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.

Tell me your vision.

My boss and I hadn’t talked at length for a couple months. It was summer. We both had vacations and conferences and workshops and many good things. As we were looking toward fall, I was feeling a little lost.

I walked into his office one day. I asked him to go down the hall with me to the sanctuary (I’m a pastor.) We sat down in the middle of the room. As I write this, I wonder what he was thinking. Was he waiting for some big confession, some revelation, some earthshattering news? What he heard was me saying, “tell me again what your vision is.”

Fortunately, he knew me. He gave a simple clear explanation of the ideas I’d heard a dozen times. Hearing those words with his voice speaking them specifically to me got me back on track.

I’m a second chair person, an associate. I don’t make the vision, I help live it. I troubleshoot, I help with infrastructure. But every so often I need recalibration. I need to hear again what the mission and the vision and the guiding values.

I started wondering the other day what would happen if I sat down with a cup of coffee across from God and said, “Remind me again. What’s your vision.”

Would he tell me the story that starts before time and ends after time? Would I see hands with holes in them?

Or would I hear a series of stories which I’ve heard dozens of times but need to hear again.

He’d say,”The Kingdom of God is like a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep and looks for one.”  And then wait for something to click in me.

And then he’d say,”The Kingdom of God is like a woman who has 10 coins and loses one, and searches everywhere until she finds it and then acts like a mad woman telling her neighbors.” And then wait for something to click in me.

And then he’d say, “The Kingdom of God is like a father who welcomed his broken runaway son with open arms.” And then wait for something to break in me.


Reviewing the basics

She stopped me in the hallway on Sunday morning. “Can I stop by this week?” she asked. “I think I just need a reminder of what I’m doing.”

I’ve known her for awhile. She’s working hard to apply her understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the many parts of her life.

She knows and lives out the basics of following. She has acted out the story of God’s forgiveness by being immersed in a pond. She has learned to talk with God about  a variety of things. She has read 2 Corinthians out loud. She has looked for ways to serve others, to grow in trusting and in trustworthiness.

But she knows that from time to time she needs a review of the bigger picture. When she thinks, “Give me one good reason to keep doing all this,” she finds that reason in the marquee story of a God and a death and resurrection and a cast of billions, an eternal story which is being lived out right now, by you and me and my friend.

I understand her need for both context and connection, for the view from 30,000 feet and the view in the mirror. I am fine with knowing that you cover the 13.1 miles of a half-marathon one step at a time, but I sometimes need to know that there is a finish line and this is how to get there.

I need to review the basics.

In his last letter to Timothy, Paul gave a simple summary: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.”

“I’d be glad to talk,” I said. “Remind me to tell you a story.”

sit-still cups.

Some friends gave me some new coffee cups the other day. They are small. They are from Ethiopia. They are for the coffee ceremony.

My friend said her husband uses a travel mug while he’s working in Ethiopia. She said that these are the opposite of travel mugs. These are sit-still cups.

IMG_2365You sit still and share hospitality. You sit and share time. You sit and share reflections and strengthen the fabric of community with small cups filled with just-roasted coffee. It’s a ceremony. It’s a routine. It’s an appreciation of small sips.

I have coffee in my new cup as I write. Because the cup is so small, I’m sipping. I’m painting with smaller strokes. I’m slowing down. I’m thinking about Jesus and you and the quiet conversation we are all having at this moment as we talk and listen and sip coffee.

I was actually looking for stories about Jesus in the evening, sipping something with the disciples as the sun went down. I had a picture to paint together about quiet moments. But when I searched for “evening” I realized that evening is when crowds came to Peter’s house to see Jesus. Evening is when the huge crowd just feed miraculously by Jesus bedded down for the night, but the disciples headed across the lake to be terrified by Jesus walking on the water coming to them. Evening is when Jesus told them to get into a fishing boat and then went to sleep as a storm came up. Evening is when Jesus and the disciples left Jerusalem during Holy week to avoid late night attacks from the religious leaders. Evening is when Nicodemus came to Jesus.

I’m sure the wilderness was quieter. But Jesus was with people. Because he was looking for them. It’s who he was seeking. Small sips at a time.

Proverbial wisdom

I don’t use proverbs very often, wise sayings, pithy statements. Sometimes they feel cliche to me. Sometimes they lack originality. Sometimes I notice the exceptions more than the rule. Sometimes I prefer the snarky one-liner.

Sometimes I’m not very wise.

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. Proverbs 27:14



The proverbs that show up in the book of Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings classified as “wisdom literature” and appearing in the Bible after the book of Psalms, are helpful commentaries on life, both past and contemporary.

A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. Proverbs 28:3

They read differently than the history books in the Bible, lacking narrative. There are no long explanations of theological positions, as Paul writes, no letters from which we can identify something about the audience. They feel like someone walked into an office,  took all the post-it notes of encouraging words from someone’s bulletin board, and typed them up. Which is kind of true.

Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.
If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.
The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright.
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. Proverbs 29:8-11

Some people read a chapter of Proverbs a day. You get through the whole collection in a 31-day month. And I realized this week, when I read a chapter, that regular reading may not give us an application each day, but it will gradually shape how we think.

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. Proverbs 28:26

I can’t really dance, but it’s okay.

Last week as we were preparing for the wedding, a friend said that he was praying that “the love you have for your daughter would remind you of His great love for you.”  

There is a tradition at weddings these days called the “father-daughter dance.” In it, a father and daughter, well, um, dance. Which is, I suppose, fun if there is a history of the two dancing. However, if they have never danced together, and if the dad has never danced, this tradition is dangerous. To ignore it means saying that there is a problem between father and daughter. To pursue it means awkwardness.

Early in our conversation on this tradition, Hope and I decided that we would look at our history together and figure out a way to celebrate the hours we spent riding together in the car. To youth group, to lessons, from school, to set construction nights. Sitting side by side, looking at the scenery, asking tough questions without having to look at each other shaped our relationship. That and the radio. We would roll down the windows and turn up the radio. Or the Veggietales tape.

It was a simple decision. Our dance would be a car ride, and the soundtrack would be “The pirates who don’t do anything.

Our Father resists doing what isn’t in his character but delights in doing what is. 

veggie-1We stood in the middle of the dance floor. We had Andrew read an intro. And just before the music started, I got two chairs, Hope got a Wii steering wheel, and we sat down.

And started to talk and sing along with the music.

veggie-2But then I nodded to Andrew, who brought four more chairs and lined them up behind us. I explained to Hope my addition to the dance. Nancy was going to sit in the second row. Andrew and Allie were going to sit in the third row. And I was going to invite Dan to join us. You can see Hope’s response in the photo.

When we decide to go along for the ride, our Father may have delightful surprises.

veggie-4I added the rest of the family to our dance because the Swanson family has spent a lot of time in cars. Most summers included 12-hour drives to northern Wisconsin. Andrew played a lot of soccer. We went to church a lot. The idea of having the car ride dance include just Hope and I ignored the importance of community.

We aren’t the only ones that our Father is taking for the ride.


At the end of the ride, I walked to the other side of the dance gazebo and found Dan. I handed him the steering wheel and led him over to the driver’s seat. I got into the second row next to Nancy.

It was a simple way to show that I’m delighted to be welcoming a new companion to Hope’s life, a new member of our family.

Our Father delights in inviting new people into the  journey and into new relationships with us.

Obviously, the dance was a metaphor for our family life. But as I was listening back to the story in my head, I saw those other implications, those ways my love for Hope help me understand God’s love for me.

And the request of my friend was answered.


Huge thanks to Lindsey Etter, who happened to have her phone out when we started.