Feb 9 2009

The God Box, part 2

As I mentioned in the prior post, this is a story I wrote a few years ago.  The story, like many others, is open to some interpretation, so don’t assume that you know my own.  In fact, part of what’s interesting about this story is that my thinking on some issues has changed since I wrote it, so I read it differently myself now than I did 6 years ago.

Continued from here.

… “These are your God Boxes.”

This did not fit in with any of Andy’s expectations. “God Boxes? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term before.” Caroline nodded in agreement, her face the picture of pure bewilderment.

“The God Box is where we put everything we know about God. It helps keep it orderly, and,” referring to Caroline’s question a moment ago, “it helps us keep on the right track.”

“I don’t think I understand,” said Andy slowly.

“It’s really very simple,” Pastor John continued, unfazed by their lack of understanding. “Religion can be a very messy thing.” To this, both Andy and Caroline nodded in agreement.

“We have had many people come into this church over the years, and most of them arrive with all kinds of strange ideas and doctrines that simply don’t belong.”

“Belong where?” interjected Caroline.

“Into the church,” replied John quickly. “It just doesn’t belong here. I am talking strange ideas about the past, strange ideas about the future – all kinds of mumbo-jumbo that we simply don’t need. Christianity can be a very simple, neat thing. That’s what the God Box is all about.”

“So, ideas go in the box?” ventured Andy.

“Ideas, guidelines, disciplines – it all goes in the God Box. Everything you need to live a nice, normal Christian life will fit in this little box. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” they replied together, although not at all sure. “I am truly amazed,” answered Andy.

“Reincarnation,” said the Pastor, “will not fit into the God Box. There is simply no place for it. Therefore, we know we don’t need it. The same goes for polygamy. No room at the inn, so to speak. The same goes for drinking, extramarital sex and homosexuality, as well as for wild-eyed healers and speaking in tongues. See? The God Box gives us a nice, orderly way to live our lives. We have the freedom of boundaries!”

With that, Pastor John leaned back and draped his left arm over the back of his chair. “So, what do you think?”

“Well .,” hesitated Caroline.

“Does everyone in this church have a God Box?” asked Andy.

“Certainly. It’s how we keep on the same page around here. We’ve never had a big mess like some of the other churches. No running off with the organist, no child abuse, no snake-handling. Just peace and contentment.”

“We did notice the church was very calm and orderly,” offered Caroline.

“Absolutely. No swinging from the chandeliers here,” John affirmed.

Andy leaned forward. “Do other churches have God Boxes?”

Pastor John smiled, “Ah, I knew you were a thinker, Andy. And I like that about you.” He stood and walked over to a picture window looking out down Main Street. Andy could see at least two other church steeples.

“Yes, they all have God Boxes. Only,” he gestured with his right index finger in the air for emphasis, “we’re the only ones who admit it.”

He turned and once again sat down opposite them. “Let’s take a quick look at your boxes. You will notice compartments inside. Don’t be fooled by the relative size of the compartments – that has nothing to do with a thing’s importance.”

They stared into their boxes, as if they might suddenly see something that could make them comprehend what Pastor John was telling them.

“For example, there’s a small compartment for Salvation. You’ve prayed the prayer, you’re born again, that’s all we need to say about it. See, we’ve written the date right in there. In case you ever start to doubting, all you need to do is glance in the box.”

John let this sink in, then continued, “you will now notice that the ‘Don’t’ section is somewhat larger than the “Do” section. That’s not because they are more important than the ‘Dos’, it’s just that the Don’ts take more room – there are more of them. The ‘Dos’ are mainly prayer and Bible reading. Not much room for negotiation there!

“In the ‘Do’ compartment is a large place for Tithing. That’s important, but you don’t really need to understand why for now. There’s plenty of time for that.”

Sensing he was perhaps losing their focus, John raised his voice slightly, “The entire bottom half of the boxes is called ‘Eschatology,’ which is a big word meaning the last days.” John looked over at Caroline, both thinking that ‘last days’ meant nothing to them, either.

“The other compartment is the belief section, with compartments for the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, and so on. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to figure all of this out. That’s exactly what the box is for!”

Andy shifted in his chair, wondering when exactly it would be a good time to leave.

