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.

Conversational speed.

“Can we run together for a little longer today?” Tim asked. “When you come running up at the end of my run, say few things and speed off, I’m a little frustrated.”

Tim was running his new route at the park.  A guy he met last week caught up with him.

“I can do that,” Paul said. “I wanted to find out whether you were interested in talking. You seemed pretty hesitant last week.”

“It wasn’t about you, exactly,” Tim said.  “It’s pretty scary to run in public, to have everyone watching and judging. And then, when someone older passes you, that’s pretty intimidating. No offense intended.”

Paul smiled. “None taken. But what makes you think that people are judging? Are you?”

Tim shrugged. “No, not really. But everyone is better or faster or cooler than I am. I want to stay in the shadows.”

“I’ll go back to my first question from last week,” Paul said. “What are you training for? Before you argue, let me explain a bit.

“When you have a clear sense of why you are running, what you are training for, it changes your relationship to everything: to running itself, to other people, to your life. You worry less about what other people think of you and more about how people might help you.”

Tim ran silently for a bit. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“Let me be really practical for a minute,” Paul said. “How fast are you running right now? Faster or slower than usual.”

Tim looked at his watch. “I have no idea,” he said finally.

“I can tell you. You are running a little slower. You can tell by the way we are able to talk. At your usual pace, you would be gasping. I’ve slowed you down a bit because good training happens at conversational pace.

“Too many people try too hard on their own when they start running. They run fast, then burn out. Because you wanted to talk to me, you adjusted your pace to mine. And my pace is a perfect speed for you to build stamina.”

Tim laughed. “I knew I was matching you, but I thought I was speeding up. But you are right. I wanted to know what you knew so I stopped worrying about what you thought of me.”

Paul smiled. “You will speed up, eventually. If we run together enough and you follow my lead. But the secret is learning to live at conversational speed.”

“That sounds like it’s about more than running,” Tim said.

Paul smiled. “That’s enough slowness for me. See you Wednesday.”

Training for.

Tim looked at his watch. He was running the same trail he had taken Wednesday, at the same time. He was hoping that the old guy he chatted with would show up again.

He’d been thinking about the old guy’s question: “What are you training for?” Because Tim wasn’t training for anything. He was just running because it would help him lose some weight and because it was exercise and because he liked having done it.

“So, do you have an answer?” The old guy startled him.

“I thought you weren’t going to show up,” Tim said. “I was just about to quit for the day.”

“Why quit? How did you know you were done?”

Tim shook his head.  “I run til I feel like stopping. Today I kept going a little longer because you said something about seeing me.”

day 15 #rwrunstreakThe old man smiled. “If I quit each time I felt like stopping, I’d only run a half mile at a time. That first part of the run is always awkward. I can’t find my stride for a couple miles.”

Tim laughed. “That’s my problem. I never run more than a couple miles.”

“So let’s go back to my question,” the man said. “What are you training for?”

“Why does that matter so much to you?” Tim asked.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me moving past my feelings. When I remember that I’m training and then remember why I’m training, I can keep running on any given day, and even every given day.”

“So how is that related to being godly?” Tim asked. “You tossed that out as you ran away the other day.”

“I regretted that statement as soon as I said it.” The old man smiled apologetically. “I should have said that running was part of becoming godly.”

“What’s the difference?” Tim said.

“Being godly suggests a condition you have. Becoming godly suggests that there is a process, that you can learn or train for it.” The old man paused. “And that’s why I’m running with you. I want to help you learn about training. In running and godliness.”

The old man started to speed up.

“What’s your name?” Tim gasped, struggling to catch up. “I’m Tim.”

The man slowed. “And you can call me Paul,” he said. “See you Monday.”


A question of training.

“Are you training for anything?”

The older man had come up behind Tim, then slowed to talk. It was an innocent question. Tim should have smiled and nodded and kept running. But the surprise of a running companion startled him.

Tim was running this trail for the first time. He’d been private about his exercising for the past few months, running at night through his neighborhood. It had been perfect. Several street lights, slow traffic, and no other runners.

He finally felt confident enough to be in public. A little. But he never expected someone to start a conversation.

“Um, not really,” Tim said. “I’m just learning to run.”

10860920_10153486930752008_3653967566468668962_oThe nice thing about talking while running is that there were excuses for short answers. You could always blame your breathing or the need to watch the path. You could pretend to be at the end of a long run instead of just starting a short one.

