Onan did what?!

I first came across the name Onan not in my exploration of the Old Testament, but in my Dad’s exploration of the family tree. Great-grandfather Onan. GGF almost became the namesake of our first child before Big T and I did some research and realised our son would likely attract a merchant banker nickname if we did so.B0220000WH0000007580505051419WIIN00AFA,proud-to-merchant-banker.jpg

At the time, close to eleven years ago, why my GGF had an Old Testament inspired name didn’t even blip on my radar of interest. It simply sounded like a pretty cool name, until we turned to Genesis 38-9.

Recently I was chatting with my Dad, on our regular FaceTime connection between Australia and the U.K, about life, blogs, and faith walks. Recall, despite a C of E schooling, I didn’t grow up in a Christian household, although Dad will most times sign off our calls with, “God bless.” Regardless, his classic line pretty much sums it up: “You know me, Phil, I dislike anything organised, whether it’s automobile clubs or religion.”

During the call, he suddenly said, “Well, you do recall your great grandfather Onan was significant in growing one of the largest Baptist churches in the centre of England?”

Onan did what?! My jaw dropped. Big T howled with laughter. Dad looked a little baffled by the hilarity. “I’m sure I told you,” he added. Apparently there are two original foundation stones from the church preserved in a UK museum. Owned now by an American Baptist church (let’s pray not Westboro).

So GGF Onan was involved in one of the oldest Baptist Churches in the Black Country, known as Messiah or Cinder Bank Chapel. It is said that practically every Baptist chapel within a ten-mile radius, can trace its origins in some way back to it.

My Dad may have mentioned it, but I dare say at the time I didn’t resonate with preachers and church planters in my ancestory DNA.

I have to wonder what got lost in two generations?

When I asked the same, somewhat baffled yet humbled by God reaching through family generations to call me back, the SAP responded: “I wondered too, but then I just gave thanks that He had, along with, through you, your family.”

The reminder that God’s ways are not our ways, His timing not like ours. And yet – as two other UHT Christians exclaimed when I shared my gob-smackedness -the power of faithful prayer. “Your great-grandfather would have prayed over the generations to come in his family. He’d be whooping in heaven right now.”

I look forward to meeting GGF Onan in heaven. Thanking him for his faithful prayers. Asking him if he ever got teased at school for his name. But most to give praise that his seed (boom tish) – whether a ten mile radius from Cinder Bank Baptist chapel in the centre of England or through generational DNA to Sydney, Australia – spilt on fertile ground.

The testimony blooper reel

I love the bloopers at the end of shows. I think it started as a child watching Smokey and the Bandit movies. I loved how I could move from pure fiction to authentic reality. There was also a massive lesson about failing fast and failing with fun. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, trying again and succeeding. d5e933bd4c28f20cd1ac927e8a14a7cf38935364324fa876f2d56730d5a0e7a6.jpg

Upon reflection, my getting up on stage to give my testimony almost two years ago was a fairly interesting exercise on the SAP’s part. He’d observed me pinging around like meerkat on speed as I wrestled and questioned with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And whilst he knew I was more than solid with what GJ&HS had delivered – I’d not have been lipton’d otherwise – he’d also had plenty of insight into my, um, somewhat colourful communication methods.

I wonder if pastors ever have a moment when they wish for the same nine-second delay button that allows live broadcasters to dump any content that’s off-piste before it goes out to air?

After all, live testimony is a fairly public litmus test of a pastor’s efforts in the soul-saving funnel. Yes, yes, I know, God is sovereign, it’s not really the pastor’s fault if someone doesn’t get it 100%….but, still, you’ve surely got to feel a bit of the pressure.

Something has prompted the newbie to come to (or call) the church, they’ve asked lots of questions, likely attended the gospel 101, Christianity Explored course, totally gotten with the program that Jesus’ grace is an underserved gift and are ready to publicly give testimony. But imagine if something has been lost in translation, and, up on stage, there’s some major faux-pas.

Like the live testimony where the person expressed hope they had done enough.

Whoops. I imagine it caused the pastor a mental forehead-slap, a quick grab of the microphone and a, “Ahem, right, well, actually, before you continue let me quickly open up to Ephesians 2:9.”

Testimony is a funny thing. There are the big, headliner, “Jesus turned my life around saved me from drugs/drink/prostitution” testimonies. Or the no less headlining, but somehow less attention-getting, “I grew up in a Christian home, with happy parents, their solid marriage and embrace Jesus as my saviour because I have seen so much joy in him throughout my life why on earth would I put anything else above him?”

Why don’t churches do more ‘where are they now?’ testimonies and report on some follow up stories? I think many congregants would be greatly encouraged by how and where the newbies are growing in their faith. It would also spread some colour and awareness of how gloriously different everyone’s faith walk can be. Hints and tips could be shared. Honest bloopers too.

Imagine sharing all those lessons about failing fast and failing with fun. Grabbing grace. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, and trying again through faith. Real life, real church.

Bleepin’ awesome.


