A tale of two jellyfish

A year apart

The summer has now officially finished. But before it did, we went to the beach, and Marta (6) buried a jellyfish.

To understand the enormity of this simple act, it is necessary to take you back for a few moments to the previous summer.

As usual, we had gone to Spain for the kids to spend some time with their cousins. And, frankly, for us to spend some time with an orb of fire in the sky the like of which is seldom seen in these parts. You will recall, of course, that we live in the land of song, sheep and perennial precipitation known to outsiders as “Wales.”

Our Spanish summers are always a fantastic few weeks to get away from things, and an inordinate proportion of our time is spent splashing in the sea. We almost always come back home before the late-summer blooming of jellyfish in the local area.

I say “almost” because last year the jellyfish arrived early.

It was a glorious morning and, as usual, we had gone to play in the sea before it got too hot. Suddenly we heard Marta cry out. We rushed over to find red welts on her arm, and her sobbing inconsolably. Between her sobs she managed to say “I’ve been stung by some seaweed!”

Moon jellyfish [Red Sea, Egypt]A few feet away, we saw a jellyfish bobbing gently.

“That looks painful!” we agreed. “You’ve been stung by a jellyfish.”

“No!” she she screamed. “It was seaweed! Jellyfish don’t sting me! They’re my friends!” and she tried to struggle over to give the jellyfish a hug. With some effort, we escorted her back to the safety of the sand.

When the pain had subsided, we tried to explain again. But the more we did, the angrier she became. “Jellyfish are beautiful! Jellyfish are my friends! Jellyfish would never sting me!”

My jellyfish

I reflected that God’s Toddlers are like Marta, even as grown-ups. Patterns of behaviour which make us comfortable, with which we are familiar, which we find attractive can be hurting us, but we refuse to believe it.

Surely my obsession with Twitter cannot hurt me? Twitter is my friend! But perhaps sometimes it goes further than is good for me…

Surely a little benign chit-chat can’t hurt anyone? Communication is our friend! But sometimes we don’t spot the poison when banter becomes gossip…

And a thousand patterns we feel don’t harm us because they are our friend. But, if we cared to simply look, the red welts are there for all to see…

IMG-20170828-WA0000Burial at sea

When Marta found another jellyfish this year, washed up on the sand, she was a year older and a year wiser. She looked thoughtfully at it for a minute. Then slowly and carefully, she picked up her spade and buried it.

It would be no bad thing for me to start recognising my own jellyfish and, slowly and carefully, start to bury them.

© Text 2017 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Moon Jellyfish photo By Alexander Vasenin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post was brought to you by Romans 6:6-7

For the things I cannot do, thank you

Ely Soul

20151113_165217-1Homily for Trinity 10, Luke 12: 13-21

‘When a person stores up treasures for themselves instead of making themselves rich in God’s sight’  Jesus

So I was at this training day and the question we were asked was,

‘what does a person need to be happy?’

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Hare and tortoise


Forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been nine months since God’s Toddler’s last confession.

I have lacked sufficient inspiration to write. For much of that time I have been busy, and for much of that time I have felt weary. The challenges of parenting and getting up to speed with a new job have left me with little time or energy to think about much else. Vague ideas in my head have failed to find their way to my blog. Vague whispers to my God have failed to add up to anything.

Now, in the winter, as days of ice jostle for space with the endless weeks of miserable wet greyness to mirror my own weariness, the time seems oddly ripe for me to write about the blazing heat of Spanish summer.


But before I go there, I would like to say a few words about the unfairness of stereotypes. They are almost without fail harmful and inaccurate. For example, vast swathes of the population of Scotland demonstrably do not go to work in a kilt. There are folk in Wales who get no closer to a sheep than their wool-blend suit. There are those in Surrey who have never converted a barn, and even unconfirmed rumours of people in Yorkshire who have still not succumbed to the overwhelming desire to buy a whippet.

On the other hand, it must be recognised that some stereotypes have a smattering of truth about them. The British, for example, really do say “sorry” for pretty much everything, even when the other person is in the wrong; I have yet to hear the words “Sorry but your car appears to be parked on my foot.” used in anger, but it can only be a matter of time.

And, in my not insignificant experience, the stereotype that says that the Spanish are a rather fiery bunch has them bang to rights. A simple family discussion over what to have for dinner is conducted with a level of political wrangling that puts House of Cards in the shade. All parties speak loudly. And simultaneously. Allegiances form and dissipate with the fluidity of the goo in a lava-lamp. Support for one’s own viewpoint is sought from erstwhile adversaries. The casual observer (if not drawn in to support a belligerant great-aunt’s demands that calamares be prepared) might be forgiven for mistaking the discussion for the oeverture of World War 3.

But underneath it all is a balletic precision of mathematical elegance in which unexpected melodies emerge from the discordant chaos as the melee dances with the inexorable fervour of the wavelets atop a mighty ocean swell towards the inevitable conclusion that, for example, paella might be nice as long as uncle Antonio brings over a couple of bottles of that wine he’s been hoarding to himself.

I confess that, despite my ingrained Britishness, after twelve years married to a Spaniard, I cannot escape the thrall of this Spanish fieriness when we are over there. Eventually I find myself irresistibly drawn in. Ah well, when in Rome…



Thus it was that one morning of our summer holiday in Spain, as the family headed out of the house where we were staying towards the beach, I threw myself wholeheartedly and joyfully into the lively family discussion about who had left what, where in the house and when someone else had said that they would bring it and who wouldn’t have needed to do it if someone hadn’t been fiddling with the garden hose.

We started out walking towards the beach quite briskly and managed to keep it up for perhaps ten seconds before, amid wild gesticulations, I was sent back towards the house for a bucket. I may have made pointed remarks about Dominic (8) taking responsibility for his own crab-catching equipment. It is possible that he, in turn, vigorously observed the role that Oliver (10) played in bothering him so much as we left that he couldn’t be expected to remember everything. Then it turned out that Mónica had the keys so I strode back towards the beach as she marched house-wards…and so on in a complex social dance, bickering all the while.


The only person who didn’t join in the fun was Elías (6). He had left the house quietly and thoughtfully. He had walked slowly and calmly. He didn’t get involved in the discussions or the messing about or the noise. He just plodded.

Five minutes later, we had managed to get a full fifteen feet from the front door. All, that is, apart from Elías. We looked down the road and Elías was waiting patiently for the rest of us by the beach. As we had rushed, he had plodded. And as we had made no progress, he had arrived at his destination.


My thoughts turned at first to the hare and the tortoise. Simply by calmly keeping on, Elías had reached the goal while the rest of us where doing first-rate impressions of headless chickens on the start-line.

Then I remembered a tweet I had seen earlier that morning.

This seemed to go so much deeper than the usual take on the hare and the tortoise. Instead of the slow plod of the tortoise, the slow trickle of the stream. Instead of the unattainable speed of the hare, the unattainable vastness of life. And all the while, the trickle of prayer wearing down the landscape.

When I am weary; when vague whispers to my God fail to add up to anything, perhaps they add up too more than I see. Perhaps the trickle of those faint whispers might be a stream that slowly wears away stones and banks. Perhaps like the slow patient plod of Elías, they might be what’s needed when the fiery chaos of life seems to take me around in circles. Perhaps the insignificant susurrus of my inadequate prayers might carve out new landscapes yet to be seen.

© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

© Hare photo Jeffrey Kerby

© Tortoise photo Charles J Sharp

Today’s post was brought to you by Luke 18:1-8 and Romans 8:26-27

Blue-sand fairy-dust


The magical writings of J. M. Barrie and his creation of Peter Pan and Captain Hook and all the other heroes and villains of Neverland have sparked events that even the glittering imagination of the author would never have dreamed…

…from the millions of children given the hitherto all but non-existent name “Wendy”, to the Disney franchises, to Robin Williams’ portrayal of Peter Banning to an intriguing insight into blue sand in our house last week…

…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Fairies

One of the ever-popular characters from the story of Peter Pan is his airborne companion Tinker Bell. Indeed, Tinker Bell is so popular that she now has a series of films in her own right.

This plucky little fairy is drawn into countless adventures, with films about lost treasures and great fairy rescues. We’ve recently added “Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy” to our collection.

The films are all set in Pixie Hollow, which is full of fairies whose lives seem to revolve around fairy-dust.

The Sand

Now if you will forgive me a short digression into our last Tesco visit, Mónica bravely took Elías (6) along for the ride. And since he asked very nicely whether they could buy a sack of blue play-sand he found, and he had behaved so very well, the sand was bought.

The sand was transported home with the utmost reverence. You don’t see blue sand every day, after all.

With due ceremony, it was decanted into the sand-table. Clear boundaries were established. The sand was not to be removed from the sand table. Nothing was to be added to the sand. It was to be kept pure, and there would be no more sand purchased in the event of non-adherence to the rules.

The children nodded sagely. These were wise rules. They would be kept without question.

You can imagine how long that lasted.



We realised what was going on when we saw Marta (3) at the top of the climbing frame with her right hand held triumphantly aloft, and a trickle of fine blue powder streaming from between her fingers. “Fairy dust!” she proclaimed to anyone who would listen.

I rushed out to bring order, but I was too late. Because for fairy dust to be of any use, you need to sprinkle it on yourself. Marta was well and truly sprinkled, and the tiny blue particles visible in her hair portended a good long session with multiple applications of shampoo and showering.

“But what’s wrong?” she asked innocently. “I put fairy dust on Elías and Dominic with no problems.”

Of course she had. Because with small children you should always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The removal of blue sand from the hair of three children was as tedious as expected. But anyone who has dealt with normal sand will know that this was only the beginning. Sand somehow works its way everywhere. It works its way into pockets. It works its way into beds. It works its way into carpets. It mysteriously works its way into food. It works its way into socks that weren’t even being worn that day.

The added fascination of blue sand is that you can actually see it, so we spent a very instructive few days spying tiny blue specks in all kinds of unlikely places. If you are ever anticipating being very very bored for four days straight, I promise that this pastime has plenty to keep you occupied.


bread-522278_1280The bible uses some slightly arcane analogies sometimes. Of course, they were fine for your average Josephus two thousand years ago, but there are some that most of us in the digital age don’t instantly connect with.

Yeast is one of those analogies. We vaguely know that it makes bread. Or beer. Or maybe both. But for all but the most dedicated of home-bakers and brewers, it resolutely fails to feature in our “Top thousand things to keep in the kitchen.”

The analogy is used in the bible because once you work yeast into dough, it affects every bit of it. So it might make sense to think of blue-sand fairy-dust instead.

The blue-sand fairy-dust of the Pharisees

Take, as an example, Jesus’ warning to his followers about “The yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

He issues his warning in response to the fact that, after all the wonders Jesus had done, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had shown up demanding he perform for them on their own terms. The hallmarks of their approach were cynicism and a desire for control. Jesus was having none of their attitude.

Their cynicism was like blue sand. God’s kingdom is a crazy, risky and breath-taking place, but it doesn’t take much of us thinking “I’m not being cynical, I’m just being realistic…” before we start finding cynicism cropping up like blue sand. It quickly gets into our decision making and our thought-processes. It gets into areas we’d never have dreamed it could get into and clogs up God’s dazzling plans for us.

The blue-sand fairy-dust of the kingdom of heaven

beach-holiday-vacation-sandBut the flip-side is that Jesus also tells his followers that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast.

That means that when we start thinking and behaving in the backwards topsy-turvy impossible lifestyle that Jesus taught and lived…when we start doing things as though “blessed are the merciful” beats “sensible are the cynical”…when we start acting like “blessed are the meek” beats “sensible are those who demand to be in control”…

…it takes just that. The tiniest start. The lightest sprinkling of the blue-sand fairy-dust of God’s kingdom before we start finding Jesus’ style beginning to permeate all around us.

We’ll see it in the most unconnected of ways, working its way like blue sand into our metaphorical sock-drawer and adding an impossible glint of colour to everything around.

© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post was brought to you by Matthew 16:1-12 and Matthew 13:33

The Brother Who Didn’t Like Soup

The charge, the judgement and the verdict

Marta (3) stood in the middle of the kitchen looking reflective. She was clearly putting together some complex thought. We waited while she assembled the strands of internal narrative and drew her conclusions. She sighed, and then delivered judgement.

“Mummy,” she announced. “I don’t like Oliver any more.”

We put on our serious expressions. Siblings squabble. This proclamation against her ten-year-old brother, therefore, did not seem too distressing. But we try to hear out their concerns and suggest ways of overcoming what, to a three-year-old can seem insurmountable relationship breakdowns. After all, big brothers can be overbearing. They can get angry when little sisters play with their stuff. They can be bossy. Books can be written – indeed they have been – on the reasons a little sister might not like her brother.

Nonetheless, we weren’t aware of any particular disputes between Marta and Oliver at that point in time, so we asked what had happened. Marta lowered her eyes and shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. She seemed uneasy with what she needed to say. Finally, in hushed tones, she whispered the damning charge against her brother.

“He didn’t like the soup you made.”

Favourite foods

Marta’s accusation was, in point of fact, entirely true. Mónica had made soup the previous day. The soup in question hadn’t really been up Oliver’s street, and he had said as much. Oliver had been expected to eat his soup graciously and without complaint in a civilised manner regardless. Mónica had taken this in all her stride and, if we’re honest, completely forgotten about it by the next day. She’s very grown up like that.

But Marta couldn’t forget this slight against her mother. The depth of the betrayal cut too deep. She no longer found herself able to like her treacherous and degenerate big brother, and had come to the point that she needed to share this with us.

Of course, we did what any parent would do. We supressed the desire to laugh and tried not to let Marta see our amusement. More importantly, we assured her that what mattered about the soup was that she, Marta, had loved it. Mummy loves Marta loving her soup. Oliver enjoys other things that Mummy cooks, and Mummy loves Oliver enjoying her other cooking.

And we know that both Marta and Oliver love Mummy, whether they like particular dishes or not.

Marta was surprised, but accepted our baffling verdict without question.

Toddler tastes

God’s Toddlers have different tastes too. Some of us don’t like soup. Some of us don’t like liturgy. Some of us don’t like the song “10,000 reasons.” Some of us don’t like long expository sermons. Some of us don’t like the humour of @UnvirtousAbbey’s Twitter account.

For those of us who do love these things, God loves that we love them. God has prepared other things for his other children, and he expects us to adore our brothers and sisters whatever metaphorical cooking is their preference. Although, when it’s soup time, we might be expected to eat up graciously and without complaint in a civilised manner.

It is, after all, the same God of baffling verdicts who we adore and who cooks for us all.

© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt

Creative Commons License

Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Soup Image © stu_spivack

Today’s post was brought to you by Romans 14:6

The gift of turtle-cake

A toddler’s cake

Marie-Antoinette famously didn’t say “Let them eat cake”; a phrase first recorded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Nobody quite knows who did say it, but it’s safe to say that whoever it was, they didn’t have in mind the cake which I received the other day.

I had gone to pick up Marta (3) from nursery. Her delight at seeing daddy, as always, lit up the world. Her smile threatened to stretch her face beyond the presumable elastic limits of her cheek-muscles. Her wild skipping threatened to throw her off balance in three directions simultaneously. And today she had something to show me.

“Daddy!” she yelled, “I made you a cake in the shape of a turtle!”

