Boxes.   They frustrate me.   In the move to the parsonage we have accumulated quite a few.  Add to that the advent of the new Wells Fargo Wagon…Amazon…and we have more than we know what to do with.  It’s taken me a month to gradually get rid of them through my recycling company.   But at least boxes recycle! 

As I was stripping and folding these boxes down for recycling, I started realizing how much I resent boxes…not just the physical ones, but the spiritual ones too.   When we try to box people into categories we fail to see them as whole persons.   They become Democrats or Republicans; Catholics or “none’s” (a new category for those who mark their “religious preference” box “none” instead of people); Gay or straight; and unfortunately, when we box them all up into categories they suddenly fail to be people any more…they lose their story and nuance.   And soon we add about 45 expletives before their box and then we’ve done it.  God’s diverse and colorful world is neatly placed into boxes and suddenly…puff…all the color has left the universe.

So why do we do this?   Well, science tells us that in some senses, boxes are necessary.   We get so much information these days!  And, in order to process all this “stuff,” we need to put things in categories just to get through the day.  It’s a coping mechanism!   It’s also the way in which we make and give meaning in our worlds.  Boxing is our way of making sense of a chaotic world.  What happens if we don’t put things in boxes?  Things never get shipped.  They turn into one big page of colorless squiggles that mean absolutely nothing.

So, in truthfulness, boxes and packages are vital. The problem isn’t boxes, it’s the kinds of boxes we use, and the sheer and utter laziness of shipping things in only 3 kinds of boxes.   It’s a failure to package things creatively. 

So, here’s my experiment for you this week.   Take some time to notice what kind of packaging you tend to put people in.  One of the most frustrating ones I deal with is male and female.  Why is that such a big divide?   Why do men package all women in to the “dumb blond” category so quickly?   And why do women package all men as sex-crazy chauvinists?   And what do we do with the growing number of people who don’t feel like they identify with either?   Have you ever been to a gathering where all the women are in the kitchen chatting, and all the men are in the living room staring at a football game? FRUSTRATING and BORING!  (Just a side note…when I was a kid I was the one boy in the kitchen.  Why?  First one to get snacks!  What did that make me?)

Another box that is frustrating to me is the box we call “homelessness.”   Yesterday at our Wednesday meal with Camp Unity, I sat down with several folks to get their stories.   One young man I visited had just graduated from Auburn University in Georgia with an English Major.   He was bright and warm and engaging.   He asked more questions of me than I did of him…and believe you me that is not easy!  And yet here he was…living in a tent with Camp Unity Eastside!   Another middle-aged man I visited with actually worked as a counselor for Hope-link, an agency whose very job it is to help those who have fallen through the cracks and are homeless.   I asked him how he got to Camp Unity, and he shared that his landlord raised the rent by $600 and he just couldn’t afford it.   He looked for other places, but there just weren’t any in his price range anymore, and he was just out of luck.   What an irony.   Here is a guy who is working as an advocate for the homeless, and because of our rental prices, he is forced into homelessness himself!  Crazy!   (By the way, both of these folks talked enthusiastically about Camp Unity.  For all of them Camp Unity has been a sanctuary where they could get back on their feet and prepare to find and save money for a place to live.  In fact one of them is moving out into an apartment today! They were incredibly thankful for Bear Creek and our willingness to host.)

Do this for me.  When you close your eyes and say the word “homeless” what picture comes your way?  Most of us, if we are honest, picture a bearded old man who smells of whiskey and rye and is going to break into our car to steal something in support of his crack addiction.   But that is only a small segment of the homeless population.  

Boxes.  We need them, but we need to be careful just how we use them!

The other day, I was looking for a present for Devon, my son-in-law.   I found a great gift, but the reason I bought it was because it came in such a creative package…DUCT TAPE!   Just perfect for Devon.  He is going to get such a kick out of unwrapping that gift. 

Can learn to be more creative and positive about OUR packaging like this company?

Your friend and pastor…I mean…priest…I mean…rector…I mean parson…I mean shepherd…I mean sermonizer…I mean pulpitarian…I mean ecclesiast…UGH…none of these packages are any good…let’s just stick with “friend”, Brook

(PS In this article…an article where I am railing about boxes and categories…I used boxes at least 18 times to categorize people…amazing!)



Tim Schaaf