One year old & 10,000 readers. Dear God, how did that happen?

oneweekinaugust.com is celebrating over 10,000 readers. Had you asked me 18 months ago if I could imagine myself writing this sort of blog, with a Bible app on my phone, an aural affection for the Pandora ‘Songs of Worship’ channel, that I would have been Lipton’d and be working with a global charity broadcasting the gospel to a few billion people in the hardest-to-reach parts of the world? I’d have checked if the person you knew was the same one whose mind and body I inhabit.tumblr_l2ez3gGb1O1qzoozmo1_500

Scarily reminiscent of Matthew 16:25: For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…

As my recent run in with the horned mother trucker tested, this blog is not an ego-feeder of readership numbers, shares and likes. It isn’t. Honestly. And yet..

When Jesus told them the Great Commission, his first century disciples didn’t have the benefit of digital media, social sharing and blogging immediacy. When the resurrected Jesus called his followers to baptise all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there was no internet. No bible colleges and theology degrees. Simply Jesus’ disciples, blessed with the holy spirit, getting out there on foot and letting as many as possible know.

Today it’s all shifted. Ministering and disciple-making is seen as the domain of those who have studied up – with the correct certificate hanging on the wall, and the right stole and cassock hanging in the wardrobe. Which I wasn’t aware of when I started this blog. Too new, too fresh and too oblivious to ‘right’ procedure. Back then, surprised by G, J and the SAP (smart alec pastor), I simply wrote what I observed during my slightly madcap Christian journey. It kicked-off partly as a way to process, partly as a means to ‘come out’ to my atheist friends. But it has grown…into I’m not sure what.

A kind reader sent me am encouraging note after my mother trucker blog: I think anyone who sticks their head up in the trenches like you do, will get shot at by the Evil One.. no surprises. The surprise is the WAY he does it..the bullets he uses, tailored to impact just you. It’s happened to any of us who use our gifts to further the Kingdom.

Me, upon reading that comment, in no particular order:

  • I’m not sticking my head up, I’m hiding behind a keyboard here aren’t I?
  • Further the Kingdom? Dear Lord, I hope you’ve got some seriously good roadsigns up for people. I do head off-piste…sorry..

Yet, I can’t ignore the numbers. It must make enough pithy sense for people to be engaged. So, completely accidentally, this has become a ‘baptism by blogging’. Digitally dunking as many readers as possible into a river of words, thoughts and my take on modern-day discipleship.

Discipleship – Then and Now

Refer to disciples, and thoughts turn to those early followers of Christ. Praying, worshipping, loving, giving, and evangelising men and women who refused to keep the truth of the gospel to themselves. Yet, God still desires disciples today—ordinary people to give up themselves so God can use them to do extraordinary things. …whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…

Trouble is, that’s all a bit radical to many in the modern day church. But for the early believers, that was normal. It was what you did once you had hung around with a grace-filled, other-focused man who taught a radical new way to live, performed miracles, was persecuted,  crucified and CAME BACK TO LIFE.

Read those four words in capitals again. Imagine it in the modern day. Wouldn’t that sort of encounter shake you up? Rock your world? Make you want to get out there and yell, “OMG, you should meet this bloke!”

To those early believers, it was normal Christianity. And these men and women—empowered and motivated by the Holy Spirit—turned their world upside down for the sake of Christ. In short, they were true disciples. They followed. They believed.

I’m a fairly dodgy disciple. I fail daily at being Christ-like and other focused. I imagine him peeking out at me from behind his fingers, shaking his head, looking to his left and saying, “Dad, she really didn’t just say that, did she..? Oh..yes, yes she did… Hang on, I’ve got it.” And he leans forward and whispers grace in my ear.

It is those odd whispers that form these blogs. I have to write to pick over the raw gems that God shoves at me. Mostly, it’s an almost physical compulsion to have another go at explaining what too much church and too much religion has lost in translation. My way of gently unpacking the joy that I never expected, the awe that keeps me thankful, and the fun and humour I have in a relationship with G&J.

I don’t think I’ll ever be the “OMG, you should meet this bloke!” yelling type. Instead, I prefer to think of these blog posts as a modern take on 18th century calling cards. A basis of forging an introduction.

Bless you for reading and sharing.

Have the nice clergy opened the church doors to gay marriage?

As a newbie Christian, this is something I’m pondering. With gay marriage topping the agenda (because, come on, if a country packed full of the devout like Ireland can do it, why can’t Australia?) could it be asked whether the church has devalued marriage by marrying non-Christians in church? 

Image from http://anglicansablaze.blogspot.com.au
Image from http://anglicansablaze.blogspot.com.au

Putting aside Genesis, gender, Adam and Eve and all the offensive ‘It was Eve not Steve’ bumper stickers, it struck me that ‘marriage’ – the institution from the church’s perspective – has been under threat as soon as the non-faithful started getting married in them.

