The Corinthian Hokey-Cokey – A toddler’s body of Christ

There’s an online community called The Alchemy Project which does nothing so boring and dull as turning base-metals into gold. Instead, The Alchemy Project looks at creative ways to explore the bible.

So when they recently encouraged their readers to retell a passage of the bible using a playlist of between 4 and 8 songs, it seemed impossible for “God’s Toddler” not to try…with toddler-style songs.

The following playlist is inspired by 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. I hope you do the actions.

2015-04-07 Humpty DumptyHumpty Dumpty

This song gives a great background to 1 Corinthians. It’s written by the apostle Paul to a church with deep internal divisions. The church is elitist and unjust. It seems to have combined the worst excesses of anything bad we’ve ever seen or heard in a church.

It almost seems pointless even writing. From the viewpoint of any objective observer, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the church in Corinth together again.

Dry Bones

OK, so I’ve cheated here by using a children’s song which is explicitly biblical. But I’m a toddler. We’re whimsical like that.

The song that tells us that the toe-bone’s connected to the foot-bone and so on mirrors the bible’s account of a guy called Ezekiel and his vision of a valley of dry bones. “Son of man,” God asks him, “can these bones live?”

Then God breathes, and where a moment ago were dry bones, stands a vast army of living, breathing people.

We’ve seen irreparable bits of broken eggshell; a Humpty-Dumpty divided church; a valley of dry bones. Paul starts talking about what happens when God’s spirit breathes…

Two fat gentlemen

“For we were all baptised by one spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.”

This is not a great song if you struggle with finger coordination. Two fat gentlemen (your thumbs) bow to one another, followed by thin ladies, tall policemen and so forth until all of your fingers have bowed to one another.

Here we’re reminded that, whether Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, fat gentlemen, thin ladies, tall policemen, little schoolboys or little babies, we are all fingers on the same hands.

Go on. Do the actions. You know you want to.

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

Yep. All in their place. Keep doing the actions. Point at the parts of your body. Point at your head.  Point at your shoulders. Point at your knees. Point at your toes. All in their places.

Now point at the wonderful people in the church in the fantastic places God has called them. I know it’s rude to point, but we’re toddlers so we’ll do it anyway. Point them out and celebrate them.

One finger / One thumb

“You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. God has placed in the church apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”

OK, so we’ve established we’re all part of Christ body…but he calls us to DO something with that fact. He appoints us to be apostles, or prophets, or teachers…but – finger or thumb – to keep moving!

Hokey Cokey

“And now I will show you the most excellent way…”

The Hokey Cokey is apocryphally attributed to the Latin “Hoc est enim corpus meum” – or “this is my body” from the Catholic mass. This has on occasion been used as an anti-Catholic taunt, but along with all of God’s Toddlers I would like to take this opportunity to reclaim the joy of the Hokey Cokey and turn its reputed origin on its head.

Because it is in this passage that we acknowledge that we are Christ’s body.

Now is the time, as are all times… this is the place, as are all places… for Catholics and Protestants, Conservatives and Progressives, Evangelicals and Liberals to join hands and, with joyful abandon and celebrating the fact that while we are different we are part of Christ’s body, do the Hokey Cokey.

© 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 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 with a cameo appearance from Ezekiel 37:1-14 


Glorified Goldfish

The good book

In 1956, the naturalist Gerald Durrell published “My Family and Other Animals.”  It is a book which recounts his childhood growing up on the island of Corfu.  Some forty years passed from its first publication before I, a scruffy student, finally stumbled across a battered second-hand copy and set about reading it.

By the end of page one I had forgotten the yellowing pages and brittle glue holding them in place, and was completely immersed in the tale of one small boy growing up surrounded by the magical world of a Greek island. A child focussed – with a dedicated fascination that only the very young seem to manage – on the endless variety of local wildlife.

CorfuIn the languid pace of a Mediterranean island life one lazy day drifts into the next and into the next to create mystical and endless seasons, and the peacefulness is beautifully juxtaposed with the chaos and hilarity of a child who cannot resist the compulsion to incorporate Corfu’s diverse animal kingdom into everything he does.

If I’m not making it clear, the book is utterly enchanting.

