Praying for a helium balloon on a Thursday

The hunter and the hunted

As a grown up (a claim I make several times a day just to reassure myself) I know that I am stalked day and night by a tireless foe; a hunter that I cannot defeat, avoid or slow down; that whatever I do, slowly and relentlessly, one day at a time, this predator approaches its quarry and that eventually, as the summer approaches, another birthday will catch up with me.

But it was not always thus. Once I was like my children, desperately counting the days (starting at 364) until their next birthday. And as Oliver’s 9th birthday approached recently, things reached fever pitch.

Party planning

We had asked him what theme he wanted for his birthday party and, after much soul-searching, he was unable to decide between Harry Potter and Skylanders. So he wrote invitations saying it was both, and that was that.

I may not be a fan of my own birthday, but I do love to work on a theme and so, if I say so myself, I rose admirably to the challenge. I put new spins on old games. A mound of flour was transformed into Hogwarts castle with the addition of a flag. Dressing up clothes became Mad-Eye Moody with the inclusion of a wooden (OK cardboard) leg. Pictures of Spyro were hidden around the house with secret passwords on them. And all with a level of secrecy which would have MI5 taking notes.

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Ah yes, but did I mention that small people get very excited by birthdays? And frustrated by the absence of visible evidence, Oliver became convinced that mummy and daddy weren’t on the case at all. We clearly needed guidance. He began to make outrageously specific demands. We must play pass the parcel with a certain wrapping paper. We must play musical bumps with the music from “Ice Age 4”. We must buy a helium balloon on Thursday. Eventually Oliver had a meltdown*, in the middle of a shop, two days before his party. “You haven’t bought me a balloon! You don’t even know which one I want! You don’t know anything I want! I don’t want a party!” he screamed.

Well, quite. We actually had every intention of buying a helium balloon the following day and involving him in the decision. But he was basing his views of what a party should entail on what parties entailed when he was five. I was planning things for a nine year old. He didn’t trust his dad to take a simple request for a party and do it in the right way.

My meltdowns

Yet again, I find myself looking in the mirror. This is my standard M.O. in prayer. “God, help me through this situation. And help me by making this happen, that happen, the other happen and GOD YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING, YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME!”

Or perhaps “God, this person is going through a tough time. Please help them. And make sure you do it by making this person say that to them, that person say this to them and ARE YOU LISTENING GOD, ARE YOU GETTING ALL THIS DOWN?”

…and breathe Paul.  Step away from the wheel Paul. Admit that perhaps God heard you, God cares, and God can organise a Harry Potter Skylanders party a damn sight better than you. He’s probably even thought of the balloons.

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* Full disclosure: It is possible I may have had a meltdown back.

© Photo D. Sharon Pruitt
© Text 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 is brought to you by Luke 11:11-13

Waves and shadows (Paradoxology) – Don’t be afraid…because it’s scary

Contradiction

When I wrote “Waves and Shadows” I made two starkly opposing points. In Part 1 I suggested that God aims to get us standing on our own two feet.  In Part 2 I suggested that God calls us to depend on him and on those he has put around us.

Having seemingly contradicted myself, I wanted to bring the two together here. Of course, at one level each of the messages helps avoid taking the other to extremes. Our call to live in a state of interdependence is not a call to retreat into a cosy enclave. Our call to get out and do God’s work is not a call to self-sufficiency. But there’s another unifying factor…

 

Christmas concerts

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It’s a time of year that parents and teachers know well. This week our household will see no fewer than five Christmas plays and concerts. Fragments of songs are being merrily sung and scraped on the violin. Costumes are being prepared and tinsel cut up for stars and angels.  Ah yes, angels…

As folk attend schools and churches over the coming weeks, they will hear the cute little angels echoing three words that many of us have heard so often that we will simply ignore them. Three words that echo the words of the angels two thousand years ago. And three words that reverberate through thousands more years of God’s relationship with people:

Do Not Fear

 

Bombshells

“Do not fear” is one of the most repeated phrases in the bible. Why? Of course, it might be because God likes us to have a constant warm, fuzzy, glowing feeling. But the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. With Mary, with the shepherds and with scores of others, God tells us not to fear just when he’s about to drop a bombshell.  He tells us not to fear precisely when it’s about to get terrifying.

Shepherds, do not fear: I want you to abandon your posts.

Mary, do not fear: I want you to risk social disgrace, your marriage and your future.

And throughout the history of his people the message keeps repeating – Do not fear: defy your family. Do not fear: take on occupying forces. Do not fear, do not fear, do not fear…

And the only reason not to fear is that God has told us not to.

 

Safety

Society sells us a dream of safety. We, God’s Toddlers have largely bought into it. We believe the life worth fighting for is one where we’re safe, secure and risk free. God’s way is different. God’s way isn’t safe. By any normal measure it’s scary. Those who have read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe may remember Mr Beaver:

Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘course he’s not safe. But he’s good

So, to go back to the question of what standing on our own two feet and depending on others have in common, I’d suggest it’s that they’re both terrifying. For most of us, standing back on our own two feet after we’ve allowed God to pick us up is a terrifying prospect. It’s not safe.  For most of us, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and depend on other people and on God is a terrifying prospect. It’s not safe.

God calls us to both with the reminder “Do not fear”. And to any number of daunting prospects, with the reminder “Do not fear”.  Not because what lies ahead isn’t scary, but because it is, and he’s there regardless.

 

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Angel photo (Original version) © Gardner Campbell  

© Text 2013 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 is brought to you by all of the above Bible verses

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.

 

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]

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]