Moving past labels

A Christian Science perspective: What truly defines us?

In North Africa, there is a large contingent of native people commonly known as Berbers. But they don’t like to be called “Berbers” because that name is related to the word “barbarians.” They prefer to be called Amazigh, which means “free people.”

Learning this about the Amazigh inspired me to think more deeply about labels. How easy it is to label and accept labels! One problem with labeling is that we become identified not as individuals, but as having characteristics that may not apply to us, and also might have negative connotations.

The basic question is, “Who are we?” Are we defined by labels, by roles we play, by our profession, or by some other characteristic, such as race or religion?

Perhaps the more important question is, “What are we?” My study of Christian Science has revealed to me a profound fact: Each of us is a spiritual idea of God, or divine Mind (see Genesis 1:26, 27). Wow! To be defined by Mind rather than by my upbringing, my nationality, my age, my gender, my genes. What does that look like?

Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote the seminal work on Christian Science, answers that question through her definition of “man.” Part of this definition describes man as “the full representation of Mind” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 591). Later on that page, Mind is defined, in part, as “the one God; not that which is in man, but the divine Principle, or God, of whom man is the full and perfect expression....”

To think of ourselves as idea, as divine Mind’s expression – which is spiritual – increasingly frees us from limitations that labels impose. Spiritual ideas are unlimited, flexible, purposeful. One dictionary definition of “idea” is a plan of action. To think of ourselves as Mind’s plan of action, God’s own expression of Himself, certainly puts a different spin on our concept of what we and others truly are.

Here is an example. When I graduated from high school, I was told I didn’t have the intelligence to make it through a four-year college program. In spite of the well-intentioned advice, I enrolled in a university, and after a while found I was fulfilling the label that had been put on me. I was doing so poorly in my classes that I was about to flunk out of college.

About this time I was introduced to the teachings of Christian Science. As I learned more about our true identity, I realized that I didn’t have to accept the label of having mediocre intelligence. I began to glimpse the fact that I was an idea in Mind, expressing the unlimited intelligence of that Mind.

Everything about my college experience changed dramatically. I learned how to pray, turning my thought to what is spiritually true about me and everyone. As Mind’s idea, I expressed unlimited intelligence, rather than a limited label of “not college material.” Before taking exams and writing papers, I would take a few minutes to remind myself that because this was my real identity, I inherently had all I needed to express Mind fully.

I found prayer to be a wonderful way to work free from limiting labels. As I surrendered a false sense of identity – one that was imposed by a label – for a correct view of myself as Mind’s expression, my grades went from nearly failing to high marks. Not only did I graduate from university, but I went on to get an advanced degree with top grades.

The Amazigh, knowing that they are not barbarians, have contributed greatly to society. Knowing that I am not handicapped by a limiting label of “not very bright” enabled me to successfully finish college and go on to graduate school. Seeing that such labels don’t define us frees us to be everything it’s natural for us to be: intelligent, wise, loving, honest, and good. The knowledge of what we really are as Mind’s idea, rather than how we are labeled humanly, not only allows us to discover our own true capabilities, but also inspires us to do good for others and for our world. Limiting labels fall away to reveal the innate dignity, beauty, and individuality of God’s idea, man!

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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