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 

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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.

Koi

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.

Whispers

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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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 1 Corinthians 12:22-23

Waves and shadows (Part 2) – a lesson in dependence

A time for everything

It’s said that there is a time and a place for everything: a time to laugh and a time to mourn; a time to sow and a time to harvest; a time for coffee and (presumably) a time for chocolate.  Now is probably a good time – if you haven’t already – to read Waves and Shadows (Part 1).  In Part 1 I talked about standing on our own two feet.  Now I’m going to talk about dependence.

An introduction to beaches and the sea

As you are aware by now, our family has recently returned from holiday.  Our holiday destination was, as usual, Mónica’s native southern Spain.  To be more precise, we went to the beach.

Now, the Spanish beach offers many of the same activities which will be familiar to frequenters of more northern beaches, such as those of the UK.  There are ice creams to be eaten, sandcastles to be built, channels to be dug, and rockpools to be explored for alien lifeforms.  But Spain boasts an additional attraction: THE SEA.  Yes, I know we have the sea in the UK, but here I tend to limit myself to wading in up to my knees and splashing about a bit.  Some daredevil may streak past me, plunging headlong into the deeper water only to emerge again five minutes later an attractive shade of purple.  But on the whole I find the sea in the UK more challenging than welcoming.

In Spain, on the other hand, the sea welcomes you with open arms, enticing you to immerse yourself in the balmy waters and allow yourself to be bobbed and buoyed by the rolling waves.

Or at least , I think it does.  Elías (4) disagrees.  He is fine with that description until it comes to the waves.  The booming, pounding, terrifying waves.  The waves which threaten to engulf, consume and devour him.  No, Elías does not like the waves.

It was, therefore, a relief to find a solution which worked for everyone concerned. We all went into the sea. When the waves became high enough to splash Elías’ face, I took his hands and helped him jump over them. When his feet no longer touched the bottom, I lifted him clear of them. As the water got deeper, even I had to jump. And when I did I held Elías above my head, clear of the waves.

This worked marvellously. Until Elías saw the size of one incoming wave. It was big. And as I prepared to lift him, he forgot all about our solution. He decided he needed to save himself.  He wanted to be in control when the wave hit.  He clung tight to my neck, preventing me from lifting him up. And the wave hit us both full on…

The myth

There is a curious myth that has taken hold in society.  To a greater or lesser extent, we who are God’s toddlers have accepted it unquestioningly. The myth is: Independence is desirable.

We think independence is desirable when it comes to God. Yes, we might rely on God’s grace for our salvation, but we’d rather live our own plans and just ask God’s blessing on them. Or perhaps we will ask God what he wants us to do, and then try and do it our way, and in our strength. We want to be in control when the waves hit.

But perhaps a more beguiling variation on this myth is that we think independence is desirable when it comes to the community of God’s toddlers (traditionally “Church”, if you must).  We’re often happy to embrace the fact that we need to help other people.  We can be much less happy to embrace the fact that it’s a good thing to be helped by those around us. We’ve come to believe that reliance on others is a sign of weakness; that it puts us in their debt; that it just means we failed to do it ourselves.  And we want to be in control when the waves hit.

We’ve forgotten that Jesus created a community of followers, not individuals.  We’ve forgotten how many of God’s instructions to this community are reciprocal: “Love each other“; “Be devoted to each other“.  Nobody can live out this kind of reciprocal community if everyone is trying to be independent.

And when we start to examine some of the problems with reliance on others, they don’t stack up.

  • It’s a sign of weakness?  But simply accepting Christ’s grace is an admission that we can’t do it all by ourselves.
  • It puts us in their debt?  But every member of that community owes everything to Jesus, so how could we be in debt to each other?
  • We’ve failed to do things ourself?  But if we’re called to be in community, not doing it by ourselves is a success, not a failure.

So why do we find it so difficult to let go of control?

I think there’s a challenge as to whether we are prepared to let go of the myth that independence is good.  To recognise that God designed us to live in a constant state of interdependence.

If not, we can cling onto control. And when the waves hit, we will keep clinging on. And we will emerge on the other side, battered but in one piece. But we will never be borne aloft by our loving father and the hands of those he has put around us.

© Photo of wave LJ Mears 

© Text 2013 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 1 Corinthians 12:15-26 Read the whole story here