The Worst Chicken Coop Ever Made

This weekend I set out to make the worst chicken coop ever made. The house we live in has a beautiful aviary. The aviary was one of the reasons we decided to get chickens.


The problem is that my chickens don’t like it. Every night they crawl into a little box inside the aviary that’s much too small for them. We figured out that the aviary is too big for them. It provides everything they need but they don’t feel safe in it because it’s got too much space. Thus the need for the worst chicken coup ever made.

I decided to build something that the chickens would perceive as a coop and put it inside the aviary. I wanted to spend as little time as possible and zero money on it (we are moving in less than a year). I gathered a bunch of termite infested wood that’s been sitting out in the backyard for at least 5 years. I cut the pieces in roughly the same size and attached them to one another with whatever screws and nails I had. I put a skin over it using water damaged cardboard. This thing provides zero protection from the elements. I think I could destroy it in 30 seconds flat with my bare hands.


This project caused me to reflect on my own history of faith. I was raised in a denomination that had varying amounts of legalism in it. The pressure to conform to a stricter set of external commands was different in different parts of the country (Indiana for some reason was known to be the most uptight). When LDS say that the pressure to live up to commands in Mormon life is too intense for some it makes me laugh because my up-brining was much stricter in many ways.

Alcohol and any amount of tobacco use were clearly signs a person was on their way to hell. We were not allowed to go to the movie theater under any circumstances (later an exception was made for Billy Graham films). Pre-marital sex was a path to the evils of dancing. When I saw “The Godmakers” as a kid, the most shocking thing to me was that the LDS church sponsored dances. . . in their own fellowship halls (the horror). I read in our church manual that we should not go to the circus. For some, using poker-style playing cards was a sin and I remember concerned conversations about shopping on Sunday. There were pictures of my mom in jeans that we had to make sure some members did not see. A pastor friend of ours lost the respect of his congregation when he pulled his belongings out of a moving truck while wearing a short sleeve shirt in July.

The denomination was formed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Technology and culture had surpassed what the New Testament had made clear what was appropriate and what was inappropriate in the life of a believer. So instead of teaching virtue, the church decided that it was safer to give people a clear set of dos and don’ts. Eventually the church’s own rules got passed up by technology. We thought it was funny that we couldn’t see a movie in the theater, but we could watch whatever we wanted on VHS. Not too long ago, the church lifted the prohibition on movie theaters. The first time my mom went to a movie she had anxiety attacks. When I had told her a couple of years earlier that I had seen Aladdin in the theater she thought that she had lost me to the world.

My college friends had to put up with my own legalistic tendencies as I carried this proud tradition with me into adulthood. Eventually I began to mature as I read the book of Galatians all the way through in one sitting a couple of times (not to mention the teachings of Jesus). I figured out that all the rules in the world wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t first transform my heart and to encourage someone to seek holiness through outward conformity was naive as well as misguided.

It occurred to me that the chicken coop I was building was just like Christian legalism. We have all the protection we need under the blood of Christ. We have freedom as well. But for some of us it’s either too much or we can’t trust it. So we build barriers around our lives out of the crudest materials we can find. We then set these cheap imitations up as the Christian life. We have no scriptural support for our prohibitions but we defend them with dogmatic tenacity and judge those who fail to meet OUR standards. Hopefully in those moments God views us as nothing more threatening than silly little chickens. Sadly, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees doesn’t make me think so.


18 thoughts on “The Worst Chicken Coop Ever Made

  1. hmmm…reminds me a lot of a church-school I went to. The girls could not wear pants at all, sleeves below the elbow, skirts below the knee, could never cut a girl’s hair. The list goes on.

    And I never got that (and people still do this) why a person won’t go to the theatre to see a movie, but will rent it and watch it athome. What’s the difference? Other than one is in secret…oh, and it is a lot less expensive…

    This could be more of a personal thought…but it seems to me that legalism is a stumbling block.

  2. Some of those ultra-legalist rles have been taught in Mormonism as well. Plaing cards have been reviled against. Shopping on Sunday is still pretty much universally held to be a no-no.

    Anyway, now I’m curious as to what denomination you grew up in.

  3. Dando,

    I’m very sorry to hear about your legalistic upbringing. You are correct in that the experience of most Mormons does not even begin compare with your own experience. You have my symathy.

    Having said that, I think that American society has too few taboos, not too few. Witness the disentegration of social prohibitions against premarital sex and pregnancy. It is unfortunate that a small percentage of Americans like your mother live in overly rigid subcultures, but the greater harm comes from an overly permissive national culture.