“The God Box takes all of the thinking and worrying away from living the overcoming Christian life. Now, if you are thinking that perhaps the box is too small, let me assure you that I’ve tried boxes of different sizes, and I am fully satisfied that these boxes are the perfect size to hold everything you need. If it won’t fit in here, it’s not worth thinking about! And,” he paused to get their full attention, “the 1500 members of this church will agree.”

“Well,” said Caroline, her mind racing. “Thank you. You’ve sure given us some things to think about.”

“Yes,” added Andy, getting to his feet. “Thank you so much for your time. I can’t wait to start using this.” Andy waved the box slightly.

“You’re very welcome,” replied Pastor John, beaming. “Again, it’s such a pleasure to have you with us. Before long, you’ll be just like one of the family – happy, content, without ever having to think about your spiritual lives again.”

“Thank you again,” they both chimed, as they escorted themselves out.

Andy and Caroline were silent as they walked to their car, parked just out of sight of the Pastor’s study window. Andy pushed the black control on his keychain and beeped the doors open. “Whadya think?”

“I don’t know.” her voice trailed off. She thought for a moment, but remained silent. “How about you?”

Andy shrugged. “It’s certainly not what I was expecting.”

“Me either. Judy never mentioned a God Box.”

“Can’t say I blame her.” Andy leaned back against the car, and gave his God Box a suspicious glance. “It sounds nuts. I mean, I don’t claim to know anything about religion, but even to me.”

Caroline looked Andy in the eyes, “You know that feeling we had in church last Sunday, like we could feel God?” Andy nodded as Caroline continued, “and that feeling, like lightness, that you’ve talked about?” Andy nodded again.

“Well,” Caroline opened the lid on her box and peered inside. “I was just thinking, I don’t think there’s any room in this box for those.”

Andy paused a moment to let it sink in, then quietly breathed, “yeah.” He opened Caroline’s door, then paused for a moment as he considered what to do with his God Box. They looked at each other with a new-found wisdom and smiled. Without speaking Caroline handed Andy her box.

Andy pushed the button on his key chain again, lifted the trunk lid, and tossed in the boxes. Caroline looked over at Andy and smiled, “I could maybe use it as a jewelry box.”

Fishing tackle, Andy thought as they pulled out of the lot.


Feb 7 2009

The God Box, part 1

The Following is part one of a short story I wrote in 2002.

——————————————
Andy and Caroline stood briefly outside the study as Andy gave the slightly open door a short rap.

“Come in,” a booming voice responded. Andy opened the door and allowed his wife to enter first. A tall, balding man in his mid-fifties was hunched in front of a computer screen as he deliberately stabbed a keyboard with his index fingers.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he spoke into the air as he made one final poke and rose to greet them. “Sending off the weekly prayer e-mail,” he explained as he reached for Caroline’s hand, “I’m not much of a typist.” He paused for a split second, “Let me see if I can get this right. Carol, isn’t it?”

“Caroline.”

“Of course, my apologies. Andy, nice to see you again,” he shook their hands in turn and led them to two imitation leather chairs, of which there were three arranged in a conversation grouping in the corner of the study.

“Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Reverend,” Andy began.

“Oh, call me John. I don’t like titles.” He took the third chair, which was arranged in such a way that his long legs had a chance to extend without danger of kicking his guests. “I continue to get a handful of folks calling me ‘Pastor’ around here, but I am trying to break that habit. Religious formality just gets in the way. That’s why I like to come out from behind the desk, and avoid as many of the religious clichés as I can. The world has too much religion, not enough Jesus, I always say.”

Andy was silent, not really having a clue what the distinction between “religion” and “Jesus” was, or how you could have one without the other. He glanced over at Caroline, who nodded knowingly. Right, he thought. She doesn’t get it, either.

“Can I get you some coffee?” Pastor John broke eye contact momentarily as he reached behind him for his well-used but seldom washed mug on his desk. The couple both replied to the negative as Pastor John readjusted himself in the chair.