I have a bunch of aethist / agnostic mates who were married in a church because they wanted a nice architectural venue. I disappointed my Catholic in laws by refusing anything but a civil ceremony. Back then I really didn’t think Jesus wanted much to do with me (and me with him) so why pretend for a day? I suppose if you don’t believe at all, and it’s more about having the The Garrison Church at The Rocks in your wedding photos, then you can probably wing it.

It just seems a bit odd for clergy to offer Christian marriage ceremonies to non-believers. Or is it a grey area? Like, “Well, you do have a christening certificate from 30 odd years ago so we can’t say no, even if we think you’re bunging it on for the fancy photo opportunity.” Plus (the clergy will doubtless howl me down for this one) my cynical mind supposes the upkeep on all those sandstone edifices can be pricey. Taking in a few fees for BDMs (births, deaths, marriages) helps, no?

Catholics say marriage is a sacrament. Jesus doesn’t. He only gave two: baptism (my getting lipton’d) and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). But, much like reverse engineering a marketing campaign, have churches married non-believing people thinking that it was a good starting point? A way of increasing the numbers in the potential soul-saving funnel? That maybe, just maybe, it would help as a starting point for evangelism.

Yet most clergy don’t evangelise to couples asking to be married. Because the clergy are too nice. The whole watered-down, insipid Christianity thing that created my own Christian hangover. Faced with a pushy Bridezilla intent on the location, darling, the location, are there clergy with cojones saying:

“Now, this marriage covenant was ordained by God to provide believers with a picture of Christ’s love and relationship to His church. It represents your union with Jesus Christ. A successful marriage is built upon the biblical truth that God designed each of us with five purposes in mind: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions. So, please, tell me, how are you going to fulfil those five?”

Can you imagine the engaged couple’s faces? Probably the same colour as the numbers in the church’s building and repairs bank account…

Jesus, as I’ve typed before, is the lightning rod. The uber-blog post. If the clergy, through misplaced niceness (and misplaced cojones?) aren’t seriously talking him up whilst performing marriage ceremonies; knowing, deep down, it will be the first and last time they will see the couple in church, then what does it say about Christian marriage?

That the doors are wide open for business, I’d say..

So, do you feel different?

This appears to be the main question I’m receiving after my Lipton’ingbaptism a couple of days ago.

Surfacing… firm grip, please, SAP!
Surfacing… firm grip, please, SAP!

As the SAP shared during the ceremony about why the Christian faith baptises, being immersed in a river did not do anything ‘magical’ to me. I didn’t emerge out the water like Dr Grey/Phoenix in the X-Men. It’s a symbol. A pretty public one. That I have skin in the Christian game. Jesus, God and I are now teammates. They have my back. I’ve got theirs.

Yet my new-age wanderings put credence in being ‘washed away’. Magic, no. Energetically, I’m feeling a lot more grounded in my Christianity. Perhaps the salt water counteracted all the adrenalin that flooded my system when the SAP said there were 250 sausages ordered for the post-dunking BBQ. 250?! Just how many people were going to be watching?

Welcome to the family

It both terrified and humbled me that so many people, a fairly good proportion of whom I had never met (given this was organised by the Saturday Night Youth Church and I’m an old broiler who goes to another service on Sundays), were on the riverbank cheering all the dunkees on. Unconditional love and support from those who were delighted in the decision we had reached. I was particularly moved by one close friend, a staunch atheist, who whooped and hollered from the riverbank with the rest and settled me with a generous gift of unconditional love herself: ‘Many congratulations, Phil. May your faith sustain you in good times and not so good. Lovely to see you so happy.‘ How generous, open-hearted and gorgeous is that?

Given I have skidded, crashed, cried, skinned knees, skinned heart, danced, dodged and whooped my way through this six month journey at a fairly break-neck speed, the water was a balm. I purposely withdrew from social media and implemented a strict regime on managing work email for three days before. Big T helped too, creating white space in the noise of domesticity on the day. It all allowed me to retreat inward. Settle and pat down the past 30 weeks of spiritual excavation. This was one occasion I had no wish to skid into.

A passage about baptism by Anne Lamott in her book ‘Travelling Mercies‘ struck me during this period:

“It’s about full immersion, about falling into something elemental and wet. Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under…you agree to do something that’s a little sloppy because at the same time it’s also holy….  It’s about surrender, giving in to all those things we can’t control; it’s a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched... The hope, the belief, is that a new day is upon you now.”

Does the grin say it all?
Does the grin say it all?

So here I am, dunked, drenched, refreshed, and ready to rock the new day. Only two burning questions remain, and both have plagued my irreverent mind since the ceremony:

1) Has the SAP ever had a lipton-ing moment when, at the point he needs to start drawing the dunkee up and back out of the water, one hand firmly gripping their right shoulder, the other at the top of their left forearm, he thinks, “Uh-oh, I’ve not got the leverage here. This one’s going to hit the bottom…” 2) Do they offer ‘practice sessions’ at bible college?

Hugs from my biggest supporter. Thanks Big T!
Hugs from my biggest supporter. Thanks Big T!