Beyond boxes

Life in the postmodern shift

January 11, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 1
Troy Watson | Columnist
Photo by Jesse Orrico for Unsplash

Most of you have heard, and likely agree with, this statement: “You can’t put God in a box.”

Of course, this means you can’t be put in a box either, for you are made in the image of God. If God doesn’t fit in a box, neither do you. Yet we often put ourselves in boxes. We limit ourselves and confine our identities.

Jesus didn’t live like this. He defied category. He was confusing and unpredictable. People couldn’t pigeonhole him. They tried to put labels on him, both positive and negative, but Jesus always proved to be beyond their boxes. 

Was he too rebellious or too traditional? Was he recklessly irreverent or the godliest man in Israel? Was he too liberal or too conservative? Was he human or divine? 

Was he more in line with the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, priests, revolutionaries, prophets, drunkards or gluttons?

It was hard to tell. It depended on who you asked.

Jesus was a paradoxical puzzle who consistently surprised people. The same should be true of us, if we are growing in Christ-likeness. 

In my experience, too many Christians are grossly predictable caricatures of their brand. When I meet a charismatic, prophetically-oriented Christian, for example, they are usually carbon copies of every other charismatic, prophetically-oriented Christian I’ve met. 

The same applies to Trump-supporting Christians, prosperity gospel Christians, social justice Christians and so on. It seems if you know one, you know them all.

It’s natural to seek out people with common values and beliefs, and to be shaped and influenced by them. We are social animals, after all. 

Yet we are also individuals with unique backgrounds, personalities, life experiences and perspectives. We have unique gifts, callings and relationships with God. 

It’s concerning when everyone looks, talks, thinks, worships, believes, dresses, acts and votes exactly like all the other people in their camp. 

It makes me wonder: Are they letting their group do their thinking for them? Are they being honest about their own instincts, experiences, questions and insights? Are they not curious why millions of people see issues, current events and scripture passages in a completely different way than their group?

I appreciate that there is safety in numbers. Joining a herd offers security, comfort and simplicity. Yet Jesus, the one we follow, had nowhere to lay his head, both literally and categorically speaking. There was no camp, group, denomination, political party or tribe on earth where Jesus was completely at home. He was homeless on many levels. 

As followers of Christ, we need community, but Christian community is intended to transcend groupthink and offer unity to opposing tribes. 

I realize it can be lonely to reject the herd mentality. It’s far easier to go with the flow of one’s group. 

Why risk offending, contradicting or alienating yourself from the herd by having thoughts, beliefs, convictions, values and questions that don’t fit neatly into their collective boxes? It’s not a pleasant feeling when you see the look in the eyes of people in your group that says, “Wait, I thought you were one of us.”

Being ideologically homeless might be the harder path, but it’s the journey we must take to follow Jesus and pursue truth and justice. It will make us less predictable, like Jesus, because we won’t always “toe the party line.” 

You will find yourself agreeing with your opponents and enemies occasionally. If not, you’ve likely succumbed to groupthink. You’ve become part of an echo chamber. 

If you never admit your sub-community or ideological group might be wrong, or you refuse to acknowledge when the opposing side makes a good point, you’re probably living in a box.

The most interesting and inspiring people I’ve met are people who surprise me; people who don’t completely fit into a box.

They’re people like Jesus, who defy categorization. They’re people who share thoughts and ideas that go against the grain of the parroting refrains of the religious, social or political camp I’d assumed they were affiliated with. 

These people are rare and valuable gems who tend to listen, study multiple perspectives, read beyond headlines and reflect, before speaking or posting things on social media. They change their minds (repent). They are Christ-like in their unpredictable and uncategorical nature. 

When I see these brave souls daring to journey beyond the boring boxes, I feel hope and gratitude.

Troy Watson is a pastor at Avon Church in Stratford, Ontario, and can be reached at

Read more Life in the Postmodern Shift columns:
The rally call
Opened eyes
The narcissism epidemic

Photo by Jesse Orrico for Unsplash

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