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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Putting Ourselves in Boxes

We are creatures of polarity. We delight in either - ors. We love to label things, especially people. We believe that by labeling them we can put them into a box. This is an easy way for us to define other people. It allows us to both understand and control them. We find this very comforting. Peter Kreeft, in his book Making Choices talks about the twelve boxes that we often use to label people. All are boxes of polarity. They include things like conservative versus liberal, right versus left, law versus grace, intellect versus will, absolute versus relative, etc. Live becomes very easy when we can label people in this way. They become either - or. This allows us to define them, and make it easier to discount them. We often label ourselves in the same way. We enjoy living in a box of our own creation.

Kreeft notes that the issue is really not "either - or" but "both - and" the majority of the time. Aspects of both poles have their legitimate place. Both need to be incorporated into our daily lives. The British preacher, Charles Simeon, writing the early 1800s to a friend about the theological controversies of his day stated "I can say in words what these thirty years I have proclaimed in deeds, that the truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes." Holding both sides in tension requires much more time and effort. It requires reflective thought. It also means we are less likely to be understood by those who are "boxers".

We see the effect of "boxing" all around us, especially during political seasons. Much of the political talk revolves around Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal, and right versus left. Various political camps talked about refusing to vote in the recent election. Many times their non participation is due to the candidate's position not being 100 percent in agreement with theirs. He has been effectively labeled - placed in a box.

We do the same thing in other areas as well. Charges of racial profiling keep cropping up. Both blacks and whites are easily as guilty. We consider some people to have more worth than others. Neighborhoods can easily become ghettoized - by the rich or by the poor. Either consciously or unconsciously, it can be easy to think that "All _____ (you fill in the blank - blacks, whites, rich, poor, liberals, conservatives etc.) are _____." Many of the boxes we live in are designated to box others out. By eliminating them from our box, or putting them in a box of our own creation, we don't have to listen to their viewpoint.

Jesus on the other hand, refused to be boxed in. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees, at opposite ends of the spectrum from each other, hated him. They took the attitude that if he wasn't totally in agreement with them he must be their enemy. He didn't fit nicely into their little boxes. He was a "both - and" type of person. He refused to be labeled. He focused on the issues of right versus wrong, irrespective of their little boxes. Every time they attempted to place him in a box, he broke out. He regarded all people with dignity. Samaritan or Jew, sinner or saint, he treated them all the same. He refused to be boxed in or to box others. As we follow his example, we need to break out of our boxes as well. We need to stop placing others in boxes. This raises the question, "What boxes are controlling my life that I need to change?"

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