For one thing, it is impossible not to feel for a household where scorpions escape from matchboxes, magpies taunt the workmen and a mantis and a gecko fight to the death across the backdrop of the whitewashed ceiling.  And, for all that the constant drone of cicadas in the scorching sun is unfamiliar and alien to the British reader, I cannot help but think “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

For our household has enjoyed the company of its fair share of animals. We’ve welcomed caterpillars, butterflies, snails, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, frogs (captive and wild) and the children are already planning for fish, lizards and a dog. There seems to be an inevitability around being immersed in the world of children which means that there are going to be a lot of animas involved.

Feeding time

It was therefore no surprise that, when we went to the “ornamental fish” section of a local outdoor centre recently, Marta (3) wanted to feed the koi.

Now, my renown and expertise on fish could be written, longhand, in triplicate on the back of a tin of sardines, so I rely on my observational prowess to describe these delicate creatures as as “essentially goldfish the size of sharks with the feeding behaviour of piranhas.”

That I am able to give this objective observation is thanks the fact that the outdoor centre in question thoughtfully provides for those children who wish to feed their fish by charging you a small fee for a bag of fish food. So, bemoaning the fact that they charge money for the privilege of doing work that they’d otherwise have to pay someone to do, I did my duty as a dad, and handed over my cash.

Marta proudly and carefully transported her bag of fish food from the checkout to the ornamental pond and, one microscopic handful at a time, began to sprinkle food into the water.

As a brief aside, I have frequently marvelled at how far and wide Marta is able to scatter rice when it is served on a plate in front of her.  Without apparent effort she seems able to get rice from the dining table, around two corners and halfway up the stairs.

I must therefore commend her single-minded dedication to ensuring each microscopic handful of fish-food landed in exactly the same spot. It may be that she thought a particular fish needed feeding up, but within no time every fish in the pond had converged on the single point in an attempt to benefit from her meagre offerings, and a feeding frenzy right out of a horror movie had erupted.


Stood, as I was, on a walkway a couple of feed above them, I still shuddered slightly at the savagery of the carp below. I felt certain that if I lost my footing and slipped, I would be transformed in short order into a skeletal pond decoration.

The observant fish

Still, despite the terror, the spirit of scientific enquiry didn’t abandon me. And if I’m honest I was a trifle worried that if the koi slaughtered one another in the battle for these tasty flakes, the shop might present me with a bill for several grand’s worth of fish fatalities.

So – politely asking Marta’s permission first – I took a handful of fish food and threw it to a spot on the far side of the pond.  Most of the fish were too busy fighting each other to notice, but one observant creature on the fringes spotted the movement and swam over to investigate.

The observant fish poked its nose at the flakes.  It poked the food with its nose.  It took a nibble.  It circled curiously around several times to get a better look at the food…and then hesitantly swam back, leaving my plentiful offering behind, to join the fruitless fray for the food Marta was dropping.

“Stupid goldfish,” I thought, and that was that.


Except that I then realised that God’s Toddlers (or at least this one) are capable of exhibiting behaviour remarkably reminiscent of the koi in question.

I know the way the world works. I know what’s important because the media tells me. I know what I have to chase after next, because received wisdom is, after all, wisdom.

And I know the way God does things. People around me tell me the way God is doing things elsewhere. I have seen how God has done things before in my life. A quick chat to people who know about history tells me how God has done things before. I know. So God will just keep doing the same thing over and over again, right?

I feel reassured in all of this, because knowing all of this makes me part of the crowd.

The trouble is, God’s Toddlers were never called to be part of the crowd. Part of a community yes, but not to go with the flow of the crowd. What if God whispers in my ear: “That’s all good stuff Paul. But come over here now. Here is where I want to feed you. Here is where the banquet is.”

Perhaps most of the time, like the frenzied fish, I don’t even notice. Perhaps I might notice, and risk being an observant fish, and having a poke around. And then I might, like the observant fish, go back to what the crowd reassures me works, content to live a second-hand experience of God.

Or perhaps I might occasionally dare a toddler-like exploration of where God is leading. To step away from what I think I know to where God is doing something slightly offbeat, and see how good the fish-flakes are.

