Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Empty Box Faith (by Kurt)

When I was in college thirty years ago, I wrote a paper on the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), and, though I'd known Mormons before (In fact my great aunt was a Mormon), that was my first exposure to the history of the LDS faith, and it was the first time I'd read the Book of Mormon.

Now one of the first things you come to in the Book of Mormon, before you get to the main text is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. The Three Witnesses were early converts to Joseph Smith's church who claimed to have seen the gold plates on which the Book of Mormon was inscribed. (According to LDS belief, the Angel Moroni reappropriated the gold plates after Joseph Smith was done translating them into English.)

How did Joseph Smith manage to convince these guys that they'd seen gold plates inscribed with ancient hyroglypics, I wondered.

Well all these years later I have my answer. According to Fawn Brodie, author of No Man Knows My History, Joseph Smith got together with his three converts-- Matin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer-- and showed them what was to all appearances an empty box wooden box, and he told them the gold plates were in this empty box. When they said they didn't see anything, he told them it was due to insufficient faith that they didn't see the gold plates, and he ordered them out into the woods to pray. And pray and pray.

And after a couple hours of praying on their knees in the woods in the dark and the cold, they decided that they could see the gold plates after all, and there you have your Testimony of the Three Witnesses.

Now for those of us who don't believe in the founding myths of Joseph Smith's church I think the absurdity of the situation speaks for itself. That's not what faith is, right? Looking in an empty box and seeing something that's not there. That's not the kind of faith we have.

Well, I think sometimes that is the kind of faith we have. I think sometimes we have these empty boxes in our lives, and we want to believe all sorts of things are in those boxes. We tell ourselves "The box is real. So this thing that I imagine inside the box must be real too."

And I think we can see very clearly the empty boxes in other people's lives. I think way back when I first knew Pam, I had a strong feeling that her marriage was something of an empty box. And we had a mutual internet friend, an ex-gay blogger who's since disappeared, and he had this idea that by doing stereotypically male activities with heterosexual men (like remodeling houses), he was going to turn himself into a heterosexual. And boy, did that ever look like one big empty box to me.

So yeah. If the empty box is not part of my life, I can draw you a map and show you right where it is. The Rapture? Empty box. Homeopathy? Empty box. The housing bubble? Ouiji Boards? Pyramid power? Empty, empty, empty.

But where are the empty boxes in my own life? Those I don't see so clearly. But I have a nagging suspicion they're lurking around here somewhere.

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Jen said...

Now I'm wondering what my empty boxes are. I'm pretty sure I know a few of them and if I think really hard I might figure out a few more. If I think about it too much however it might all be an empty box.

grace said...

We are very much on the same wavelength right now as far as all this stuff goes. I'm still processing so many things that I've come to see as empty boxes now. I still have a difficult time imagning my marriage to Tdub as being an empty box. Maybe it was just a box with different things in it than what I thought were in it? I don't know.

Empty does fit with some aspects of it....but it was full in so many ways as well.

Hmmmm. Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm searching for a box that doesn't even exist...empty or full.

kurt_t said...

Well, it's a tricky metaphor, isn't it? Maybe if it was a box full of jellybeans and thumbtacks and a deck of cards and little booze bottles like they give you on the airplane and all sorts of useful and delightful things, but the main thing that you're looking for in the box is not there, then that would work better.

But I got to work with what I got, you know.

Like for a lot of us, I think our empty box is the way we look. We let our personal appearance take on such a huge importance. And you know, there really is something positive and rewarding about looking your best. But when we base our sense of self worth on our appearance, I would say that's when your appearance becomes an empty box. You believe that there's something in there that isn't really there.

Does that make sense?

grace said...

Yes Kurt. It makes complete and total sense.

It is just a tricky metaphor. I love boxes. I think that's why I have difficulty with it. I mean..literally...I..like...boxes, containers....things like that. I love them. I like collecting "stuff" in little boxes. Drew is the same way....it's weird.

So...I think of boxes and start drooling over all the little collections I can have in them and when I hear "empty box" my mind is like "WHA??? there's no such thing that could possibly exist!!"

I'm being way too literal in my interpretation when I try and apply your metaphor to my own life.

Basically, I think you're very on target with the metaphor, and even with the way you applied it to my marriage...even if I still have difficulty with it.


Daniel said...

Nice post bro. Found you through 'Growing Into Manhood'.

kurt_t said...

Wow. I feel like I'm turning into a blogebrity.

Curlz said...

Excellent Kurt!! Yes, yes and yes. I agree wholeheartedly that many of us (Christians) have these empty boxes that we call faith. My question to you: What is the difference between "trusting God" and "faith"? Aren't they one in the same? Then why wouldn't we stick it out in a marriage that is crappy (not referring to Pam's, but my own and countless others), believing (having faith), trusting that God will make a way. "God making a way" could mean many things: learning contentment, finding joy in God alone etc.- valuable insight, character and wisdom to place in that empty box?

kurt_t said...

Good question, Curlz. Yes, I suppose in a very general way, that's what faith is. But I don't know if that's what the New Testament tells us to do with our faith, just hang with the status quo and wait for things to work themselves out. I think that's what was (and is) so radical about Jesus' message. He had a vision of this very different kind of world that we should all be living in, with no lying, no exploitation, no greed, no brutality. And he wanted people to have faith that that world could really exist.

So yeah, I think Jesus wanted us to trust God, but I think he wanted us to shake things up. A lot.

Robert said...

Good metaphor Kurt! With all the construction work I seem to find myself doing these days, it's a wonder I don't turn into a straight contractor -- or one of the guys from the Village People.

grace said...

Wow. What a difference 8 years can make. I completely see what you mean about our marriage now. Makes complete and perfect sense. I was still too close to it back then to view it that way. Thanks for being patient with me. :)