Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Elephants, Hot Tubs, and the Danger of Outliving Usefulness

There's a connection, I promise.

First, elephants: it's been stated that the way one eats an elephant is one bite at a time. I've used that analogy in the past, here, and it came to mind again, today.

We've had a hot tub on our back deck for perhaps 25 years. When my Mom was living with us, she was impressed by how much good Peg said she'd gotten from the hot tub at her sister's time share on Hilton Head (no, I never get to go....), and decided she'd get a hot tub and have it installed for Peg. My parents were always really bats about Peg, from the first time I ever introduced them, and Peg really went out of her way to make a home for her, here with us, after Dad died in 1988.

Above is a picture I took after we'd ripped off some of the case that the tub was sitting in. And when I took the picture, a couple things occurred to me; more on that subject later.

We enjoyed the tub for many years, but then it began breaking down now and then. The last time we had it fixed, it actually cost more than the tub had originally cost. So, the last time it quit working, and in light of the fact that we were getting older ... generally considered a good thing ... plus, it was getting harder to get in and out of the thing, we decided we wouldn't fix it. And that was perhaps 7 or 8 years ago.

We finally mentioned to our younger son Brad, that we were thinking of getting rid of it. The real problem with that was that the tub was a bit over 8' square, 4' tall, and sat on a screened-in deck with the largest opening being the screen door. Brad said that wouldn't stop him, by golly; he'd just come over, saw it up, and cart it off to the dump for us. And that's precisely what he and Connie, his bride, did last Tuesday.

That's a picture taken after removal of several of the elephant-bite-sized chunks of ex-hot-tub.

After it was all removed, we also took down the benches I'd built around it. As the outside of the walls around the tub have vertical cedar siding on the outside, and I didn't feel like ripping that out to install more screens, we took the wood from the benches and nailed it up .. along with a couple new boards .. to make a new wall. That formed a neat little protected area, into which we could now put our deck table and some chairs, for those occasional days when the temperature is conducive to eating out on the deck.

Here's the result:

I observed several shall we say philosophical truths as they were deconstructing and replacing the hot tub installation.


  • When something's outlived its usefulness, it can be quite a mess to get rid of.
  • Getting rid of it is apt to be a bigger job than starting it in the first place.
  • Getting rid of stuff may involve more people than starting it ever did.
  • Using materials and space and time more wisely can leave you a lot better off than you were, before.

That made removing the tub, which had outlived its usefulness, worthwhile. And that got me to thinking about other things. Like church.

I wonder how many things we do, how many procedures we follow, how many programs we have, that have outlived their usefulness.

And I was also reminded of a talk given some years ago by Paul Burleson, at a meeting we both attended. He talked about confusing form with function. When your forearm itches, you scratch it. With your other hand, usually involving fingernails. But if your hand is otherwise occupied, say holding something, you may rub the itch with your wrist, or you may rub your arm against a table or something.   

He tied that in with saying grace at a meal. We all have customs ... holding hands, and bowing, etc, or whatever ... but the objective is to thank God. And my most memorable case of saying grace was the following morning, when Paul and I had breakfast and toasted King Jesus with raised glasses of orange juice. And loud proclamations of the goodness of our Savior. 

I'll never forget that.

Perhaps it is, that churches start "programs" to deal with perceived problems and then carry them on, long after the need has passed. They continue to follow the "forms" they've established, when the function is no longer needed.

I heard once of a position in the Government service in Great Britain; the position was guard at the cliffs of Dover. Their sole responsibility was to watch for, and warn of, the approach of Napoleon's Navy.

The position was abolished, as I recall, in the 1950's.

Let's hope that our churches are filled with people in positions that are productive, and that the operations they see to will be abolished when no longer needed. Even if it's painful.

Needless to say, so should the SBC and its various entities, where the need and the results are obscure enough that we are forced to rely on the trustees to do what's wise, even if it means working themselves out of a job.

I don't think we need fear Napoleon's Navy any more. 

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