© 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 Acts 10:9-23 with Matthew 7:13-14 occasionally poking its nose into the production process.

© Photo of Corfu by Michael Gleave from Leicester, UK (Flickr) CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

© Photo of Koi by Stan Shebs  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

My story and the Mogwai’s story

80´s Cinema

Those who remember the golden years of the 1980’s world of cinema will bring to mind the tasteful and timeless hairdos, the seamless and realistic CGI and the startlingly lifelike animatronics.  And if, as you may, you sense a slight lack of sincerity in my praise of 80’s cinematography, let me appease you with a single word:


OK, so the animatronic star of the film “Gremlins” may have had eyeballs that looked like cheap marbles and fur that looked like it had been inherited from a B-list teddy bear, but he was, for all that, inescapably cute. That, at least, is the view that Dominic (7) formed when he discovered Gizmo (as you may recall, one of a race known as “Mogwai”)

Gizmo became his yardstick of adorability, and he began asking, day after day: “Am I as cute for you as a Mogwai?”

“Yes,” I reassured him “you are even cuter.”


For a time, this response satisfied him.  Eventually, however, there came a day when the conversation became much more analytical.

GizmoDominic: “Daddy, am I as cute for you as a Mogwai?”

Me: “Yes Dominic, you are even cuter.”

Dominic: “Oh.  How many times cuter?”

Me: “Um…a thousand times cuter!”

Dominic: “Oh.  And how many times cuter than a Mogwai is Oliver?”

Suddenly something which had been a search for reassurance of my unrelenting love for him had become a competition for reassurance at the expense of his brother.

Whose story?

There’s a throwaway line in one of C. S. Lewis’ books (“The Horse and his Boy”) which I’ve always found arresting. As with so many stories, we reach the part where all the loose ends that have puzzled the main character are brought together into an explanation that makes sense. Eager to get as much information as she can, she asks for an explanation of what happened to her friend too, and is given the response:

“Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

I doubt I am alone in sometimes wanting to compare myself with other people. On my more honest days, I might admit that I’d like reassurance of how much more my heavenly father approves of me than he does of them. That’s what happens when I try to reassure myself that my theology is right and theirs is wrong.  And that’s what happens when I berate myself that others seem to do so much more for God than I do.

But in reality, his unrelenting love for me is enough. That is my story.

When other people tell their stories, it can – and should be immensely encouraging.  If I’m to be doing any better than comparing myself to a Mogwai, I need to allow myself to be encouraged by others’ stories without letting that interfere with the fact that God’s story with me is one of incomparable and uncomparing love.  That is enough.

© Text 2014 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 Luke 18:9-14

The Bible according to Techniquest

There are a great many perils in the life of a toddler. There is the danger of needing to tantrum because someone thoughtlessly gave you the wrong coloured cup.  There is the danger of having to go to bed (nobody is quite sure why this is such a terrible fate, but it clearly is).  But the toddler is never in danger of taking things too seriously for too long.  Accordingly, a completely silly, fun post seemed due.

Yesterday, our family paid a trip to the hands-on scientific establishment known as Techniquest and, surrounded by such wonderful stuff, couldn’t quite resist wondering what “The toddler bible according to Techniquest” might look like.

Move over Ham and Nye. Now science and religion meet in toddler style…


“The light shines in the darkness, and does crazy and unexpected stuff.” – John 1:4

Plasma ball


“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them.” – Exodus 13:21

“Tornado” experiment in the dark area


“…and by night in a pillar of fire.” – Exodus 13:21

“Fire tornado” being demonstrated



An oscillating pen on an oscillating pad


“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fish hook?” – Job 41:1

Mechanised dragon


“The Lord asked me, ‘Son of man, can these plastic bones live?'” – Ezekiel 37:3

Plastic model of human skeleton


“They that wait upon the LORD shall rise up with wings like beach-balls on an air-stream.” – Isaiah 40:31

Beach ball suspended in a stream of air


“Where your treasure is, there also will be a cryptic key to open it.” – Matthew 6:21

Treasure chest with a mysterious opening mechanism


“Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and the Rock Core Xylophone” – Psalm 150:3

Xylophone made with tuned rock-core


“I will take out your heart of stone, and give you a new heart of colourful rubber!” – Ezekiel 36:26

Model of human internal organs

© Photos 2014 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 8

On tolerating creepy-crawlies

For all that I love the sublimely surreal whimsy of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, it is important not to forget his other wondrous works.  Personally, I’m a big fan of his poem “Beetle” which recounts the epic tale of a small child in the tireless search of their escaped beetle.  It seems to capture a fundamental feature of childhood: Creepy Crawlies.