“Have you ever entered a race?” the man said.

Tim shook his head.

“What are you running for?” the man persisted.

Tim just kept going. He hoped the man would move on. But he seemed to be comfortable with the silence and with the pace.

“I’m not sure, actually.” Tim heard himself say.

It surprised him. He’d never had to answer the question for anyone else or for himself.

Tim had never been much for exercise. He finally started walking when someone suggested that it would help his stress. He loved helping people behind the scenes, but he kept being asked to take on public responsibilities. It stretched him, but it also stressed him. The walking helped. But it also made him curious about running.

One night he tried it. Just for the length of the block. It left him gasping. But it also didn’t hurt. By the time he was ready to run in daylight, he could last a couple miles at a time.

But he still wasn’t sure why he was running.

“How come people worry so much about races?” Tim finally asked the man. It was more of a statement than a question and had a little more frustration than Tim wanted to show.

“That’s a great question. Races can show you the progress you are making,” the man said. “But the race is never why you run.”

“So what are you running for?” Tim said.

“It’s part of being godly,” the man said.

If Tim hadn’t been so winded, he would have started laughing. The words didn’t fit with running. At all. And the man’s quiet confidence was creepy.

Tim glanced at the man. He was looking right at Tim. He smiled. And started running ahead with the ease of a veteran.

“See you out here Friday,” he said.

Unexpected twists.

I told Nancy I was going try to write 300 words.

“Three,” she said. “Zero. Zero. W. O.”

That’s my kind of straight line. Which she seldom crosses.

11026291_10153256922952008_8326601046100600869_nI smiled. Partially because she gave me the beginning of this essay. But mostly as a reminder that human beings are unpredictable.

We waste huge amounts of energy predicting what people will do and waste enormous amounts of emotional energy when we are wrong. We help people and don’t receive any gratitude. We do everything right and get scolded. We mess up a project and expect to be fired.

Jesus ended up in the middle of those situations. He lived them, he talked about them.

For example, he told about a runaway son who came trudging home, expecting to sleep in the barn.

He met a young man who did everything right, expecting to be embraced.

He talked with a paralyzed man who described his immobility, expecting to be consoled.

And then the twists in the stories came. The runaway son was welcomed with open arms and a feast. The young man was told to sell everything he had. The paralyzed man was told to walk. No condemnation for confession. No acclaim for perfection. No “that’s too bad” when healing was at hand.

Nancy and I both laughed when she played with expectations. I’m not sure that Jesus was as happy to turn expectations upside down, like moneychanger tables in the entry to the prayer place. If anything, I’m guessing that he lamented the time wasted in speculation rather than conversation, in self-righteous pleasing rather than simple obedience.

Though his death and resurrections were about more than making us think, his life was exactly that. By teaching and living the teaching, he was attempting to engage the disciples in relationship.

He still is.

Praiseworthy Portillo’s

(This conversation started with Think Better)

Ella said, “What is something you know to be praiseworthy?”

“You mean like Portillo’s Italian beef?” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “I understand that you like it,” she said. “But as an alternative to worrying about world peace or getting a post written, that’s not exactly profound.”

11329747_10153328229952008_5513271349665257428_n“I wasn’t thinking about the taste,” I said. “Or not just the taste. I was thinking about the time that a friend and I decided that it would be okay to stop in the middle of a trip and spend the time to get a sandwich that I enjoy. And to introduce him to the sandwich. And the delight that he had in the taste and the gratitude I felt that he was willing to stop. Our friendship was deepened just a little that day. Our understanding that God created taste buds and relationship and the idea of time invested in stopping rather than being wasted in rushing.”

Ella laughed. “You have actually thought pretty deeply about that sandwich stop. Why do you remember it?”

I hesitated. I didn’t really want to tell her. “I think it’s because that stop revealed some things I didn’t really want to see. I don’t like admitting my drivenness. I don’t want to acknowledge how often I assume that people don’t want to be inconvenienced.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Ella said.

“I wanted my friend to get home to his family. I overestimated the amount of time that it would take to stop. But he is just as committed to being a friend as I am to not being a burden.”

“So living through that event, and seeing the smile on his face as he ate that sandwich, and knowing that he is a friend has been worth thinking about?” Ella asked. “Is that why Paul saw value in thinking about true and noble and praiseworthy things?”