Out of the box thinking – a phrase we hear kicked around a lot but I wonder how often we really engage in it. It seems to be a phrase that’s been hijacked by the corporate world, in an effort to turn more profits. I strive to be a free thinker, an open minded person, but I frequently find myself following the same rabbit trails in my head. It’s difficult to truly think outside the box when you have yet to recognize the box you live in. That is the basic dilemma of out of the box thinking. How do you think outside of something that is unidentified? The first step then is to acknowledge that the box is even there.
For some, the box is even a non-reality. Therefore, thinking outside that reality becomes an impossibility. They make the wrong assumption that everyone shares their point of view so they see no box. Take for example the movie, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. The protagonist, Truman, is born and raised in a fake world created by a producer for a reality TV show. Truman, has no idea he is living his life in front of a TV audience, and believes the world created for him is his very real life. One day, he begins to suspect something is not right and longs for something more. The movies epiphany moment comes, when the bow of the sail boat he tries to escape in literally slams into a cement wall. Bam! The wall being the fake sky that is the edge of the shows production set. He is suddenly confronted with the choice of, moving beyond the box of his world, or retreat back into familiarity and safety. The movie begs us to ask the question, “If we want to think outside the box – what is the nature of the box I live in?
Most of the time we are never confronted with our own self-created realities until we either experience suffering or are confronted with somebody else’s box.
This sounds simple enough to do but it’s horribly challenging. It’s like trying to describe something your so familiar with that you’re actually blind to it. You are trying to express a reality you have always known but have nothing to contrast it with. For example, how would a fish know that water is “wet”, unless they knew the contrasting sensation of “dry” air. The box happens to be the womb of our lives. The place where we have been nurtured and developed. The place we call home. It is our own comfort zone, where patterns are familiar and questions rarely pop-up. This home, comfort zone or womb, is our box. Inside our box we have developed ways of solving problems, we find comfort in the certainty of our belief systems and have made assumptions about the nature of our relationships. Since this box becomes our security, we hang on to it with white knuckles, fearing to ever let it go.
Over time, the box we have woven around ourselves, becomes an invisible container. We fail to see the box we have created, even though it is an ever present “invisible” reality. We fail to acknowledge that we are protected on all sides by the walls of our box. These walls keep potentially dangerous realities “out” while trapping us “in” the safety of our own mental habits. Most of the time we are never confronted with our own self-created realities until we either experience suffering or are confronted with somebody else’s box.
By suffering, I mean we experience a personal loss and come face to face with the disappointing reality that our box has failed to explain our suffering. The second way we suddenly face the true nature of our box is by suddenly being dropped into the world of someone else’s box. What I’am speaking of is another culture. The unfamiliarity of the new world we have been dropped into, suddenly sheds light on the four walls of our own point-of-view.
Unlike some, I have had the fortunate experience of being exposed to several different cultures in my lifetime. That exposure has shaken me on more than one occasion out of my comfortable box. Without that exposure, I’m certain I would never have realized there was such a thing as my own personal “box”.
I began to wonder about the reality of the systems I had previously bought into.
My first real out of the box experience came while living in the suburbs of Tokyo. There I was confronted with the reality that I indeed lived in a box made up of my sheltered, white, evangelical Christian, naive, shades of grey, driven world. Since then, I have spent the last ten years living in a rural South Africa village. In South Africa I was again confronted with the confining box of my world. I was a white, educated Christian, and therefore superior (so I assumed). Therefore, I had all the solutions to the problems of poverty and AIDS. I was blind to the poverty of my own box and failed to see the riches of the new box I was living in, until one day it all came crashing down.
Don’t assume I went to Japan and South Africa blind. I had much cross-cultural training. I knew about worldviews, and had done linguistic studies. I had studied cultural anthropology and knew the traps I should avoid. Nevertheless, that dumb box of my world still trapped me and kept me from seeing things as they are. I was not only confronted by an African point-of-view, but at the same time suffered a deep personal loss. While living and working in a village overcome by HIV, I experienced the demise of my marriage. The suffering I experienced during the breakdown of my marriage while living in a culture not my own, caused me to face the weakness of my own box. My box being the orthodox evangelical Christian worldview I grew up with.
In the end I had to let go of much of what had always been so familiar to me. Thinking out of the box became more like jumping out of the box, head first into the abyss. I began to question everything I ever knew. I began to wonder about the reality of the systems I had previously bought into. What I had been taught and what I experienced no longer were compatible. I began a process of letting go. This letting go process which started in 2009, has led me down a path that continues to this day. I’m still in the midst of unraveling the trappings of the old box and finding passion and pleasure in weaving a new picture.