My creepy crawlies of choice when I was small were snails and woodlice, which I kept in margarine tubs.  I tried to make them a little home from home, with rocks and earth and their (possibly) favourite foods.  Now it is the turn of my children.  Elías (5) has discovered caterpillars.  We have discovered stripey caterpillars, spikey caterpillars, and an elephant hawk-moth caterpillar. Many of the specimens have been captured and Elías has made them a little home-from-home, with sticks and leaves and their (probably not) favourite foods.

..and then I discovered the cabbage-moth caterpillars.  The cabbage moths themselves are lily-white creatures that flutter beautifully in the sunshine…and lay eggs on my broccoli.  By the time we discovered this, the broccoli plants that had been thriving in my vegetable patch since spring were all but lost.  The caterpillars had hatched from the eggs and had begun to strip the leaves bare.

There was only one thing for it.  I called Elías and excitedly told him there were more caterpillars to add to his collection. Without hesitation, he set about collecting all the caterpillars from the broccoli.  Within half an hour, he must have caught over fifty and added them to his collection.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

The next day there were more.  I sent Elías in again.  More the next day, and more the next, in a never-ending stream of brassica-destruction.  Google tells me they will keep going until the hard frost of winter.  It became clear that, for all Elías’ best efforts, my vegetable-patch was doomed.

But more of that later.  We have other creepy-crawlies to deal with.

Along came a spider

There is a spider living under our computer-desk.  I’d get rid of him, but he scuttles off every time I see him. He is on the large-ish side.  I’m not scared of spiders, but that doesn’t mean I like them.  I know they’re sinister.  I know how they trap their food and wrap it up with their thread and their eight spindly little mechanical legs.  They make me shiver a bit.  And secretly I suspect they have something like this planned:

Lego Frodo meets Loom-band Shelob

Lego Frodo meets Loom-band Shelob

But I’m big enough and ugly enough to shrug it off and tolerate the spider living in the corner.

Having said that, I don’t ever recall seeing as many spiders as I have this autumn.  Their webs adorn the garden and stick in my hair as I try to get to the shed and the compost bin. And I tolerate them. And as the number of spiders has shot up, I have noticed the number of caterpillars start to dwindle.  Another quick Google search confirms that spiders do, indeed, eat caterpillars! Gradually the leaves have begun to grow back on my spider-web-festooned broccoli.

The creature I had grudgingly tolerated for so long had saved the day. Instead of being one of those things I put up with, they now play a critical role in the life of my garden.


Church Spiders

“Tolerance” is one of those words which crops up a lot. Some people think we should be more tolerant. Some think we should be less tolerant. Some want to look tough by advocating “zero tolerance”.

Jesus’ model blows tolerance out of the water. When he told his closest followers to love one another, he knew that one of them was a terrorist against the occupying army and one was a collaborator with the occupying forces. He knew some of them were no-nonsense fishermen and some were ideas and numbers people.  They were the kind of people who would, at best, grudgingly tolerate one another.  And yet he expected them to lay their lives on the line for each other.

I suspect I’m not the only one of God’s Toddlers who finds it too easy to find a place for ourselves the world’s sliding scale of tolerance; to hang out with those who think like us and do things like us, while grudgingly tolerating those who are different.  To tolerate precisely those people who God has welcomed with open arms; those who are as much part of his plan as we are; those we should expect to – figuratively – rescue our broccoli; the spiders who we should welcome with the same delight as God does.

You might be like me and think you are comfortable with most people.  If so, try listening to Vagabonds by Stuart Townend, which includes just some of the groups who are welcome at God’s table.

If, like me, a few of these made you flinch with discomfort, they might be your spiders.  What if, instead of being one of those things we put up with, they played a critical role in our lives, and we in theirs?

© Text and photo 2014 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 1 Corinthians 12:22-23

Eric the wolf, and the sanitised gospel

The solution
There’s a chilling familiarity with the way it’s done. The enemy is identified for us. From the outset they are systematically demonised; portrayed as lacking any trace of goodness or humanity. They are subhuman. Legitimate targets. Why? Because it makes it so much easier for those who move in the shadows and pull the strings behind the scenes to sell us the solution: The enemy must be killed.

No, I’m not talking about the war on terror (though I could be). I was thinking more of about half of my children’s DVD collection. From Disney to Little Red Riding Hood, we seem disconcerting comfortable with presenting the solution of “killing off the bad guy” to the very youngest of children.

The story

So when my son asked me to tell him a story “from my head” the other day, I decided enough was enough. This is it:


In the darkest corner of a dark wood there was a cave. And in the darkest corner of the cave, there was a wolf. He was hungry (it had been a long winter). And he was lonely. Nobody wanted to talk to a wolf. They said he was big. And they said he was bad. So they called him the Big Bad Wolf.

One day the Big Bad Wolf was walking past a wall, scavenging for food when he heard two people talking. “Little Red Riding Hood,” said the first, “Your grandmother who lives on the other side of the wood is ill. Please take her this delicious basket of fruit. And don’t talk to any wolves on the way. They are big and they are bad.”

“Yes mother,” replied the girl’s voice.”

The wolf could hardly believe his good luck. If he played his cards right, this could be a double dinner. And maybe, just maybe this agonising pain of hunger gnawing in his stomach would stop for a while. They would think he was bigger and badder, but they would think that whatever he did, and he was starving.


He quickly scampered off down the path towards the cottage on the other side of the wood, bounded in through the front door and swallowed grandmother whole. On reflection he should have got rid of her reading glasses first, as they caught a little in his throat. But time was of the essence, and he could hear the little girl coming up the path. He was a little less hungry, but the winter had been hard and he could still hear the rumbling of his tummy ringing in his ears. Good food was hard to come by, and he couldn’t afford to pass up this opportunity. He hurriedly put on grandmother’s spare nightie, and eased himself into her bed so as not to scare lunch off.

Moments later, the door opened, and Little Red Riding Hood stood in the doorway. Her friendly look gave way to a quizzical stare. “Grandma,” she stuttered, “What big ears you have!”

The wolf was thrown. Nobody had spoken to him in three years. Oh, they’d thrown things at him and shot at him, but here was a human girl addressing him directly. Confused, he replied “All the better to hear you with.”

“And what big eyes you have!”

“All the better to see you with?” he ventured, unsure of the protocol.

“And what big teeth you have!”

Here, the wolf was on more familiar ground. “All the better to eat you with!” he roared, and opened his mouth wide and dark as the cave he inhabited. But Red Riding Hood was ready for him. She had never bought into the story of “Big Bad Wolf” anyway.

“You stop that this instant!” she scolded firmly. “I know you’re hungry but you can’t just go around eating people like this. You’re better than that!” The wolf was so gobsmacked that he stopped in his tracks. “And it looks like you’ve swallowed my grandma too. Cough her back up! Now!” The wolf did as he was told. The glasses were as uncomfortable to cough up as they had been to swallow, but in no time a bedraggled and bile-covered grandma stood before them.

As grandmother recovered from her ordeal, Red Riding Hood had the wolf help her prepare the delicious basket of food for the three of them to share. All three sat down and ate together, and as they talked, the wolf made the first two friends he had ever had. The wolf never went back to his dark corner in his dark cave. He stayed and lived with grandmother. Little Red Riding Hood visited every day with a basket of food. And instead of calling him Big Bad Wolf, she called him Eric, because that was his name. It was just that nobody had ever asked before.

As I drew the story to a close, I was quite pleased with myself. I had sanitised the story of Little Red Riding Hood of its incitement to resolving issues by force, and I had added a positive spin of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The sanitised gospel
I remained quite pleased with my retelling until I realised that, if that was the best explanation of forgiveness I could give my kids then I had also sanitised the gospel – Jesus’ way of forgiveness – as well. Jesus’ message should be deeply offensive, not because it sees the best in us (which, of course, it does) but because it also forgives the worst. Jesus’ message forgives the unforgivable, and that sits so uncomfortably that even in church we sometimes try to find ways around it.

