I’ve been fond of a few cats. L.O.S.T. is my current kitty, dropped off by someone, left to fend for itself on my farm. L.O. is like every other cat I’ve ever come across; she has a fascination with boxes. The smaller, the better. Young children at Christmas are similar – you can nearly always catch them playing with the boxes rather than the toys at some point during the day.
Boxes are quite useful, of course. They contain our stuff, and we are certainly a people of stuff. We’ve become quite adept at the size and shape of our boxes, going from the mundane and lowly cardboard variety all the up to the boxes that punctuate the wealth of an individual – the McMansion.
Along the way are drawers and file cabinets, closets and chests, all variations of the same theme. We are a people of boxes.
But there are also the boxes we can’t see, but are just as real, nonetheless. These are the boxes we use for people, ourselves included. These boxes have labels on them, just like the physical boxes we use for our stuff (or else the stuff is forever lost). We have religious boxes, political boxes, economic boxes, and moral boxes. They overlap, vary in shape, and are often inexact. We’ll call all of them identity boxes.
Identity boxes help us determine our tribe. Liberal or Conservative? Catholic or Protestant? Atheist or New Age? Blue collar or White Collar? Farmer or Everybody else? (Couldn’t resist that last one!) Our boxes inform our worldview – the smaller the box, the narrower our focus, and conversely.
Most people adopt the boxes given to them by their parents until a certain age; they then go through a period of exploration and discovery that tend to broaden the scope of the box. Some end up completely rejecting the box and seek another to fit into. Almost no one goes without some type of box. (It should be noted that a professional politician will fit into whichever one will get them the most votes).
And because we are human beings, capable of incredible self-deception, there are the boxes we say we belong in, and the ones we actually inhabit by our actions. It’s the subject of a life’s work to unite the two, especially if you’re a religious person.
Hypocrite is the tile we give to those whose words and actions don’t match well. It’s often the number one excuse of non-church goers – too many hypocrites go there. I used to rejoin that with the invitation that there was always room for one more. Until.
Recently, one of my favorite uncles passed away. Nothing untimely or unexpected. When I inquired of the funeral arrangements, I was told there would be none. He refused the funeral liturgy of the church. Uncle G. was a lifelong Episcopalian. His parish had gotten caught up in the fight over same sex marriage and the consecration of a gay bishop. The result was an ugly internal fight within the parish that destroyed the bonds, which had held members together for decades. Uncle G. has a daughter who is a lesbian (actually one of my favorite cousins). One person’s slogan is another person’s relative, close friend.
The parish swung itself into the traditionalist box and locked out everyone else – literally. Uncle G.’s refusal was a turning point in my thinking. It’s one thing to be opposed to something. We’re all opposed to something, even if it’s putting ketchup on a hot dog. It’s another thing to hate.
There are a lot of ways to read the Scriptures. I’m pretty sure the same exists for all religious writings. I’m thinking specifically now about the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. We can read this as a to-do manual. And if we read chapter 6 in that fashion, we will come to the conclusion that we’ve screwed up before we’ve ever left the gate.
Every religious sect has its touch point from whence it builds out. Jesus’ words contained in these three chapters form the crux of the Christian’s life. But how should we read them?
One way has been to take the words of Christ quite literal and double down on everything. This is Fundamentalism. This is how I was raised. The members of this box are defined by what they do not do. Their piety is their observance of commands. Another view seeks to see Jesus’ words as examples to follow, but without the strict adherence of the Fundamentalist view.
But there are other ways to see Christ’s words. “Judge not…” Jesus proclaims a karma of sorts in our attitudes toward others. The mercy you show someone will be shown to you; the judgment you give will be given to you. This is an acknowledgement of the impossibility of keeping the law. Even if we can conform ourselves to its outward demands, there is the matter of the heart and where our minds go in its secluded regions. There are no areas where we are safe from the law’s exacting demands and we are all guilty…of being human. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
I’ve walked away from my box. Oh sure, I still operate within a structure, but it’s a lot bigger now. I’ve taken the lid off to let the light in. I put in some windows and a couple doors. I’m inviting new experiences in the front door and keeping the back door open for any that need to leave. A few I’ve pushed out. Among the things that are gone is the idea that I have to conform my thinking to a specific group. I’m voting for Life, Love, Hope, and Faith. I’m rooting for Mercy and Grace, because I need to give and receive both. And I want to make sure my box is big enough for others who’d like to visit and stay for coffee. And pet my cat.