the weblog of Alan Knox

Donkeys sleeping in the bathtub

Posted by on May 14, 2009 in community, definition, discipleship, fellowship | 7 comments

According to a commercial on the radio, there is a law in Arizona that makes it illegal to allow a donkey to sleep in your bathtub.

Also, apparently, in Minnesota, there is a law that makes it illegal to cross the Minnesota state line with a duck on your head.

While these laws seem funny and even ridiculous to us, there was probably a good reason for passing the laws in the first place. If we traced the history of these laws, we would probably understand why the laws are on the book. However, while the history may clear things up for us, history will not make the laws make sense today.

Why? Well, most people don’t own donkeys today, much less allow them to sleep in their bathtubs. And, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with a duck on their head.

But, of course, once a law is on the books, it is difficult to remove it.

The same thing happens with our traditions and practices and rules in the church. For very good reasons, the church begins doing things and begins doing them in certain ways. Eventually, the reasons disappear, but the practices continue.

Eventually, if we’re not careful, those practices become more important to us than who we are as the family of God in Christ. The way we do things becomes more important than the reason we started doing them in the first place. We become defined by our methods instead of being defined by our relationship with God and with one another.

I think we see this today in many aspects of our lives together as the church. We don’t know why we do the things we do or why we act the way we act or why we’re structured the way we’re structured, but someone must have had a good reason to start doing it this way, and we’re familiar and comfortable with these things, so we just let them continue.

But, the silly laws I mentioned at the beginning of this post – laws against donkeys sleeping in bathtubs and wearing a duck on your head – generally don’t affect people today. For many people, their lives will not be changed if the laws remain or are repealed.

But, it is completely different for the church. The things that we do day after day, week after week, year after year, simply because that’s the ways it’s been done, or the ways we’ve been taught, or the ways that have worked before, or even the ways that seem rational and logical… these things affect us as followers of Jesus Christ. They affect our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

The things that we do or don’t do, the way that we’re structured or not structured, the way that we speak or don’t speak, all of these things work to either build us up toward maturity in Christ, or they hinder our development in Christ.

Laws against donkeys sleeping in the bathtub seem funny and ridiculous to us. But, I wonder if the way we treat one another as the church, the way we set up hierarchies among believers, the way we abandon our responsibilities toward one another and pay others to carry out our responsibilities… I wonder if these things seem funny to God.


7 Comments

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  1. 5-14-2009

    Actually people walking around with ducks on their heads in common in the north. I think it has something to do with our long winters and the ducks really hate it.

    Your point is well taken. We often cherish our relationship with an institution more than with each other and our traditions take on a life of their own to the point that we often cannot distinguish between truth and tradition.

  2. 5-14-2009

    Okay, so here’s the point we keep getting thrown back at us…

    You said, “the church begins doing things and begins doing them in certain ways. Eventually, the reasons disappear, but the practices continue.”

    and of course, once people are accustomed to doing things a certain way, they become attached to them, those practices eventually become a part of people’s identities. At which point, to point out that certain practices might actually be hindering people in their relationship with God, and with the rest of the world, is seen as being tantamount to condemning someone else’s culture.

    Those practices that people cling to, are protected under the guise of “preference”, and it is labeled as judgemental and self-righteous to suggest that one’s “preferences” are better than someone else’s…

    So is it all just a matter of preference?

    If millions of people “prefer” to impose hierarchies over the Church, even though the scriptures may not teach it at all, is that defendable simply because that’s how many people “prefer” to worship God?

    Curious about your thoughts Alan…

  3. 5-14-2009

    Good point. There are so many things in modern churches that we simply do because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

    I don’t think it’s absolutely wrong to see needs in local congregations and come up with means to creatively take care of those needs, but when our ‘temporary’ solutions become permanent fixtures in the minds of Christians — we got trouble.

    BTW, in KY it’s illegal to give another person a wedgie.

  4. 5-14-2009

    Arthur,

    Yes, we should always be willing to question and change anything that we do – even something that seems successful.

    Daniel (Like a Mustard Seed),

    There are some things that are simple matters of preference. But, if something we are doing hinders our life together as God’s family (especially what we see in Scripture), then we should change what we’re doing.

    Wade,

    You said, “but when our ‘temporary’ solutions become permanent fixtures in the minds of Christians — we got trouble.” Yes, that’s usually what happens. And, often, those “solutions” become ends in themselves, which is also dangerous and unhealthy because they replace our real purposes as the church.

    -Alan

  5. 5-10-2012

    Arthur. I’m in the north too. We use cats over our way.

  6. 5-10-2012

    Quite simply, God’s word stands, be it spoken or what we read in Scripture. Tradition may have it’s time and place, but God has the first and the final word. This dispels doctrines, ideals, idioms, opinions, streams of thought, fads, schemes, big ideas and, yes, traditions.

    Fortunately, here in NJ, we are allowed to keep our donkeys in the tub (as of there are that many people in Jersey who actually have a donkey), but have found that wearing a duck on your head can add some extra hairdressing which is most unsavory.

    Mr. Gamble, the cat idea is brilliant – but they do have to be asleep. Awake cats can be, well, painful.

    All of my highly intelligent observation aside – as long as your tradition exalts Jesus, encourages others and does not cause anyone to stumble…go ahead and enjoy your tradition. However, consider your tradition dead in light of the Lord’s will and His word.

  7. 5-11-2012

    Greg,

    Cats on your head? Cats here would never allow that.

    John,

    Right. As Jesus said, problems come in when our traditions begin to trump the commands and will of God.

    -Alan