What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Philippians 3:8-9 (NIV)
I’ve been thinking a lot about labels. Not the kind on food, although I really should be looking more closely at them as I am supposed to be watching what I eat. I watch it alright as the fork goes from my plate to my mouth. No, the kind of labels I am talking about is the ones we call ourselves or others.
I started thinking about it when I filled out the entry forms for my glass pieces at the fair and had to decide whether to call them crafts or fine art. I was still thinking about it when I went to pick them up and a volunteer asked me how I chose the different categories. Honestly, I answered, “If it was in a frame, I called it art. If not, it was a craft.”
What makes one an artist? Does it depend on whether or not you work at it full time? I don’t make my living selling glass so is my work simply a hobby? Is it determined by education or membership in an artist’s guild? I would like to claim to be an artist, but it is not simply a matter of declaring myself one. In my recent work building partnerships between arts, culture, and heritage organizations, I found that artists tend to have distinct ideas of who is an artist and who is “a hobbyist.”
Then, I was confronted with another label. At the history teacher’s meeting I have been attending, the historian who presented last night asked me if I was a teacher. I replied, “No, I am a historian.” “Oh,” he said. Just oh. What did that mean? Di d he think I couldn’t be a historian because I don’t work at a university and haven’t published a book (yet!)? Or was did my answer reflect that I could have a negative opinion of teachers. “No, I am not a teacher, I am a historian.” On the contrary, the best part of my job is getting to teach. What good is a historian who hoards all the stories to herself?
Part of the problem is that everyone defines labels with their own slant. I don’t consider being a historian any better than a teacher. I think some of my art is just as pretty as what I see in museums and galleries. But others might not.
The same goes for the label, “Christian.” Recently I talked to someone who said some negative things about my church and Christians in general. Yet, she spoke highly of a man in our church who did some kind things for her school. While she had a poor opinion of Christians in general, this man in his effort to be like Christ made a favorable impression on her.
It doesn’t matter how I label myself because when it comes down to the bottom line, people want to know what’s inside me. When they look and see Christ there, they have no doubt who or what I am.