chaplains are not charlies

Jonathan meets Jonathan (BUGB General Secretary meets Chaplain General)

I have just read a great article in The Times (on Saturday 1 October) about army chaplains. (I’d like to be able to point you to it online, but The Times is subscription only.) It is based around an interview with the Chaplain General (top chaplain), Rev Jonathan Woodhouse, who happens to be the first Baptist Chaplain General. He was asked what the role of army chaplains is today:

To continue to be trusted in bringing the hope of God… My job as a padre is not to oil the wheels of war, but to help the humanity caught up in it.

That’s profound! We may have questions about the right or wrong of a particular circumstance, but our task as free samples of Jesus is always to help the humanity that is caught up in those circumstances and be trusted in bringing the hope of God. A while ago I had a conversation with someone who is exploring the possibility of chaplaincy to the local ‘Gentleman’s Club’. I had no reservations about supporting her in this, but did not have the words to articulate why until I read Jonathan Woodhouse’s words.

There is a fine line to tread in this. By being involved we can be seen to be affirming things that we would not endorse. But this is exactly the sort of thing Jesus was doing. He spent time with people who were regarded as ‘unclean’ and told his critics that it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. But can polite (predominantly middle-class) churches cope with that attitude today? If (as I reckon he might) Jesus said he wanted to be a chaplain to a Gentleman’s Club wouldn’t we try to dissuade him. Wouldn’t we warn him of the risk to his reputation? Wouldn’t we ask him about the reputation of the church? Wouldn’t we ask about whether he was compromising himself?

And wouldn’t he smile gently and say, “But I love them.” And then he might go back to drawing in the sand while looking pointedly at the stones we are carrying.

You may not formally be a chaplain, but you can be the same to those around you. Not judging, not condemning, not condoning, but loving and being the presence of Jesus where our paths cross with theirs.

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

On Mothering Sunday last year I held a ‘dandling’ competition in our church. We asked some parents to dandle their children on their knees. It was linked to God’s description of how he will comfort his people in Isaiah 66:12 of dandling them. Dandling, for the unititiated, is bouncing up and down on your knees (when our children were little it was usually linked to saying a rhyme about horses). At this time there was a big poster on the route away from our church advertising the Gentleman’s Club mentioned above, explaining that lap-dancing was available there. A young child from our church read this on their way home and asked his dad what lap-dancing was. In a moment of swift-thinking and (imho) genius his dad replied, “It’s dandling for grown-ups!”


In the UK it is ‘Mothering Sunday’ this Sunday (important to point this out for international readers who celebrate it on other dates, and to point out that I have international readers [smug mode enabled], and to make those international readers feel included). Where was I? Oh yes, ‘Mothering Sunday’. It has the potential to be another day designed to line the pockets of card and gift shops across the country as more and more “stuff” is produced just for that day.

At its heart, however, is thankfulness for the human experience of being mothered. It is chance to be thankful to those who have given us their love, patience, encouragement, patience, lent us their car when we were learning to drive, patience, tidied our rooms (or got us to do it eventually), patience, put food on the table for us, patience, nurtured us and did I mention patience? They need not have been our biological mothers, or even women, but they have shared motherliness with us and we are grateful to them.

In preparing for Sunday morning at church I have reflected on Isaiah 66:12. It’s a passage that was originally written for the Jews in exile and is assuring them that God has not forgotten them. It reveals something of his character to them and how he views them with motherlike affection. There is a lovely image of God treating his people the same way that a mother dandles a child on her knees.

Have you ever been dandled? I was not sure, so looked it up. Dandling is affectionately bouncing a child up and down in your arms or on your knees (now you know). That image took me back – first of all to my childhood when I can remember being bounced on knees, and then to my children’s earlier days when they were bounced on knees. The dandling was invariably accompanied by giggles, laughs and joy. It’s a shame I am too big to be dandled today.

The image of God dandling us on his knees has charmed me. There are times when I think he must despair of me but his desire is to know me as his child and to spend time with me in laughter and joy. Wow! That thought has just made the hairs on my arm stand on end and sent a shiver down my spine!

So let’s regress to childhood for a story. I can remember story-time on the radio as a small child: ‘Listen with Mother’, which always began: “Are you sitting comfortably? [pause] Good, then I’ll begin…”

The three bears

Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table, he looks into his small bowl. It is empty. “Who’s been eating my porridge?!!”, he squeaks. 

Daddy Bear arrives at the big table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl, and it is also empty. “Who’s been eating my Porridge?!!,” he roars.

Mother Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, “For Pete’s sake, how many times do we have to go through this?

“It was Mother Bear who got up first, it was Mother Bear who woke everyone in the house, it was Mother Bear who made the coffee, it was Mother Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night, and put everything away, it was Mother Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Mother Bear who set the table, it was Mother Bear who put the cat out, cleaned the litter box, and filled the cat’s water and food dish, and, now that you’ve decided to drag your sorry bear-butts downstairs, and grace Mother Bear’s kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen good, cause I’m only going to say this one more time . . .