“This is certainly a pleasure,” he affirmed. “We are all so excited to ‘adopt’ you into our family. It’s rare to have a couple come forward together, but definitely a plus.” Seeing their somewhat confused looks, he continued, “you see, when a husband or wife accepts Christ alone, it can create great stress in a marriage. However, as you are both beginning your new lives together. A most wonderful opportunity, both for you, as for us, as we get to participate with you in that journey. Yes, a very wonderful thing indeed. As I mentioned Sunday, the Bible tells us that the angels rejoice when one is saved. I’d say they had quite a celebration last Sunday!”

Andy and Caroline smiled politely, still not quite sure what kind of a journey they were on. This was all very new to them, as neither had come from a family where religion played a part. Caroline responded first, “This is all very new to us.”

“Of course, of course,” John jumped in. They could see that he was obviously used to doing most of the talking. “I understand completely. Don’t try to figure everything out all at once- you’ve got plenty of time to learn the ins and outs of Christianity and church life. We’re just glad you’re here.” He took a sip from his cup. “Tell me,” he said, looking at Andy, “a little about your backgrounds.”

“Well, neither Caroline or I have ever been what you’d call religious.”

Andy was interrupted by a knock on the study door. “Excuse me,” said John, rising to get the door. The church secretary, Joan, according to the nameplate on her desk, handed the pastor two cardboard boxes, about the size of boot boxes, but with a hinged lid, similar to a cigar box. He thanked Joan and re-closed the door.

“Carry on,” he nodded to Andy as he returned to his chair, setting the boxes on the floor in front of them.

Andy’s eyes fell to the boxes, which he noticed had “Andy” and “Caroline” lettered on the front. “As I was saying, we’ve never been what you could call religious. Neither of our families ever attended church, and at least in my family, the subject of God never came up.”

“Unless somebody was swearing,” Caroline added, smiling. She continued, determined to carry her side of the conversation. “My family went to church for weddings, funerals, and sometimes Christmas, if there was a special program. My mom believed in God, and even claimed to have seen Him once. She quickly added, “she used to do acid in the 60s.”

Pastor John nodded silently, either not catching or not acknowledging the humor.

“Religion never made any sense to us, to me,” Andy continued. “In fact, it still doesn’t.”

Caroline nodded in agreement, “I’m not even sure why we came on Sunday, other than the Nelson’s had been after us forever to come and I told Andy, ‘we’ve got to go once, then we can tell them that it’s just not for us.’ But, “she paused, looking over at Andy to make sure she had his agreement, “we both felt something Sunday that we’d never felt before. I guess you call it the presence of God, or at least that’s what I think it was. I thought it was just me, but then before I knew it, I was kneeling down in front next to Andy. I don’t even know how I got there!”

“I’m still not even sure what it all means,” said Andy earnestly. “I mean, I feel different – lighter, I guess you could say – but I have absolutely no language to explain it. I started reading that Bible you gave us on Sunday, but to be honest, it hasn’t helped explain anything at all to us.”

Caroline was shaking her head, “It’s all so foreign. It’s like a different language, a different culture. I feel inside that it’s true, but I guess my head hasn’t arrived there yet.”

With that the pastor smiled. “I am very excited for you two. I really am. You are in the best possible place to learn about God and what it means to be a Christian.”

“What do you mean?” Caroline asked.

“What I mean is, most people have preconceived notions about God and Christianity, especially if they have watched Christian TV or have been reading that so-called Christian fiction that is so popular now. It’s sometimes very hard to shake those notions loose and get them on the right track.”

“My mom always said – in fact, she said it again yesterday – that there are many tracks, that’s why there are so many churches,” interrupted Caroline.

Andy grinned, “Caroline’s mom is sometimes on several of them at once.”

Caroline gave him one of her looks, and continued, “I mean, Judy Nelson warned me about that church down on the corner of 5th, to make sure we didn’ t go there instead. She said they had some strange ideas. How do we know which church has it right?”

Pastor John sat for a moment, his hands pressed together with the index fingers pressed against his lips. “I can tell that you are both real thinkers,” he said slowly. “That’s good . that’s very good. I think our church is a good place for you. We have classes that will help you to sort out all of these questions.”

With that, he reached down and picked up the two boxes, and handed one to each, glancing at the names to make sure they had the right ones. “These are for you,” he said.

John took the box, which was obviously empty. Caroline opened the lid on hers anyway, then after a moment looked up. “What is this?”

John smiled warmly, “These are your God Boxes.”

To Be Continued …