listened to plenty of “secular” music that has taught me fresh intricacies and helped me see a deeper side of life, as well as of God.

But really, the problem isn’t simply categorizing things; it’s categorizing people. A song sung by a so-called “Christian” artist is obviously more “holy” than one sung by a “secular” person. Never mind that plenty of Christians sing “secular” music and plenty of “seculars” sing “Christian” music.

Tattooed and pierced from head to toe? He must be using drugs.

An ordained minister of God? Of course. So, then, are the words that come out of his mouth.

Does the label sometimes fit? Sure. Does it always fit? No way. And that underscores the entire point of a label. If it doesn’t always tell us what we’re getting, then there’s probably a better way.

I’m not one to tell someone how to vote, but nowhere do labels scare me more than when we classify politicians.

How many of us vote for candidates because of the labels attached to their names? No need to raise your hands; but I’ll raise mine.

I don’t believe in abortion, and I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. But that doesn’t mean politicians who share those convictions get a free pass on all the other issues.

Because I also believe that medical care shouldn’t be a privilege; and we shouldn’t take more away from those who have less.

And more than a few corrupt politicians are pro-life and anti-gay marriage.

I don’t believe Jesus would vote for candidates based on human labels outwardly attached to their names. I have no agenda: I don’t care what musician you let your kids listen to, whose words you take for gospel, or even for whom you vote this November. I only ask you to remove the label and consider the individual as an individual.

Because as any good Nebraska boy knows, canned corn is never as good as the real thing.

Forever Nebraskan, Jimmy Phillips writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is marketing and communication coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital.