On which eyes to use at the caravan park

So anyway, we recently went to Trecco Bay Caravan Park.  Between you and me, and in the words of my packet of coco pops, it fell beneath the high standards I naturally expected.  But the kids loved it, which was the main thing.

Really, in many ways, it wasn’t bad.  But the minor grumbles kept adding up.  Take the checking in process.  You can’t check in until 4pm (which I thought was a tad on the late side) and you have to be out by 10am on the day you leave.  Clearly it doesn’t take the 6 hours to clean every single caravan.

When you arrive around four, so has everyone else.  There are huge queues; tempers are frayed; the staff look stressed; all in all it’s a bad start.  By 5pm, it’s all quiet and the staff are twiddling their thumbs.

“Why” – I asked myself – “don’t they simply charge a small premium to check in in early or check out late?  Then you spread people out.  There’s no queues; staff and customers are less stressed; your people make a better impact and you make more money.”

Damn looking at everything with the eyes of a business analyst!

I know it’s my job and all that, but I really should stop it at home…

And then there was the swimming pool.  We got to this – the feature the kids had been looking forward to for days – to be denied entry with all of our children because two of them were under four.  The staff pointed out that it was in the T&Cs, and then – rather inanely – suggested that we find another adult.

Once more I fumed about such poor business management.  I’d had to enter the ages of our kids on their website to book.  Would it be too much to ask to pop up a message warning of the limitations on activities?  They can point out T&Cs to their hearts content, and so long as they only expect each customer to visit once, and don’t rely on customer recommendations, that’s fine.  But in the real world, sustainable business doesn’t work like that.

Damn again!  Looking at everything through the eyes of a business analyst!

And wherever we go – restaurants; days out; the lot – I carry on doing it.  It’s just hard to switch off.

The other day I was reading a reflection on Mark 3:19-26 which ended with the question “Who, or what, is Lord of my life?”.  A couple of days later it was Ephesians 1:3-14 (apparently in the original text it’s all one sentence – given that it’s Paul writing this is perhaps unsurprising) which refers to us being “in Christ” no fewer than 11 times.  A little excessive maybe.

And the train of thought both of these sparked off could have been much better prompted by far more direct bits from the bible.  Except that I wasn’t reading the others at the time.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with seeing things as a business analyst, but when I look at the world, in Christ, my overriding perception should be to see it through his eyes.  The same “un-switch-offable” instinct which cuts in to pick things out from a business perspective should be picking things up from God’s perspective.  And, in fairness to myself, sometimes it does.  But the fact that often it doesn’t reminds me of where I need to focus my heart, and which eyes I need to see with.

© 2011 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 17th May 2010]

Using the wrong doors – When God doesn’t do things the way we expected

Some adverts are better than others. The ones that are truly great (and the ones that truly aren’t) tend to stick with us. Take the “Moonpig” adverts. Most of us could cheerfully take the composer of that jingle to a quiet place and put him out of our misery. Or “Go compare”. That opera singer? Yes, he will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

But the greats are, if anything, even more memorable. Whether our not you want to be with prudential, I’m sure we’ve all wanted to be, at different times in our lives, Colonel Mustard, indoors, a tomato and TOGETHER.

And then there’s famous one with the tantrum in the supermarket. (If you’re not British, basically mum sees small child is about to have a tantrum, so she throws one first.) Oh that I had the guts to do that just once! Maybe one day I will, but the problem is the general unpredictably of the arrival of tantrums.

Take for example a little incident with Dominic when we were on holiday at Christmas. We had had a very long and tiring day, and were on the bus back to uncle Domingo’s house, where we were staying.It was a bendy bus, and it had been quite full when we’d boarded, so we’d split up to find seats. Dominic and I were sat at the front, and Mónica was with the other two, further back.Dominic was so tired that he’d fallen asleep, and I had to wake him up when it was time to get off. Simples (as they say in yet another advert)

As you might expect, Dominic and I alighted through the front doors, and the rest of the clan through the middle doors. But as Dominic saw mummy getting off through a different door, something snapped, and he screamed as if his world had ended. NO-OOOOOOOO! He clearly thought different doors meant we were going to different places But seeing mummy standing outside waiting for him two seconds later didn’t seem to make any difference. He carried on screaming and sobbing uncontrollably for a good ten minutes.

As God’s toddler, I can’t stop myself asking how much like Dominic I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big boy, and I can assure you that I am largely unconcerned about which bus door the spirit leads me to exit through.

But even when, like Dominic, I can see that the outcome of a situation is fine, it is possible I may throw the occasional tantrum when God doesn’t arrive at the outcome the way I expect him to. Or, to return to the metaphor, by going through the door I expected.

So here’s a concrete challenge for me. Over the next few weeks, the detail of the new structure of my department is being hammered out. It is likely that I will still have a job. It is even possible that it will be the one I want. But who knows? What is certain is that, whatever the outcome, God will be waiting to take me forward at the other side. So, if he doesn’t do things the way I hope, will I focus on God’s long term view of “outcome” ?

