Earthworks at the beach

Bank holidays

Among the many fascinating features of living in Britain, one of the most spectacular is the weather.  And I mean this most sincerely.

Take bank-holidays for example.  Every year, we have a few precious days of “extra” holiday built into the national calendar.

Most of these are cleverly placed at times of the year when you’d expect to have fair weather.  And yet despite the statistical odds that we must have at least some chance of escaping to the beach on these days, the reality is that the weather conspires with the calendar-makers to deliver what is invariably the coldest, or the wettest, or the foggiest, or the snowiest August weekend on record.  Or something like that.

You can’t tell me that such an alignment of our weather with the national holidays with freak weather isn’t spectacular.

Beach activities

But just occasionally the insidious British weather shows a chink in its armour, and we are greeted by an unexpectedly bright, clear and warm day.  Beach weather.  And Mónica and I will take our wildly excited little ones to chase each other through the waves, explore rock pools and collect shells.

Eventually, however, the hard work must begin.  I refer, of course, to the building of sandcastles.  I’m sure other dads will identify with me when I say that a self respecting sandcastle should have lots of turrets.  And a moat.  And a canal to the nearest water supply.  And a few tunnels.  And – most importantly of all – a giant earthwork fortification to protect this masterpiece from the incoming tide.

Of course, by the time we get to the fortifications, the children have given up digging out bits of the moat that have fallen in, and are watching me with a sense of morbid fascination.  Writ clear upon their faces are the words “Daddy, what on earth are you doing?”.

But at this point I don’t care.  It’s one man against the forces of nature.  It’s the showdown.

Oddly, I always lose.  I always end up watching in dismay as the tide sweeps away defences which I thought were impenetrable.  And my loving children dance around, whooping with glee, as I frantically try to re-build critical parts.  And as the last remains of my efforts sink into the sea, they laugh, and run off to splash some more.


“Other” toddlers

At this point I owe you an apology, because I don’t think I’m the first person in history to use sandcastles being swept away as an analogy.  If you are in any way unhappy with this, let me know, and I’ll arrange a full refund.

But the whole thing is great for some gentle reassurance for God’s toddlers.  Because we worry.  Strangely, we often worry about God’s other toddlers.  We look at another group and say things like “The way they do things doesn’t really allow God to get on with what he wants to do.  I just know God has such great plans, but people like that hold him back.”

And we say it because we really care.  We say it because – as I mentioned when talking about black pepper – we’ve learned something, and God’s “other” toddlers haven’t.  And we think they’ll hold God back.

At a guess, they think the same about us.

So, for those who worry, the sandcastles are a marvellously refreshing reminder.  Yes, we (and others) can put up rules, structures and ways of thinking to defend our sandcastles – to keep things the way we like them, or the way we’re used to them.  But if God has other plans, we can no more hold back his spirit than my laughable earthworks can hold back the sea.

What can we do?  We can dig our heels in and fortify the defences.  Or we can imitate little children, stand back and watch him sweep away the barriers.  And we can whoop with glee and delight as the tide comes in and we get stuck in to whatever he brings next…

…then, in us, through us, 
and – if need be – despite us, 
let your kingdom come. 

The Iona Community

© 2012 Paul Brownnutt (Except quote from The Iona Community)

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


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 (4) and Dominic (2) 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]

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

* I’ve lived in proper rented accommodation with less space

[Originally Published 18th April 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 one-year-old

Being a dad has many advantages, not least of which is seeing how our kids relate to us – and sometimes it can bring a whole new perspective to how we relate to our heavenly father.

I recorded this event when Oliver was one year old.  I’ve sent it to a few people, but it bears retelling…

The theme of how we cope with the unknown has probably been preached quite enough times, but if we can relate to God as father, then Oliver’s teachings of 6AM on a wintry Tuesday morning are invaluable:

I had got up early to make coffee and get ready for work.  Oliver had got up with me, and we were pottering around the kitchen.  Monica was having a well-deserved few extra minutes of sleep.  The kitchen light was on, but all the other lights were still off, so we didn’t wake her up.

Suddenly Oliver vanished, and I heard him a few seconds later at the start of the hallway, shouting “Mama!  Mama!”

I ambled through and asked “Do you wanted to go and see mummy?”  He nodded.

“Go on then.”  He shook his head.  The light from the kitchen just reached where he was standing, but the rest of the hallway and the bedroom were dark.

“Are you worried because it’s dark?” I asked.  Nod.

“Are you worried because you can’t see where you’re going?”  Another nod.

So I held his hand, and said “Shall we go and see mummy together?”  Another nod, and off he went.

Suddenly it didn’t matter that it was dark, or that he couldn’t see.  Daddy was holding his hand, and daddy knew where he was going, so that was OK.

Perhaps I can learn…

© 2007 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally published 4th May 2008]