By Jason Coker originally for the Baptist News Global
My life is in boxes right now. As I prepared to move from Connecticut to Mississippi, I packed over 40 boxes of books in my office. We have gone through each room, and while there is still a lot to do, we have boxed up our kids rooms, our room, the basement — finished and unfinished — our living room, dining room, TV room, and office. Even the garage hasn’t made it out of the reach of the mighty boxes. Boxes, boxes everywhere and not a place to go!
I have spent hundreds of dollars on boxes the past couple of weeks. I’ve made at least three trips to the store to buy boxes. I have book boxes, small boxes, 16 inch cubed, 20 inch cubed, wine boxes — not boxed wine — beer boxes, shoe boxes, boxes for everything. I have enough boxes to contain all the belongings of my life. All the art, all the clothes, all the pottery, all the dishes, all the hats and gloves and scarves and shoes, all the ties and pockets silks and cuff links, all the appliances, all the tools, all the towels, all the dishes, all the tables and chairs and couches and TVs and rugs — everything has a box. My whole life is in boxes right now — except for a few things.
Boxes are incredible. Simple cardboard boxes folded just right and with enough packing tape can hold a tremendous amount of life. Those four vertical walls intersected by a top and bottom can contain all the material of one’s life and work. The files and files of sermons and blogs and speeches and Bible studies all wrapped up comfortably in the boundaries of a box. If you need a little more strength, get the plastic container boxes. Boxes are powerful — and they make for a powerful metaphor and illustration, especially for religion. I’ve thought a lot about boxes lately and our church and my life. My life in a box.
Church is a box — it has vertical walls with a top and a bottom and it contains the contents of our religious life. This is where our babies are dedicated. Most Baptist churches have that iconic piece of Baptist heritage — a baptistery. This is where we participate in one of our most sacred religious rituals. Close by is the sacred table around which we gather on select Sundays to memorialize Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. In this space we have laid to rest our best friends, our husbands and fathers, our mothers, and even our children. Here we have sent them on their journey to God and eternity with our best and most hopeful prayers. On that table and in every pew rests our sacred scriptures that guide our lives and help us understand how God worked and works in the world. Preachers proclaim the Word of God behind that sacred desk called a pulpit. In pews there are hymnals that hold all our most historic and sacred music. Most importantly, this box contains you — most every Sunday and every sacred holiday. You are the most precious cargo this box holds. And our greatest prayer is that this box delivers you directly to the throne room of God every Sunday. Our whole religious life is in this box, except for a few things.
The hope, the belief, even the conviction is that this box is the intersection between this life and the next — an intersection between humanity and God. Our hope is that when we gather in this box it will be a little like the fellowship we will experience one day when we stand before God in that heavenly home. We hope that somehow in this box we can experience the goodness and love and mutual compassion that makes us feel human, that it will be a place where we can extend that to each other and make each other feel human. This is exactly what Paul means when he says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
The church as a box — it contains all of our religious life (except a few things), all our important things. While our entire material life is getting packed into boxes for delivery to Mississippi, there are some things that cannot be contained in mere boxes. Some things can’t be put into boxes and shipped away. For one thing, my love for the church I’m leaving cannot fit into any box. No matter how much tape, no matter how thick the cardboard or even the strong plastic container boxes, none are big enough and strong enough to contain my love for it. Boxes have their limits, but love does not — love never ends. I am not leaving Wilton Baptist Church because it is facing hard times, I am not leaving because I’m tired of it or the town, I am not leaving because I don’t love it anymore. I’m leaving because I feel that God has called me to go to Mississippi and do another work. I am not leaving; I am going, and I do so with a heavy heart because I love the church still. Boxes cannot contain that.
This box — this beloved church — cannot contain everything either. Within its walls are housed so many of our religious symbols and so many of our sacred memories. And every Sunday, this is where we go to experience God and come as close as we can to the God we love and adore. But God — if God is really God — cannot be contained in these walls, no matter how beautiful and strong they are. God is bigger than our gray stones, God is bigger than our red doors, God is bigger than our steeple, God is bigger than our box. This place cannot contain the greatness of God, this place cannot contain the glory of God, God is bigger — always bigger. And that can be challenging. You see, we do our very best to put God into this box. We try to hem God in behind, before, beside, above and below. We fit God into our way of baptizing, our way of believing, our way of understanding the world. This is how we box God up and make God understandable and palatable. But God is bigger. God is incomprehensible. God is above all things, below all things, beyond all things — even our minds and even our boxes.
This is what the entire Letter to the Galatians is about. Paul said God was bigger than their religious rituals. God is bigger than baptism. God is bigger than Christmas and Easter. God is holier than Maundy Thursday. God is better than the way we think about the afterlife. God has no limits; therefore, God has no box. This is not easy to accept. We have certain beliefs about God and the Bible and the world and ourselves, but those beliefs are just our boxes to frame our lives — they are not God’s boxes for God’s life. We should never confuse our box for God; otherwise we are just worshiping a box. It’s hard news to accept, but Good News indeed. And why is this still Good News — and specifically, why is this Good News for us? Because we haven’t even glimpsed yet what God has in store for us. With a limitless God, there are limitless possibilities. That’s Good News.
Eventually, we will land in Mississippi and begin to unpack our life from boxes. We will move into our new home. We will take all those boxes and hopefully give them to somebody else who needs them. And honestly, I can’t wait because life is not meant to be lived in a box. Life is meant to be lived surrounded by the people you love and inspired by the God you serve. There is no box that big.