Or will I scream that God has taken me off the bus through the wrong door?

© 2011 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 14th February 2011]

Treasure hunting

You can over-extend a metaphor.  Take the whole thing about variety being the spice of life.  Well of course it is.  But which spice?  Is it cinnamon, which goes well with all sorts of things, but eventually seems a bit bland?  Or is it chilli, which really adds some zing, but can easily become overpowering?  You see?  I’ve over-extended the metaphor.

Now, of course, when I start speaking about God as my heavenly Father, we’re on safer ground.  Perhaps.  One assumes that it was he who decided whether I got a heavenly X-chromosome or a heavenly Y-chromosome, but didn’t bring me to spiritual birth, as that’s a mother’s job; that he taught me to ride a spiritual bike without stabilizers, but has never done my heavenly laundry because he can never remember whether blue should go in a whites wash or a dark wash.  There I go again.  Over-extending metaphors.

Of course, the reason I bring up this whole dreary mess is that, in the little story I’m about to embark upon, there is some degree of interchangeability of what might be deemed the role of “Father” and “Mother”.  Much as is the case in the examples above…

Elías can walk.  He’s more a fan of “cruising” around, holding onto furniture (or legs) but now and again he will raise his hands in the air and, with a look of triumph, totter the five or six steps to the arms of mum and dad.

Of course, some jobs still require a good honest crawl, as was the case when we were on holiday last week in what they laughably refer to as a “caravan”*.  Because when you’re treasure-hunting, you have to crawl.  There are yesterday’s cornflakes to be discovered (and eaten); sea-shells to be discovered (and tested for edibility).  And one morning, there was the underside of Oliver’s bed.

He wormed his way under, and we were able to track his progress by a series of delighted cooing noises at each new discovery.  Finally, he emerged holding his two greatest treasures.  The look of elation on his face was truly something to behold, as he held aloft a hairband and a sock.

He pulled himself to his feet, raised his hands in the air, and confidently began to walk towards mummy with his treasures to present.  First one step; then another; then, disaster!  He lost his footing and went tumbling to the ground.

Immediately the tears started and his arms stretched out for mummy as he howled at the misery and injustice of it all.  And as mummy reached down and picked him up, he let go of his treasures, allowing them to fall away, to just be in mummy’s arms.

He made the smart choice:  When I feel the ground vanish beneath my feet, and begin to howl at the misery and injustice of life, I wonder how often I just cling to my treasures.  I wonder how often I forget to simply let my treasures go, and allow my heavenly Father pick me up and hold me.

© 2010 Paul Brownnutt
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* I’ve lived in proper rented accommodation with less space

[Originally Published 18th April 2010]

On failing to light a fire

I am not a gardener.  I have a garden, into which I periodically take some large cutting implements, with a view to finding the end, somewhere being the undergrowth.   This often results in large pile of branches in my garden, stacked with a plan in mind to ignite them in joyous combustion.

The other day I arrived home shortly before dusk, and Oliver and I decided to see what we could do in a hurry under the general heading of “setting fire to the garden”.

Since we only had a few minutes until darkness descended, we decided to do things the quick way.  We screwed up several dozen pieces of junk-mail offering life-insurance, double-glazing and monkey-grooming, and mixed them with firelighter bricks.  Then, on the basis that the branches were still covered in twigs, we decided on a strategy to avoid having to cut things down further: we thrust each branch twig-end down onto the paper, on the basis that the twigs would light easily from the paper.  And then we got out the matches…

Boy what a blaze!  And, maybe it’s just me, but there’s something fundamentally right at a primal level about burning mail from second-rate financial institutions.  It’s feels a bit like you’re returning them to the hell from which they originated.  But quite aside from the whys and wherefores, the flames leaped up, and were soon licking hungrily at the twigs.

And then they died down again.  Once the paper had burned, we were left with a couple of burning firelighters, and a grand total of zero burning bits of wood.  Oh.

So we stuffed some more paper on.  Which burned, and then died out.

By this time, the rest of the family had come to play, so half of last season’s Next directory* went the same way.  Then, in a spirit of scientific discovery, Monica added a selection of rags that used to answer to the name of  “Pyjamas”, which did pretty much the same, but in a more colourful way.

…and then we were left with the original, very slightly charred, pile of wood.

Now of course, you’ve already spotted the problem.  Since I am not known for my ability to apply myself to the real world, it took me a while longer.  But I think the problem was this: while there might have been some individual twigs close to (or even in) the fire, being attached to such rigid branches meant there was actually quite a lot of space between twigs, so they couldn’t really get anything going.

Now, my assessment of my incendiary skills may be correct, or it may be awry in some way that the physicists among you will be able to put me straight on, but whatever the case, it got me musing.

