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.

In training.

Rob says that running in the rain makes you feel indomitable. I think it makes you wet. But that may be the same thing.

Here’s what I do know. If I ever need to, I can run 5K (3.1 miles) if the temperature is 24 degrees (F). I can even run 5K if the temperature is 18 degrees (F). And, if the weather is 50 degrees and raining, I can also run 5K.

<FW>I didn’t know any of those things until last week. I had seen people running, had heard about the delights of running, knew that some people chose to be outside in those conditions, but I wasn’t one of those people.

I have no need to feel indomitable. I have a growing need, however, to be growing.

Paul writes to his apprentice Timothy about training, saying  “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

I’m understanding the value of bodily training right now. I’m more ready for challenges of temperature and exercise than I have ever been (which is scary when I consider all I can’t do).  I’m starting to train for a half-marathon in March, knowing it will take me that long. 

But I am working on understanding and clearly explaining what training for godliness looks like. Slowly at first. In easy situations. And then in colder moments, in darker times. Encouraging nice people as I learn how to encourage sad people. Forgiving small things, on the way to larger things. Being thankful for coffee to practice being thankful for criticism.

In case I ever need to.


My conversation with Nehemiah is just 99 cents for Kindles and Kindle apps all week.

a weekend permission list.

First published April 25, 2009.

Rest. You get to do that.

Pray. You get to do that.

Trust. You get to do that.

Sleep. You get to do that.

Laugh. You get to do that.

Weep. You get to do that.

Ask. You get to do that.

Love. You get to do that.

Repent. You get to do that.

Thank. You get to do that.

Sing. You get to do that.

Kiss. You get to do that.

Work. You get to do that.

Talk. You get to do that.

Lament. You get to do that.

Question. You get to do that.

Come. You get to do that.

Go. You get to do that.

Read. You get to do that.

Reflect. You get to do that.

Shout. You get to do that.

Study. You get to do that.

Leave. You get to do that.

Gather. You get to do that.

Depend. You get to do that.

Know. You get to do that.

Defer. You get to do that.

Follow. You get to do that.

Serve. You get to do that.

Hold. You get to do that.

grosbeakConsider. You get to do that.

Confess. You get to do that.

Stop. You get to do that.

Start. You get to do that.

Pursue. You get to do that.

Acknowledge. You get to do that.

Praise. You get to do that.

Heal. You get to do that.

Help. You get to do that.

Hunger. You get to do that.

Eat. You get to do that.

Belong. You get to do that.

Sometimes we think about what we don’t get to do when we choose to follow Jesus. As a result, we sometimes don’t think about the things that we can do. This list, taken from what we are told to do,  helps us think about what we can do.

Wouldn’t you start working?

This is how the book of Nehemiah starts:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down,and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

When I sat down to understand it, I ended up in a conversation with Nehemiah, and here’s how that went.


“One day my brother showed up unexpectedly. But that’s how everyone showed up back then. Unannounced. I was so excited to hear the news of the rebuilding, of the homeland. Lots of my people were comfortable in Babylon, but those of us who cared about returning to our homeland were hopeful.

go“And when I heard from Hanani that nothing had changed, I was devastated. The breath went out of me. Do you know what it is like to spend your whole life and your parents’ whole lives and your grandparents’ whole lives retelling stories of what went wrong and what would be made right, lamenting the downfall, praying for the return? And then to hear that the people who went back, who could do something, were in despair? That after two generations and more, the walls were still in ruins, the gates still gaping and charred?

“It was more than I could handle. The city was in ruins. Someone needed to decide to rebuild. And somehow, unlikely as it was, I knew it might be me. I knew that I was going to have to give my one and only life to do something. To make a change. To take everything that I knew and throw it into this.”

Nehemiah slowly slipped back into his chair. I realized that he had fallen on his knees while he was talking.

I sat still. I thought of my own life, of the stories I learned about things that matter.

He smiled. “I get carried away. Sorry.”

He leaned back in the chair and looked around my office. At the books. At the coffee mugs. At the pictures of family.

“You know, sometimes I wonder,” he said. “If I knew that it would take the rest of my life, that I would spend a decade and more at the edges of the empire, would I have started this work? If I had known that I would fear and work and argue and defend. That I would give up all that was here in Susa for all that wasn’t there in Jerusalem. That I would work all that time and still wonder whether anyone’s life was really different, would I have done it again?”

His eyes stopped wandering. He leaned forward and looked at me. He said, “If you had something that mattered that much, wouldn’t you start working on it, no matter what?”

I closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair. I was too emotional to answer. When I looked up, he was gone. But his question is still in my heart.

“If you had something that mattered that much, wouldn’t you start working on it, no matter what?”


This is an excerpt from my book A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works. From November 23-30, the Kindle edition will be available for $.99.

Looking forward to Advent

I’ve had mixed feelings about Advent and Christmas for years. Everyone’s happy and I get more melancholy. There are expectations of great love and great presents and great programs, and I feel inadequate.

But several years ago, I began to understand that spending time in preparation can help us handle seasons of expectation with wisdom and grace. A little more anyway.

Several years ago, I wrote an Advent reader.  It looked at the mixture of fear and hope and anticipation in the lives of people as Jesus first appeared.

As I started thinking about Advent this year, about a season of preparation for Christmas, I wanted to write something new. Writing is how I think. And in the reflection, I started to think about food.

That’s obvious, right?

bonnie doon.We talk about eating too much during the holidays. In fact, I’ve spent much of the year dealing with what happened last year.

And food can be a scary thing. I have several friends sorting through food allergies right now, deciding what can help them and what can hurt them.

But I realized that food, or better, meals, is a powerful way to reflect on anticipation and preparation. Having food, not having food, having meals, having community – all of these are deep in our hearts. And there are food images, meal images, all through the Bible. From good and bad food choices in the Garden, to feasts in front of enemies in Psalm 23 to vegetarian choices in Daniel to a wedding feast at the end of time.

Starting November 30, at 300 we’re going to celebrate Advent by looking at the stories of meals around Jesus.

I’d love to have you start thinking now, to anticipate our conversation about anticipation. So answer this question if you would: What’s the best meal you ever had?


I’m suggesting a helping project around Advent as well: Advent Diapers.

4 reasons to talk about a Bible passage more than once.

I asked my friend if he had a sentence or two from the Bible that were anchors for him, what is often called a “life verse.” He said that he was always drawn to a few sentences from Jesus, quoted in the book of John. I suggested that he learn them for our next conversation. Not memorize, necessarily, but be able to tell be about them, tell me the story.  He agreed. And in our next conversation, he talked through them, making explanations and observations. He did well. I learned from him.

So I said, “Do it again for next week.” “Okay,” he said, with a tone of voice that wants a bit more explanation. So I gave him some reasons.

First, I am learning that testing helps us learn. Not the end of year, all or nothing kinds of tests. But simple assessments in the course of the learning. Like being asked to explain a text. He could just read it. But knowing that I’ll be engaging with him sharpens the reading process. It pushed him to read a couple Bible translations, to think often about what the text says.

Second, talking out loud about a text makes us engage differently than simply reading it silently. As he tells me about the passage, he’s speaking words which were first spoken, not written. Anyone who has watched me stop to think while teaching knows that this is part of my engagement with texts.

Third, it seems worth investing two weeks carefully engaging with something you use to guide your life. Since I can encourage him to do this, I am.

Fourth, as a way to help him feel comfortable talking about faith, we’re talking about faith in a conversational way. The more you can practice talking, the easier it becomes.

Make sense? What do you think? And, do you have a sentence or two?