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Rev. Lane Campbell - Labels, Language, and Identity, Oh My! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rev. Lane Campbell   
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 00:00

blog lc pronounsThe words we use to define ourselves and who we are matter.

I have never been more in touch with this concept than I am at this particular moment in my life and in the lifetime of the United States.  Words to identify who we are can be claimed in an empowering way, allowing us access to groups of people who share our identities.  Words to identify who we are can be used as weapons from people intending to do harm.  Words to identify who we are can be celebrated by communities of shared identity and by allies.  And words to identify who we are can be misunderstood, as words have different meanings in different communities or contexts.  Either way, these words matter and bring meaning into our lives.

For myself, I can tell you I identify with all sorts of words and labels: white, woman, queer, cis-gender, temporarily able-bodied, partnered, middle-class, minister and so on.  These words and the meaning behind them give shape to who I am.  And there are many other words folks would use to describe me, some I would claim and others I would not.  One of the deepest exercises I have ever taken part in invited participants to trace our bodies and then to write inside of the shapes of our bodies all of the labels used to identify us by others.  Then, we went through the labels and crossed out those that do not apply to us.  It was an extremely empowering exercise, to be able to say, “That's not me.  This is who I am.”

This past month, I have been talking to our youth, who are planning a youth-led worship service for February 26th.  As always, there is so much I have to learn from them.  One of the youth introduced the term “idiolective.”  When I looked up a definition on-line, there was not one to be found.  But this youth describes the importance of labels and language we use to identify ourselves.  The better able we are to talk about who we are, the more language we have to describe ourselves, the deeper our identity is lived and felt.  Cultivating this language is important and often takes conversation partners or resources to help us create a pattern of language that speaks who we are.  It's about the labels we use as well as patterns of speech that may be cultural, generational, geographically-determined, or formed in all sorts of ways.  How we speak about who we are shapes who we are.  I find this fascinating and cannot wait to hear reflections from our youth about language and identity on the 26th.

The words we use to define ourselves and who we are matter.