It was a cake like none I have ever seen. It was a splodge. It was made of pink play-dough. Protruding from the top were innumerable matchsticks and pipecleaners. It was inexplicable, inedible and bore no resemblance to either a turtle or a cake (unless you know any good geneticists who can cross-breed a cake with a porcupine.)

And it was completely wonderful.

Here it is.


Seldom have I been given a more heartwarming gift. Marta’s unadulterated joy and generosity as she presented it ensured that. Don’t misunderstand me. I am extremely grateful for all the gadgets and clothes and coffee mugs I have received from loving friends and family over the years. I have cherished them. I have even worn most of the ties.

But they pale into insignificance beside this splodge of pink dough topped with unidentifiable miscellany. The generous abandon with which it was presented glowed like the sun and – as so often happens with my kids – my heart melted.

My playdough splodges

“What can God actually use me for?” It’s a question I periodically ask myself in introspective moments of existential angst. If I’m honest, I’m probably doing some kind of metaphysical fishing-for-compliments, asking with the hope that God will reassure me how amazing I am at everything I do and that he really doesn’t know how he’d get anything done without me. He never does.

And that’s beside the point. I could be able to communicate his message to millions, be a natural-born leader, a concert standard pianist, have doctorates coming out of my ears and -as a result of all this combined with my fabled good looks – be overwhelmed by opportunities to change the world for God, and it would all still be beside the point. They are all great things that God can use, but it would be like bringing gadgets, clothes and coffee mugs to the God who has everything.

It is not in the excellence of the gifts that I bring to God that their value lies. It is in the generous abandon with which I give him everything I am: pink splodges, matchsticks, pipecleaners and all. This is what makes my relationship with God. This is what glows like the sun. This is what melts my father’s heart like an unattended ice-cream on a summer’s day. What he does with it is up to him.

© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt

Creative Commons License

Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post was brought to you by Psalm 51:16-17.

A Nursery Revelation

The late Terry Pratchett once lamented that the word “banana” is very easy to start spelling but very difficult to stop.  I have found the same to be true of relating the bible through toddler songs.

Last time I blogged about “The Body of Christ” and told the whole thing through toddler songs. And once I’d started, it was very difficult to stop. So I’m at it again, and this time I’m covering the opening chapters of the book of Revelation.

If you’ve ever tried to read Revelation, you’ll know it’s one of the most surreal pieces of writing ever committed to parchment. The material is sometimes disturbing and it has not always been easy to find toddler songs which suitably reflect the message. Therefore in two instances I have delved into a much darker genre: that of nursery rhyme.

But the opening chapters are simply messages to God’s Toddlers in seven cities at the time it was written.  Each song or nursery rhyme mirrors one message, and I’ve started each section with a summary of the message…


The message to the church in Ephesus: “You have forsaken your first love. Think of the heights from which you have fallen.”

The monkeys in this song have been bouncing joyfully on the bed, but, like the Ephesian church one by one have fallen off.

Perhaps as the monkeys reflect on the heights from which they have fallen, with them we can distinguish between the joy and bouncing of our first love, and the monkey business which causes us to fall.


The message to the church in Smyrna: “You are rich despite your poverty. You are faithful.”

A sheep is as mundane as things get. They are possibly beaten in their mundaneness by the humble goldfish, but it’s a close-run thing.

But the sheep in this song has riches beyond its appearance. It is able to provide wool for the master – a grand calling indeed. It is able to provide wool for the dame – also very grand. And yet its blessings spill over even to encompass the little boy who lives down the lane.

Its faithful production of wool blesses the greatest to the lowest in society. It is, indeed, rich despite its poverty.


The message to the church in Pergamum: “You have remained true to me…but you listen to false teaching.”

The church in Pergamum are a paradox. They have listened to false teaching, and yet they are commended for not renouncing God.

When they are good they are very good indeed, yet when they are bad they are horrid.

There is no excuse for the heresies they have followed, and yet there is no hesitation in praising their faithfulness.

