Did you know that stereotyping is always the first step in persecution? Doesn’t seem like much to amount to persecution ay? But you’d be surprised at the damage it can do. And because I’m talking to us Christians, let me narrow this down to Christian persecution. The narrative that Christians are boring, fanatical, illogical, religious nuts is always where it starts. To sum it all up tidily, religiosos is the word. In most parts of this country, that’s where we are at with most non-believers. At least the enlightened, elite, intelligent sect. That’s what they’ve labelled us.
Now from stereotyping we go to marginalization, where you’re allowed to be religious just as long as you don’t interfere with how things run. You’re the overly curious toddler in a lab full of scientific, expensive stuff. You can look, with your big-eyed dreamy eyes you can observe and you can wonder, just don’t touch. If you do, you’ll break everything. From there we move to threats, then it goes to litigation, and so on and so forth until it escalates to open prejudices, violence and eventually massacres. But no need to get your gears in a grind just yet. This is Africa. We’re about a few years away from that point. Or so I hope.
Anyway, all this goes back to one simple beginning…stereotyping. Like I said, it doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve seen it undo the body of creatives and artists, myself included. And I say especially creatives and artists, because we are emotional, deeply so, unlike our scientist counterparts who are logical and straight-jacket in thought. They work within stipulated frameworks, even contorting their bodies to fit into spaces where they are a bit too open-minded to squeeze into. Cookie-cutter products some would say-same size and shape. (To all scientists: put down your spatulas…it’s not what it sounds like ) We on the other hand make decisions based on our orientation at the time.
Stereotyping is like a bug that the world throws at you in contempt, and your mouth opens wide in a mixture of amused surprise and shock at what it could possibly hope to achieve with such an ignominious attack. “I mean, really? Being hit with a bug barely registers on my touch receptors!” you huff. But as you stare at the world wondering what on God’s good earth possessed them to make such mockery of your demon-chasing, stronghold-breaking, life-altering spiritual weapons, you don’t notice that tiny little critter make its way up your pants, slither into your waist and crawl up through your torso into your left ear. (Stop wondering why I chose the left one. Focus! ) In through your ear lobes, past your cochlea and through the eardrum and finally into your brain. Having reached its target, it firmly attaches itself and begins the worst possible attack on your system, rewriting codes that the Bible has put in place and convictions that you’ve grown into, and basically fighting you from the inside. (To be honest, I’m not that creative. There’s an episode on Spiderman-the cartoon that went something like that.)
Anyway, yes! That little squishy bug will begin to reprogram things in your head and you never see it coming. How, you ask? Good, let me tell you how. Creatives are a misjudged cacophonous lot. They are the brightly-coloured-but-mismatched-nail-polish females, and the short-cracked-nails-with-no-polish ones. They are the boy wonders, with their sagging pants and their dyed afro puffs, as well as the hard-pressed, starched, crisp-white-shirts gentlemen. They are… (Wait, am I just now propagating a stereotype? *Backspace* *Backspace* *Backspace* Stops. Gets an idea. Retypes… I can just try and explain myself in the next paragraph.)
What I’m trying to say is, creatives and artists loathe to be boxed into preconceptions. We like to test the limits, to challenge notions, to carve out our own unique paths. We are more likely to jump off a cliff chasing after an ideal-leaping over that ledge, arms stretched out, our coats flailing in the air and the cold air slapping against our bare cheeks, without a single care in the world…falling….falling…. gobbling up the miles faster than a predator lurching for its prey, inching, no, zooming closer to the ground as we drop…And yet, hope for the thing we want wells up in our hearts, overflowing through our eyes, blinding us, so in our minds we are soaring….soaring….ever so close to catching that ideal: The ideal that we can dispel the stereotype because we are different.
With that, begins our ‘certain death’ mindset. We begin to try and do everything just outside the stereotypes’ circle of influence. They say we are stiff, we go to worldly extents to prove we are not, even including a bit of partying and drinking. They say we are religious, we quit church, fellowship, communion and anything else that sounds religious and instead say we ‘have a personal relationship with God.’ They say we are judgemental, we stop calling out sin and instead make people comfortable in the face of blasphemy. They say we pretend to be perfect, we refuse to be set apart from the crowd and keep ourselves pure.
They say we preach water and drink wine, we flaunt our badassery and stop preaching at all. “Let our lives point them to Jesus”, we opine. We do everything within our power to move away from the already laid down expectations, without checking to remain within the boundaries of scripture. Now do you see how that is worse than escalated persecution? How you’ve played right into the enemy’s hands without him having to do anything? Because slowly by slowly you begin to lose the Risen Christ in you trying to be non-conformist; trying to be leftist. You grieve the Holy Spirit by refusing to do anything that would label you the dreaded ‘typical christian’ title, and you lose your convictions slowly but surely with each sun dip.
If you ask me, that’s the worst way to leave the fold.We’d rather die living out something we believe in, than live believing in nothing but self-preservation. That sounds like a hollow life. No wonder the Bible tells us things like not to treat prophecies with contempt, but instead to test the spirits, because God knew spiritual things would be lumped in with the stereotypes. And we would most likely start to become cynical about the spiritual.
Solution? I won’t deny that some of those stereotypes are true of us, most are not. So instead of working to dispel them, refuse to be influenced by them. Follow and cling to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life,refusing to let go through the fields of stereotypes, the ones with non-conformist flowers. Hold on tightly to Him and His word through the teasing and the taunting and the jeering and refuse under any circumstance to let fear or rebellion shape your actions.
As the Bible says, “Herefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Stereotypes are a weight. Don’t run so far away from a stereotype that you fall right into the world’s hands.
Conforming is a form of rebellion.