Emptying Boxes, Unpacking Human Identity

My husband and I moved from Washington, D.C. to Mount Rainier, Maryland this past August.  I confess that we are both bibliophiles but I suppose there is no need for confession as I had nearly fifty boxes of proof.  Still, more remain stored and we would never think of giving them away.  We need them or so we continue to tell ourselves.  They are apart of us and our memories, picked up at a used bookstore on the side of a highway or balanced in our arms during a bookstore closing.  We went through piles of books, searched the aisles until we found them.  They are proof of our hardwork.  We have earned them.

Books have a very special place in our home and I worked to empty the boxes containing books while much of the house remained untouched.  In the first month, I couldn’t tell you where the spoons were but I had already fully organized our poetry and theology sections.  With each empty box, each title read, sorted and placed on a shelf, I felt more and more at home.  We ate out regularly in those initial months as I worked feverishly to complete our shared study and reading area.

Each day after work, I returned to open and empty boxes.  The more boxes were emptied, the more the apartment began to take shape and look more like our home.  I did of course open others that contained our clothing, photographs, curtains, towels and bedsheets because you can’t live your entire life out of boxes, especially when there is a place for everything.

Boxes are for transport and storage.  They are not to become permanent fixtures in our homes or used as furniture though I have used an egg crate or two during my college days. Still, boxes are used for temporary arrangements that serve a larger purpose. They are not made of material that allows for long-term or repeated use. 

The same can be said of the socially color- coded boxes of race.  We can not live full lives when subjected to an arrangement that is temporary and serving only a social and economic purpose.  The narrative of God is much larger, grander and is anything but temporary.  If we remain in boxes, we are not in our created place and cannot be used. And just because the box is in the room does not mean that it is apart of the room’s decorum. As long as the content remains in the box, its presence doesn’t change anything.

We, as American Christians, have accepted our social boxes.  We count people and provide resources, human and financial based on the number of boxes checked.  We have invested a considerable amount of meaning in these boxes.  But, no matter what we call them, the fact remains that they are and always will be boxes.  They will never satisfy us as they carry no deep meaning.  They are frail, easily damaged and limited in what they can hold. And they have been reused for far too long.

When we are placed in boxes, we are easier to label and to set aside for a particular use.  Over time, the box becomes our reference point.  We turn to them to find ourselves, to identify ourselves.  But, knowing where you are or where you stand in society is very different from knowing who you are.  If you know who you are then you don’t have to wait to be placed anywhere.  You will find your place without the assistance of anyone. 

Because it’s not what we’re placed in that gives us value but Who has been placed inside of us.  We talk about “thinking outside of the box.”  Well, I plan to live outside of it.  The truth is human beings don’t come in boxes so that’s one less thing that I have to unpack.

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