Finally, the message to this church makes the mysterious promise of a new name; a twist whose significance seems as mysterious as the curl on the nameless girl’s forehead…


The message to the church in Thyatira: “You tolerate a false prophetess. Her children will be struck dead.”

This nursery rhyme is one of the shortest and darkest in the canon of English literature. Early versions, in their entirety, run:

Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home.
You house is on fire,
Your children shall burn.

It can be assumed that the church in Thyatira weren’t stupid. It’s unlikely they were following someone who gave the impression of being a false prophetess. She probably looked as bright and shiny as a ladybird, even if what was underneath was all beetle.

There is no easy way to get around the fact that the fate foreseen for her is as dark and awful as that of the ladybird in the nursery rhyme. This is a difficult passage. One to be wrestled with and not absorbed lightly.


The message to the church in Sardis: “You look alive but you are dead. But some with clean clothes will walk with the angels.”

Life is not the three-score years and ten we are allotted on this earth. Dragons live for ever, and the creator of heaven and earth; the alpha and the omega created us to do the same. The church in Sardis, however, is no more alive than Jackie Paper. It frolics and plays, and one day is no more.

The song speaks of noble kings and princes, and such things can catch our eyes. But as C.S. Lewis notes, kingdoms and empires are infinitely less important than individuals, for kingdoms and empires will pass away, while individuals are eternal.

Like Puff, our God mourns when what seems alive is dead. He has so much greater capers planned for us.


The message to the church in Philadelphia: “There’s an open door in front of you that nobody can shut. Hold on. I’m coming.”

The writer of this song sees London bridge ahead. Like the door before the Philadelphian church, a bridge is the way forward; the path onwards.

Chillingly, the bridge seems condemned by a devil’s advocate determined to find reasons the bridge will not hold. Wood and clay will wash away. Iron and steel will bend and bow. Silver and gold will be stolen away.

But there is a greater determination to be reckoned with. The creativity of this determination is endless. Whatever barrier is thrown up, a new building material is found to make certain the bridge holds. When I was a child, we would add verses which involved the bridge’s woes being overcome with everything from reinforced concrete to Weetabix.

Yet in one of the oldest quoted versions, all of the creativity and all of the devil’s advocate’s schemes are eventually irrelevant. Because a watchman is set on the bridge and given a pipe to smoke all night. The watchman will ensure that, come what may through the night ahead, the bridge stays put, the path stays clear and the door before the church stays open.

Hold on precious church. The dawn comes. The glow of the pipe will dwindle before the fire of the sunrise. London bridge will not fall. And your watchman will come.


The message to the church in Laodicea: “You’re neither hot nor cold. You think you’re rich but you’re wretched.”

There are many silly and pointless nursery rhymes, but none leaves me feeling as empty as this one. Five are counted and a fish is caught. Five are counted and a fish is lost. The whole thing seems vacuous. It is a zero-sum game.

For something as trivial as a nipped finger, the singer lets his fish escape.

Like the Laodicean church, this nursery rhyme is neither hot nor cold. God longs for the Laodiceans to be SOMETHING. We speak of being on fire for him, and this is good, but even that which is hostile and cold he works with.

Maybe that hostility can be pictured in such a despicable creature as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. In the films, the greatest hope I feel for him is the sight of his zeal as he tries to catch a fish alive. For him there is no half-hearted letting go again.

Or maybe the picture is of St Paul, pursuing with the same zeal the destruction of the nascent Church, before his dramatic conversion. Sometimes I worry that my views are mistaken, but I should remember that they will never be as mistaken as those of Saul of Tarsus. But unless I try to pursue God with all my heart and risk getting it wrong, how can God hope to turn my “cold” to “hot”?

Is it a coincidence that, as God turns St Paul’s “cold” to “hot”, fish-scales fall from his eyes? Or was God thinking of the nursery-rhyme all along?

Laodicea, catch the fish. Hold on tight this time…

© Photos of Monkey, Ladybird and Gollum licensed for non-commercial re-use.

© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt

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Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post was brought to you by Revelation 2-3