Last week, I shared with you what I learned about Richard Rohr’s three boxes from more of a high level. They really resonate with me because I definitely can chart my own personal trajectory through them.
As a dad to two girls under two years old, I’m constantly thinking about how I want them to be raised in the faith. We’ll revisit this toward the end of the post, so just want to say for now that while there are some ways I hope they have a similar experience to me, there are others that I hope to change for their benefit.
Early Life and the First Box
My parents having always been strong in the faith themselves, I started in a traditional nondenominational church from Day 1. My parents definitely held a “never miss a Sunday” mentality, even if you were sick. We were there Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings during the school year programming.
I hatedddd this. (Yes, “hated” with lots of d’s.) Not because of the faith itself, but I found it to be a major burden on my introverted self. I didn’t make friends well, so being tossed in the “you have to be social” cage time after time wore on quickly.
(And let’s be honest: youth programs are 100% geared toward extroverted audiences.)
But being nerdy and really into fantasy / fiction, I loved the Bible stories. I loved the cosmic imagery in Genesis 1, Elijah being taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot, and I even had a weird obsession with the imagery of Revelation for a long time. Thank the Left Behind: The Kids series for that.
(Yes, there was a kids series. No, it was not actually about kids. It was more about teens and young adults. Definitely a poor name choice by the authors, and I guess I’m glad now I didn’t have to read about 8 year olds dying in apocalyptic wars.)
Even from a really young age, I read my Beginner’s Bible and Early Reader’s Bible from cover to cover about a billion times each. So though I could have cared less about church and church activities, I liked this God guy, so much so that I decided I wanted to become a pastor.
Which takes us to the next leg in my journey!
Christian University and Box 2
Ah yes, the undergrad days. Wanting to share my beloved bible stories of my youth with others, I decided to attend a small Christian university with the major of Preaching. I walked in knowing all the answers, of course, so this would merely be an affirmation of my beliefs and moving on, right?
I found out pretty quickly that I knew next to nothing about the Bible. Left Behind totally led me astray about the book of Revelation, and who could have guessed The Beginner’s Bible would have toned down some of the more adult themed stories?
Let me step back for a second to say that the church that I grew up in was very “status quo” in the sense that they were pretty middle of the road on theological matters. They shared the regular stuff about loving your neighbor, but it wasn’t until recent years (after I left due to moving towns) that they started to talk about weightier issues like homosexuality or money or politics.
So yeah, college really rocked my world. Add in typical college student woes like not knowing what to do with all this freedom of living outside of home, being super concerned about making friends and finding a spouse, and coping with my sister’s passing during my freshman year and… yeah, undergrad was rough.
I quickly changed majors from Preaching to Business Administration, which explains why I work a normal job today, but before moving on, I want to highlight something else about these undergrad years and my peers at the Christian university. Clearly, it was a difficult time for them, too, because most of them went one of two ways: staying in the first box and an unfortunate hard turn into the second box. Yes, there are many that became so disillusioned with the church that they have nothing to do with it anymore. In fact, there are a handful that are now into occult practices.
To me, that’s a testament about how we as the church do a pretty poor job at third box thinking, and while I could write many other posts about this, I’ll stop this mini rant with this thought: Christian churches, communities, and universities are ill equipped to help people who start slipping from Box 1 into Box 2 thinking.
Okay, let’s get back to my journey into Box 3.
A Slow Ascent Into Box 3
I genuinely don’t remember what caused it, but at some point toward the end of my undergraduate journey, I embraced the notion that I’m a moron about the faith and would pursue truth even if it pained me to do so.
Fortunately, that was about the same time when I started attending classes with my business professor, Eric Teoro. While we definitely covered business-level topics, Eric introduced me to a new world of thinking that culminated in a week long trip to Chicago where we purposefully spent time enjoying the beauty of God‘s creation. From eating good meals to exploring art museums to sitting in Orthodox services, my eyes were opened to the beauty of creation in all things, and I have never been the same since.
Don’t get me wrong, though, this doesn’t mean I was done with my faith crisis yet. While I certainly didn’t turn from the faith, it definitely went on the back burner for a few years while I focused on building a blossoming career in the business world. I still read books here or there, but my job definitely held priority for years.
Until recently. I talk more at length about this in another post, but in a nutshell, I discovered that my job wasn’t bringing me fulfillment like my faith did. This isn’t to say at all I don’t care about my job, but over the last few months, I brought my faith back from the back burner and now can’t get enough of learning new things through a third box lens.
That’s why this blog now exists.
What This Means for My Girlies (And Maybe Even You)
Okay, so let’s get back to parenting. And if you think this isn’t for you, stick around because it stretches beyond parenting. It’s more of this idea of, how do you help somebody move into third box thinking? It might even be for yourself.
Richard Rohr attests to this thought that you can’t just move into third box thinking on day 1 of your faith. There may be a handful of exceptions, but this will be extremely abnormal.
That said, I agree with his thoughts that it’s probably best to start in that first box. Getting the basics of theology down, learning about those bible stories, and more helps to establish a container for a person to unpack and repack later into the third box.
“But what if I hear something crazy being taught?” you’re probably asking yourself. It’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer there. In some extreme cases, you may have to intervene and say something. I’d, however, leave a lot be. Like if my girls hear about infant baptism, I’m not going to immediately pounce and say, “No, that’s not right!” For two reasons:
1. Who knows if you have it right? (And actually, I listened to a very compelling podcast just this week on the topic of infant baptism. While I’m definitely not signed on to the idea, it gave me new thoughts I’d never considered before.)
2. Sometimes, it’s better to learn the wrong things for yourself. If you’re constantly having the answers barked at you, you can become a lemming pretty quickly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avail yourself for conversation if the person asks. If my girls want to talk about it, let’s talk about it. (Although I’m assuming that won’t happen for a long time since they’re far more concerned with Care Bears right now.)
So my goals for my girls are pretty simple: raise them in a traditional church setting to establish that First Box, instill in them an inquisitive mind to ask the hard questions themselves toward Third Box thinking, and support them in times when they might be slipping into Second Box thinking. It’s an easy thing in principle, but I know it’s going to be much more difficult in practice.
Okay, let’s go ahead and wrap up this post. I hope you found some good tidbits in here! If you are curious about anything I share in here, drop a comment on this post and I’d be glad to get back to you with some sort of an answer!