I go to church every Sunday, and give as much of my complete and undivided attention to God as my three children let me.  But there’s a lot space between the “twigs” of my time with God on Sunday.  No, it’s not because I’m one of those people who thinks God is only for Sundays.  There’s just a certain inevitability about it – small children take up so much non-working time and I have to be realistic about the fact I don’t have the free time I used to which could be used for extra “God-centred” activities.

But with so much space between the twigs, it can feel hard to really get anything going.  Christians often express the desire to be “on fire” with the holy spirit; I’ve seldom – possibly never – heard anyone proclaim the wish to be “slightly charred”.

Then again, God reminds me, it’s not about the amount of “free” time I can direct towards “God” activities.  It’s about making all the activities in my hectic day-to-day life God-centred.  I need to keep creative and find ways of getting the twigs closer together.

© 2010 Paul Brownnutt
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* For some reason, Next still send their directory to the previous residents – we can only assume they pay for it.

[Originally Published 7th February 2010]

Theology of a five month old

I like games.  Particularly ones with no physical exertion whatsoever.  And for preference, they should fall into one of two categories:

– Games which are so simple that absolutely anyone can play them – This way I stand a fair chance of finding someone worse than me who I can beat, or

– Games which are so complicated that nobody with any sense would even bother trying to learn them – Meaning I stand a chance of winning purely by dint of the fact I know the rules.

So I rather liked the game I was playing with Elías the other day (it fell into the “Simple” category)

It went like this:  Elías would lie down on the bed, blowing bubbles of dribble at me, and I would hold my thumbs out for him to grab.  He would then pull himself into a sitting position, and look around proudly, before forgetting he needed to keep holding on.  Upon letting go, he would topple backwards and look hurt and betrayed.  I would then hold out my thumbs, and we would start again.

And no matter how many times we played this game, Elías could simply not remember that, in order to maintain his vantage point he had to hold onto daddy

Which is OK, because it’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn too.

The analogy is imperfect.  Elías will eventually learn to sit (stand, run, and wear me into the ground) by himself.  I will always need to keep holding out my hands to the father who, with unending patience and affection, will always pick me back up, and remind me of how good life is when I just remember to hold on.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 9th November 2009]

Theology of a four year old

Some of you will have read my note Theology of a one-year-old – if not, now would be a good time.

This all came flooding back to me earlier this year at a classy establishment known to the elite as “Antz inya pants”.

If you’re not a parent (and therefore familiar with such ventures) it may take some explaining.  Imagine a climbing fame, 40 feet cubed, with padded walls and floors, mangle-type rollers to squeeze through, tube-slides, zip-lines and other sundry madness.  It’s a little like a multi-story version of the “House of fun” they used to have on TV when I was a kid.

So anyway, Mónica and I watched, as Oliver and Dominic went racing off to one of the entrances, with that enthusiasm that only comes from being small and very excited.  But as Dominic approached the gloomy opening, he hesitated, stalled and stopped.

Like his brother before him, he was clearly unhappy with the idea of chasing off into the unknown.  Oliver seized Dominic’s hand, and got ready to lead him in.  But Dominic remained unconvinced.  For once, Oliver picked up on this and, weighing up the options, reached a conclusion.

He gently led Dominic back towards us.  Then carefully and deliberately, he placed his brother’s hand in their father’s hand.  And we ran off into the unknown together…

So, when I feel someone else has failed to capture a message that I myself have learned, I wonder what I’ll do.  Drag them kicking and screaming, or put their hand in the father’s, and let him take over.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 12th October 2009]

The vindication of the giraffe

This is  a follow-up to my last note on the Safari:

It is, to an extent, the opposing viewpoint.  But I think it’s important to hold the two in balance.

For in fact, the giraffe was right, and the cheetah was bang out of order.

You see, for anyone who’s ever had a giraffe’s nose through their car window, you’ll know these things are big.  And I’m not talking about the kind of big you think when you see a horse up close and suddenly notice how fortunate it is that they only eat grass.  I’m talking scale that up by a substantial factor, stick it on legs longer than I am tall (and appearing capable of comfortably kicking through the skin of our  car, should the mood take them).  Then stick it on a neck so tall that it can actually bend back down to the ground to drink out of whatever it happens to be drinking from today.  And with all that, the huge and muscly torso somehow manages to look small and insignificant in comparison.

Make no mistake:  you are not about to confuse one of these things for a marmoset or a koala.

And there’s the point.  It doesn’t have to DO anything to be a giraffe.  It doesn’t have to run like a cheetah at 70mph, or join the wolf-pack in tearing your spare tyre to shreds.  It just IS, looming benignly over every other single creature.

And while it’s right that I should heed the cheetah’s wise words and do something useful about all the issues it kindly reminded me of, I should do so remembering this: That irrespective of what I do or don’t do, God has re-created me, valuing me and adoring me and putting his stamp on me as unmistakably as a giraffe.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 24th August 2009]