    I believe in the Mormon Church in part because it seems to do a remarkably good job of gently reinforcing social prohibitions–it usually succeeds in shaping people without becoming ridiculously strict or legalistic.

    Again, you have my sympathy for your upbringing.

  4. Your description of your upbringing reminded me of an acquaintance I knew in high school. He came from a family that, for reasons apparently unrelated to religion, imposed significant restrictions on their three children. No pants for the girls, no jeans for the boy, no modern music, mom got to pick the haircuts, etc. That, combined with the boy’s myopia and extremeallergies, made him the single most awkward student in the school. Interestingly, when he went to college, he shaved his head, grew a mohawk, started a rock band, and lived the dangerous life for a year or two before he settled back down and became a history teacher. I guess he had 18 years of rebellion to get out of his system.

    The comparisons between the Mosaic Law and the doctrine Jesus of Nazareth taught are interesting. Most intriguing is that, under LDS doctrine, the same Law Giver delivered the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Much of the early Christian church seems to have involved a struggle to transition from the explicit codes of observances to the “higher law.” In simplified terms, the switch from “letter of the law” to “spirit of the law” seems to have been difficult for some.

    The balance between letter and spirit still seems to consume some people. Like Kullervo, I know some LDS families who don’t use face cards. I see them as harmless, unless they are involved in gambling, which I consider rather foolish, or at least bad math. On the other hand, I would probably fall on the side of the more strict observers of Sunday practices, primarily because I feel that those observances are in accordance with principles of the Sabbath. Every family or every person seems to strike that balance differently, and it is interesting to see how members of the same faith can reach varying conclusions from the same governing principles.

  5. “Most intriguing is that, under LDS doctrine, the same Law Giver delivered the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.”

    Under virtually all Christian doctrine as well. All Protestants and all Catholics for certain. Eastern Orthodox might be a matter of semantics.

    Pretty much all Christians except Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the same entity gave the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount.

  6. Great story. And I agree with the conclusion very much. Some Mormons are pretty legalistic in that way too (my family was moderately legalistic) but I think that Mormon doctrine is very legalistic. It is the real driving force behind the need for all of the ordinances. Salvation is ultimately seen in legalistic terms.

  7. Legalism is something that I think I could very easily fall prey to. Looking back in my final months as a practicing Mormon, I don’t like the person I was becoming. Not only was I becoming legalistic myself, but I was beginning to judge others who didn’t share my viewpoint. (I was, in fact, becoming a Pharisee, I guess.)

  8. Katyjane: Ironically, for me, as I see the Atonement in more legalistic terms the less legalistic I become in my actions. I have tended to reduce the legal requirements upon us to a bare minimum because the requirements for salvation are so minimally described in the scriptures. Mormon culture aside, the real requirements for salvation aren’t much more than in evangelicalism, IMO.

  9. Tim, I don’t think you should bullsh*t yourself. If you can take solace in this coop in some way reflecting on your own upgring and maturity of faith, so be it. But you can’t use it as an excuse. This is, indeed, the most God-awful chicken coop ever devised by man. It’s so bad, it might even be a sin. 🙂

  10. In this month’s First Presidency message, President Uchtdorf had some things to say that are directly pertinent:

    The Church, with all its organizational structure and programs, offers many important activities for its members aimed at helping families and individuals to serve God and each other. Sometimes, however, it can appear that these programs and activities are closer to the center of our heart and soul than the core doctrines and principles of the gospel. Procedures, programs, policies, and patterns of organization are helpful for our spiritual progress here on earth, but let’s not forget that they are subject to change.

    In contrast, the core of the gospel — the doctrine and the principles — will never change. Living according to the basic gospel principles will bring power, strength, and spiritual self-reliance into the lives of all Latter-day Saints.

    Faith is such a principle of power. …

    We have to be careful that the center of our testimony is not located in the social dimension of the Church community or the wonderful activities, programs, and organizations of our wards and stakes. All of these things are important and valuable to have — but they are not enough. …

    There’s lots of good stuff in that article.

  11. “If ye love me, keep my commandments”


    Mormon’s don’t follow rules for following rules’ sake, no matter how much your pastor tells you so.

  12. Eric, President Uchtdorf can say that stuff all he wants, but I think the reality on the ground will never reflect the ideal he is claiming, and I think it is inherent to the organizational and authoritarian nature of the Church.

  13. Pingback: Wisdom Found from Joseph Smith « Christianity

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