As adults we can sit and debate the attributes of an ocean wave, or in more child like fashion, we can go surfing.
Through this journey, the life of Jesus has taken on new meaning to me. Previously, it was His death and resurrection that took center stage in my life. Now, with an out of the box perspective, I have discovered Jesus anew. He is more human, more courageous, and more passionate about the “truth” setting us free, than I had previously thought. “Free”, as in out of the box – free. “Free”, as in religion – free. “Free”, as in let go of your preconceived ideas – free.
Jesus said if you are going to understand His Kingdom you must become like a child. I always took this in some kind of moral sense because the box I grew up in was all about personal sin. That box said, “I was a sinner and that made me a bad person”. To enter God’s kingdom, I needed to repent of my past deeds. I reasoned that becoming like a child meant regaining my innocence. When I read the words of Jesus, “become like a child”, it seemed more like a moral issue to me.
Now that my box has been ripped to shreds, I have started looking at the words of Jesus from another point-of-view. I think becoming like a child could also mean accessing the world without presumption or assumption. Becoming a child is not strictly about innocence but is also about a spirit of playfulness, exuberance and adventure. It’s about a raw desire to experience anything new through play. This in contrast to the adult need to debate and reason points of belief and theology. For example, as adults we can sit and debate the attributes of an ocean wave, or in more child like fashion, we can go surfing. Becoming like a child, for me, has become more about going surfing, and enjoying the experience.
From this perspective, repent takes on new meaning. Repent would mean to let go of the adult framework which constantly wants to debate, reason and theorize, and trade that in for going “outside” to play. Repent means tear up your old box, let it go, and go experience the world God has made through the eyes of a child. Repent means to trade in the box of religion, man made systems or beliefs, structures and constructs of thought that trap us in mental loops; trade that box in for life, for freedom to experience play, to make mistakes, to allow God to flow through our lives in connection with the world around us.
The world doesn’t like out of the box thinking.
In the past those who challenged traditional systems of thought faced disgrace, often labelled as heretics or worse, traitors. Yet, it is the courage of such people who have forged hard sought freedoms for us in our day. I have just been reading about a Spanish doctor named Michael Servetus who was burned at the stake in 1553 for being an out of the box thinker. His sin was to write a book that declared God to be one, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit as incarnations of that one God. HIs aim was to be more inclusive of Jews and Muslims who have always held a strong view that God is one. His denial of what was then considered orthodox trinitarian doctrine, along with his disbelief in infant baptism, cost him his life. Slowly roasted alive, burned at the stake, he died with his book chained to his feet. The reformation hero, John Calvin, was the one who hotly debated his views and had him tried as a heretic. The world doesn’t like out of the box thinking.
Some of the most closed off countries in the world today are also the most brutal. Look for example at the extreme example of North Korea. How about the current peaceful protests taking place in Hong Kong which are met with the heavy hand of the Peoples Republic of China. We could also take movements, such as the radical Islamic groups, who are rising up with extreme brutality towards those who take a different view from their own fundamentalism. Thinking out of the box can get you killed in any number of situations in our world today. Which brings us to the issue of religion, which always seems to carry the baggage of conformity as a requirement. Do not think for yourself, do not ask questions, do not question authority, do not speak your own mind, mistrust yourself and put your life into other peoples hands.
Jesus came into that time and place in history and said, “No more!” – and he healed.
Jesus didn’t seem to follow the mindset of allowing religion to create a box for him. He actually stood courageously tall when it came to stepping out of the religious box of his day. I have come to believe that the miraculous healing’s of Jesus were not about “healing” at all. Neither were they about demonstrating his supernatural power, nor as an indication of his divine authority as the Son of God. I believe he healed to demonstrate out of the box living. He could have healed any day of the week but he specifically choose to heal on the Sabbath. A day that the religious box of Jesus’ day twisted into a day of conformity and control. A day, that over time had turned into a heavy weight around the necks of Jews. A day that was no longer a day of freedom but a day of slavery. Slavery to a box. Jesus came into that time and place in history and said, “No more!” – and he healed. In doing so, he was in essence sticking his neck courageously out to be chopped off.
Jesus was the classic out of the box thinker who turned the world of His day on it’s head. His out of the box thinking was met with a heavy hand. He was upsetting the fine balance of religion and politics, of power and control, of corruption and elitism. He was serving notice to every Jew of his time, and to all of us, that there was a new King and a new Kingdom. Repent – get out of your box, your entrapment, your slavery, your mind-set, and experience life. Experience freedom, experience a new Kingdom, a Kingdom that is “within” you, a Kingdom that will replace your small “box” with wide open LOVE.