Walking through New York one Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I ran into a salesman with a table filled with little boxes all of differing sizes, shapes, and colors. I was curious and while trying to kill some time before meeting some friends, I asked, “What are you selling?”
He pointed at the sign which read “GOD IN A BOX $10”
“Really?” I asked as I reached for one of the flashier boxes.
His large hand stopped me just before touching it “Ten Dollars” was all he said.
I looked at him and began to notice a strange mix of emotions in his eyes, though deeply sad, there were contentment and peace even a little Joy. “What is a God in a Box, anyway?” I asked.
“Well, everyone wants God to conform to what they want God to be, so I said ‘well, people need a place to put him, right?’ so I made these boxes, each unique so that people can carry around the God they created. Most of all, then they don’t have to worry about losing him, people seem to really be concerned with that these days”
“How does one put God in the Box?”
“How many have you sold?”
I found out that the guy was a pastor of a local congregation who did this partly as an artistic critique and partly as an evangelism tool. We talked for a little while, and I found out that he hit a spiritual wall in his congregation because he was trying to teach them about Jesus eating with the poor and one member got up and said, “My God would never sit with someone who refuses to help themselves.” He was dumfounded and began to pray. In his meditation, this idea popped into his mind as a way to get people to think of how we could ever get God to conform to our understandings. He said some really got it but others, including that member, bought a box, and still did not.
The funny thing is the longer than I am in the ministry and the more I stay mindful of Gods Presence, the more I realize that God is so much bigger then I could imagine. The truth is that every time that I try to reduce God to something small God surprises me in new, bigger, and powerful ways.
This past weekend I took a moment to stay at the Bothe-Napa state park. Now it is neither the most glamorous nor largest park. Really it is not much of a park at all, But I like it! It is quiet, secluded, with plenty to keep me occupied, and if worse comes to worse, there are literally hundreds of wineries close by. This is a special time for me to be mindful and seek a connection to God. No matter what happens, every time I go, something happens that reminds of the sheer vastness of God.
In many ways, this was not the trip I had hoped for, being too short, too wet, and well, some noisy neighbors. . . But something happened to me that was glorious as I began to see God in a different light in the moments of quiet, and darkness (did I tell you that I found all of my flashlights to have bad batteries?)” As I laughed at my silly misfortune, I could not help but reflect upon the day.
That was a day that started with a tense Presbytery meeting full of power plays and political maneuvering a surprisingly relaxing and event-free drive through San Francisco, and a superb meal cooked on the fire pit. In a lot of ways, I realized that I could begin to think of God playing tricks on us or create in our minds and vengefulness, but being out there sitting under a redwood, I realize that just as I can only see a portion of that tree at any one time, so is true for God.
I can think God is acting against me, only to find out that while I might have temporary pain God is doing something much bigger. Moreover, I realize that often our feelings are more ours then God’s. What God wants for us is to be focused on him and be thankful for the life he gives to us. Most of all God wants us to be happy.
So often in debate or politics we strive to prove God to be on our side or our interpretation of God is the only one, this is the definition of keeping God tied down or small, boxed up. However, when we connect and are mindful of God, allowing God to grow within us each day, allows us to marvel like a child at the wonders of God’s presence and to sit in the awesome wonder of life. Moreover, we are also able to begin to see the bigger picture, how our story fits within the larger story of our life, and with the support of the community can witness to a deeper more connected and fulfilled life.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen