What JJ Abrams reminded me about the beauty of God (A.K.A., how the church should be like a mystery box).

28 May


[Travels to Boston this week have thankfully yielded housing; word still out on employment… travelling also meant no early-week blog, hence the Saturday post.

In case you were wondering.]

typical airplane passengers

(via EmilyDawn2)

I spent most of this week with my lovely wife/spouse/partner in crime, Amy. Wonderful.

Much of that time being, in an airplane. Less wonderful.

Towards the end of our final flight on Tuesday, with a few spare minutes left to kill before the limitless thrill of landing and taxiing ensued… I picked up the on-flight magazine and read an article. Well, I read a paragraph, at least.

Couldn’t tell you what the article was about, but that paragraph was about lauded TV producer JJ Abrams, of Lost and Alias fame, and the “mystery box” he kept in his office. Curious, the next morning while sitting in a Massachusetts Starbucks [always an admitted source of comfort in a new location; I can always rest assured that all Starbucks everywhere are the exact same.] I looked up the story— and as it turns out, the airplane magazine ripped the illustration off a TED presentation Abrams did a few years ago. 

(See his thoughts, my thoughts, and some other words formed into sentences, after the jump.)

Apparently, this “mystery box” is a value box of gag gifts that Abrams procured from a magic store while he was growing up…that he never opened. He later realized that the reason he never opened the box was that he was far more captivated far more by the limitless possibilities of the closed box than, in all likelihood, were the disappointing contents inside. To him, the closed box represented “possibility;” it represented “hope.” His inherent understanding that mystery is the catalyst for the imagination, far more so than knowledge, is what has driven his career as a producer of some immensely popular and captivating television series.

[You can click the above link to check it out yourself; start at 3:39 to get the whole “mystery box” story]

To me, these words (imagination, possibility, hope) are intensely religious words. To me, these are central components to what we typically call “faith.” The way I understand Christian history, followers of Jesus have long understood these words as descriptive of their faith-expression… but in the last 200 years, and increasingly more so, these words have been understood as the opposite of faith.

Faith has become about apprehending truth. Faith has become precisely ABOUT knowledge, of the recitation of proper doctrine that may or may not result in actual concrete behaviors. And as Abrams and our favorite television programs remind us, mystery is what compels the imagination far more than knowledge, and imagination is what creates in us the sense of potential, and of hope.

Books about “Bible mysteries” are all about cracking said mystery. Mystery is something we SOLVE, not something we embrace.

And what could be more inherently “mysterious,” i.e., rife with potential, than God?

A drama between God and humanity has unfolded, having been recorded in the pages of scripture…. and that drama continues to play itself out!

Never having gotten into the show LOST myself [I’m waiting to watch it all at once until Amy and I start watching a series together again; I did watch Alias for a couple seasons, though, and I hear things, so I have a sense of the Abrahamian flair] I do remember that period of time after the series finale, where numerous Facebook statuses were emblazoned with the caption “What am I going to do with my Wednesday nights, now?” or “Now what am I going to be obsessing about with my friends all week?” [Okay, these aren’t quotes, but you get the sentiment. Trouble is, I’m so obsessed with protecting myself from KNOWING anything about the ending, because I want to preserve the mystery!…. that I don’t want to Google actual quotes about people’s real reactions to the end in fear that they might tell me something I shouldn’t know! But I remember the feelings people expressed quite clearly.] 

I also remember people hosting parties and spending all week between episodes during seasons anticipating the following week’s episode.

Can you imagine if Christians felt that way when Sunday worship was over?

Whenever we gathered together, and then scattered?

Whenever we finished serving together?

That there would be a latent sense of anticipation about ‘”what happens next”?

Because our time together in worship, storytelling, fellowship, and service, instead of simply giving us ANSWERS….. were actually catalysts for our communal imaginations? That the church was a community of possibility and hope?

Sometimes anticipation isn’t good, it’s true.


Two brief thoughts about this:

-Church should be the community where stories are told—from the scriptures, from the stories of the lives of Christians, from individuals trying to live according to this story today— stories that include the highs, lows, and everything in-between. And in doing so, there should be the ongoing sense that the stories are all part of one grand story…. that is not completed, that is ongoing.

-Churches cannot be communities of possibility, unless they actually live a story together. If they preach about hope and then never do “hopeful” things together (e.g., serve the homeless together, advocating for the poor together, protecting women and children and giving them shelter, reaching out to gang members, prostitutes, runaways, and loving them unconditionally, etc. etc. etc.) then the message becomes moot. The story has to have a “next week’s episode.” There has to be something to anticipate.

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in church, faith


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