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.