All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

Thinking about Jesus and Walmart.

We’re going to Walmart for retail-inspired spiritual formation?” Jane asked. “Is it a case study in what not to wear for becoming like Jesus?”

I had started talking with her about spiritual formation a couple weeks earlier.  I told her about my idea  of  building reflection about spiritual formation in visits to Target instead of visits to a classroom. What I hadn’t told her was that I knew that among some Target people, Walmart was socially unacceptable.

“So what do you think Jesus wore when he went shopping?” I asked.

“That’s the oddest question,” she said. “How could we even answer that?”

“And where, exactly, would Jesus shop?” I said.

“I have no idea,” she said. “Did he even need to shop? I mean, he could multiply fish and bread, and he could transform water, so did he do shopping?”

“At least once, his disciples were grabbing grain while walking through a field because they were hungry,” I said. “Remember when Becky was talking about that? So I’m sure that  he didn’t always do miracles for food. And he taught his disciples to ask the father for bread daily. And he regularly stayed at people’s houses for food and he never turned down a dinner and he talked often about the gap between the rich and the hungry, coming down on the side of the hungry.”

Jane was quiet for a minute. “So was Jesus actually poor?”

“He was acutely aware of the needs of the people on the edges of society,” I said. “He noticed and healed beggars. He noticed and mentioned widows. He noticed and touched sick and dead people. He noticed and celebrated children. He noticed and talked to Samaritans.”

“So did Jesus shop at Walmart?” Jane asked.

“I’m guessing he still does,” I said.

Running for a reason

I’ve tried to figure out how to do fundraising with running. Actually, I’ve wanted my running to be helpful for someone other than me. And I wanted to get something figured out for my 57th birthday in July.

Along came the #iworkoutbeCAUSE 30-day charity running challenge. Complete at least 12 20-minute workouts in 30 days and raise $150 for your charity and you can qualify for a drawing to receive $2000 for the charity.

am walkingThe workout part is easy. Nancy and I walk that much almost every day, and I’m in day 35 of a series of consecutive days of running. Many of those runs are long enough to qualify. So I’m running for Tiny Hands, International. They work to eliminate child trafficking, particularly in Nepal. (More on Tiny Hands). I’ve got an affinity for Nepal. And if you want to join on the fundraising side, I’d be grateful.

Of course, if you want to join on the running side, I’d be grateful, too. Most of my running happens alone. In the past year, I’ve had someone running with me four times. Two races, two workouts.

Part of the challenge, of course, is that I run in our neighborhood at night. There aren’t many people that run in our neighborhood at night.

I could probably ask around. I could adjust my schedule. I could ask. But I mostly just run on my own.

I’m pretty sure that if I ran with someone, an individual or a group who could encouragement to push a little harder, to go a little further, I would be stronger. And I could help them be stronger, too.

Because community is helpful for taking on hard tasks. Or even daily runs.

And maybe it’s not just about running.

Morning office

First published July 31, 2013

I carried the white wicker chair from the front bedroom to the front porch. I carried the white mug of coffee from the kitchen to the front porch and placed it beside the wicker chair. I carried the black Moleskine journal from the living room table to the front porch and placed it next to the coffee mug. I carried Emotionally Healthy Spirituality from the living room table to the front porch and, sitting down in the chair, placed it on my lap. I turned to Appendix B.

“Morning Prayer: ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7)”

It’s a sample of the Daily Office. That’s not a workplace gossip page. If anything, it’s the opposite. The “Daily Office” is a script for a time of daily reflection and prayer.

I use the word “script” because I can’t find a better one. But I mean no disrespect. Some of my best friends are scripts. Movies that have expressed my dreams, shaped my vision. So why not a script to guide my conversation with God, training wheels for my thoughts.

I try to be still. I am captivated by the golden crewcut of the recently-harvested wheat field across the road. I hear call-and-response prayer from the far end of the field. Putting down the book, I walk across the yard to the gravel road. A pair of sandhill cranes, They started earlier than me. They are at the benediction: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

I go back to the wicker chair, the coffee, the journal. I go back to the Office.

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Or maybe on this porch.


Spiritual thoughts in the Target aisle.

“So, any more ideas about retail-inspired spiritual formation?” Jane asked. “I thought about it Friday when I stopped to pick up a couple things.”

She was talking about a conversation we had last week.

“How did our conversation shape your visit? I asked.

“I’m not sure about shaping it,” she said. “But I was going to get a wedding present. And as I walked past the grocery aisle I saw the wine and thought, ‘I wonder what Jesus took to that wedding he visited with his mom?’ I mean, did he take a gift or did the water he turned into wine count as a gift?”

We laughed. “I’ll take that. Tying Sunday school stories to Target aisles is a way to wrestle with the ideas. Did you notice anything else?”

“Actually, I did,” she said slowly. “I had never looked careful at the signs. But there are all these images of perfect skin and makeup as I walk along that aisle to the paper towels. And I thought about how it creates expectations about what the makeup will do. And it never works that way for me.”

I waited. I had no idea how to respond.

“And then I realized that maybe church does the same thing, creating perfect images that could never work in real life. But then I thought about a couple friends I have, who know me and love me and pray with me and help me heal. And if church is three friends, maybe it’s not all fake like the makeup posters.”

“You got that in the aisle at Target?” I said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

“Why is is so surprising?” she laughed. “Do you think Jesus doesn’t go to Target? I’ll tell you where he doesn’t go. Wal-mart.”

I smiled. “That’s where we were going next!”

What I learned in chapel.

wheaton collegeFrom 1976 to 1979, I was a student at Wheaton College. I majored in Speech Communication, with an emphasis in broadcasting.

We were required to attend chapel four days a week, and convocation one day a week. I believe chapel started at 10:00 am. I believe it lasted until 10:35.

I say, “I believe” because I wasn’t attentive to chapel. I know that we had a certain number of absences, or “cuts”. I know that three lates equalled one cut. I know that people stood at the front of the balcony and took attendance. I know that we were assigned seats and that the assignments varied and included last name, first name, major, or hometown. For all  I know, they may have included middle initial and blood type. There was a chime that sounded ten times. The doors closed at 7. I was often in the parking lot, arriving from home when the chime started. I still start counting every time I hear chimes.

I didn’t have anything against the requirement. I know now that as an introvert and as an off-campus student at a residential campus, I felt like an outsider.

I only remember the words of two speakers in eleven trimesters of chapel. Elizabeth Elliot said that many students decided whether or not to attend chapel based on the reputation of the speaker. If the speaker wasn’t famous, there was no reason to attend.

She said, “You don’t know when God will speak to you through a speaker. Show up.”

It took me decades to understand that she was talking about the importance of spiritual routines. But now my life is increasingly shaped by the value of being present.

Elizabeth Elliot died this week. She was 88. She shaped many lives. She lived with courage. But that one sentence in one chapel proved her point. And hopefully, is shaping your life, too.