So if I was telling this story about Jesus-style forgiveness, what would change? Well, the wolf would have spent his life devouring more than he needed, not caring about the impacts on his victims. He’d have terrorised the villages around for the fun of it. He might not have been all big and bad, but he’d certainly have relished the feeling of power from grandma’s terrified scream when he stormed into her cottage.

In Jesus-style forgiveness, this is the wolf that Little Red Riding Hood consciously invites to eat with her. This is the wolf Little Red Riding Hood offers a new start. This is the wolf she chooses to call “friend”. And his name isn’t Eric. It’s Paul.

© Text 2014 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 Romans 5:7-8

A very useful engine

Singing a new song

I am young. I am sprightly. I am a hip, hop and happening parent who is “down with the youth”. And therefore everything I am about to say is entirely objective and not in any way an indicator of me being grouchy or old.

What I want to tell you is this: Children’s television is not what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong. The content is largely acceptable. The theme tunes, however, are not. Fireman Sam is still there, but instead of telling me that “He’s always on the scene. His engine’s bright and clean” as it did when I was younger, the music now urges viewers to “Move aside, make way ’cause he’s gonna save the day”. Something of a brash change in tone.

And what about Postman Pat? They’ve had the decency to keep the opening music, but as the closing credits roll, I am now entreated to a guessing game: “Postman, Postman Pat, can you guess what’s in his sack?” A tedious game at best, since the answer is always the same (presumably because otherwise they would have to keep rewriting and rerecording the song). If the suspense is killing you, I can reveal that it’s Jess the cat in his sack.

And then there’s Thomas the Tank Engine. A cheerful – even enjoyable – tune has been replaced by an ear-desecrating inane babble telling anyone who can’t avoid listening that “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight, Shunting trucks and hauling freight, Red and green and brown and blue, They’re the really useful crew!” I kid you not. Every word true.

As observed, I am not a grumpy old man, and bring this to your attention purely by way of constructive information sharing. Well, that, and because of the final line. “They’re the really useful crew.”


A useful engine
Literary historians among you will know that being “a useful engine” dates back to the early days of Thomas, and the episode “The Troublesome Trucks”. As the franchise has developed, “usefulness” has become more fundamental to the series, to the point that being useful seems to somewhat underpin the modern Thomas. The Fat Controller’s ultimate compliment seems to be “Well done Thomas! You’re a very useful engine!”.

There’s a sense in which it echoes modern life: We must demonstrate our usefulness to be of value as people. This means we have to be involved in an endless drive for greater productivity. If we aren’t seen to be productive; to be useful, then we risk losing our value.

But perhaps there is a greater wisdom in Thomas than I give him credit for. Because when he is commended for being useful, what he has actually done is nothing more and nothing less than what the Fat Controller has asked of him. It is the Fat Controller who sees the grand scheme of things. If the Fat Controller sends Thomas to rescue some errant carriage, but sends Percy to operate the branch line, has one been more useful than the other? I would venture not.

It is up to the Fat Controller to make the engine’s obedience useful. Their usefulness is defined not by what they achieve, but by their obedience.


I suspect I am not alone in sometimes wondering whether what I’m doing at any given point really has any use. Am I maximising the value of my time? Am I being as profitable as I can with my efforts? I find it easy to choose not to do things because they don’t seem useful. Or to judge something as a failure because the outcome didn’t seem useful. And I suspect this true of individuals and groups and churches.

But when I stop to think of it like Thomas, who am I to decide whether what I have done is useful?

Mother Theresa of Calcutta deftly cut to the heart of our concern to be perceived as useful (or, in her words, “successful”)

We are not called to be successful but to be faithful.

Perhaps when we are concerned about whether what we are engaged in is useful or productive, a more appropriate question would be “Is it what God is asking me to do?” If it is, then it is up to God to make our obedience useful.

© Original Photo Christine Matthews
© Text 2014 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 is brought to you by Isaiah 55:11. You can always think about it in the little we know of a guy called “Useful” (Greek “Onesimus”) in the very short book of Philemon