They’re nothing more exciting than a box. Cats love them – usually empty. Kids use them as fuel for endless expressions of imagination. We get gifts in them. Send gifts in them. We get practical things out of boxes and extravagant things. Boxes are great. And so, it’s no wonder that we talk about the way we see the world as putting things in boxes or insisting that we are box breakers.
From early in life we learn to categorize and order the world around us. Mom usually gets her own box. Then colors, shapes, sizes, and things, get put in boxes. Orange things go in a box. Fruit goes in a box. Round goes in a box. Oranges fit in all those boxes, depending on which characteristic you define it with. Then we learn to put good and bad in boxes. Right and wrong. Nice and mean. We build a castle of boxes as we start to order our world.
And just as soon as we start to build our castle, we start to tear it down. This is starts early. We see it in toddlers as they start to object to the boundaries placed on them by their parents. As they embrace the word “no” as a personal declaration of freedom. As they find ways around simple tasks like eating dinner smoothly or picking out a shirt to wear.
From the beginning, we work to unbox ourselves from the limits that are placed on us. At first, those limits are for safety, well-being, and healthy development. But then, as we continue to grow, we start to experience the boxes of control and power. We put things in boxes to help our world make sense. We box up our understandings of knowledge, theology, and philosophy. We box up people that are outside our understanding. We box up things that are different, so they are easy to explain.
We stack up our boxes to make sense of our world. We build little houses out of our cubes of understanding, and live inside of them. The pillars and piles make structures that are safe and comfortable. We pad them with blankets and pillows so we have comfortable places to sit. We make memories in them and call them our home. When we encounter things that don’t fit we either reject them or stuff them into a box that has a little room.
We keep a garbage pile behind the house for the things that confuse us and don’t make sense. We toss stuff out there and ignore it. We let it get stinky and deteriorate so that we aren’t attracted to it. That way we don’t have to engage it or try to make it make sense. We just send the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the new, there to die.
The problem is, sometimes things break through and they’re not so easy to dismiss. Sometimes a new idea breaks through and the boxes break. Sometimes water gets in (those questions that build over time), and the foundation of confidence (the cardboard in our boxes) breaks apart. They get mushy, and start to sink. The foundation becomes unstable and we have to rethink the comfortable space we have built.
Every once in awhile, a box bursts from the inside. We shove something in there because we think it fits. But the idea continues to challenge its place, it tears apart its container and we are forced to deal with it once again.It’s the wild ones that drive us the most crazy. They break things, and mess with the edges. They collapse boxes and create messes in our house. They rearrange things without asking. They make us question and think. Sometimes we can lasso them and send them to the garbage pile. But these wild animals, these new awarenesses, dig around in the garbage pile and start assembling things we’ve chosen to ignore. Pretty soon they are building beautiful sculptures in our yard that look nothing like the things we have worked so hard to build.
Often these new structures are made out of circles and ovals. They are abstract and held together by string or washi tape or sticks. They aren’t square and even, quietly stacking on each other. They require patience and have to be held together in new ways. The old way of relating ideas together forms new patterns.
Soon, as we start appreciating these new things, we realize that our house is changing. The rigid lines and forms we once valued are devoid of meaning and comfort. While we do keep some things, other things change. We add some new art, inspired by what we are seeing in the yard. We add new pillows, and buy new furniture. We start adding color to our spaces and understanding. We start to experience life in new ways, and see the world from a new point of view.
The boxes start to disappear and life emerges. A type of life that’s nothing like what we’ve known or experienced before. New life, new shapes, and new forms break through the barriers we have tended for so long.
This looks different for everyone. And our boxes are all different. Here are a few recent box breakers I have run into. Please feel free to share some of yours in the comments.
“The adjective so often coupled with mercy is the word tender, but God’s mercy is not tender; this mercy is a blunt instrument. Mercy doesn’t wrap a warm, limp blanket around offenders. God’s mercy is the kind that kills the thing that wronged it and resurrects something new in its place. In our guilt and remorse, we may wish for nothing but the ability to rewrite our own past, but what’s done cannot, will not, be undone.
But I am here to say that in the mercy of God it can be redeemed. I cling to the truth of God’s ability to redeem us more than perhaps any other. I have to. I need to. I want to. For when we say “Lord have mercy,” what else could we possibly mean than this truth?
And to say “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” is to lay our hope in the redeeming work of the God of Easter as though our lives depended on it. Because they do. It means that we are an Easter people, a people who know that resurrection, especially in and among the least likely people and places, is the way that God redeems even the biggest messes we make –mine, Peter’s, Bruce’s.”
–Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, 160-1
“We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well — places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”
–Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 94