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 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

a hard time with words.

I’m taking a course about missions. I’m struggling with some of the reading. It talks about God’s glory and about worship and it’s written to people who are way inside church.

It’s perfectly good language. But I work so hard to not write the way these authors write that I have a hard time understanding them.

Which is good. It is good that I have to wrestle hard to understand concepts that I have acted as if I understand for decades.

That’s not an exaggeration. I heard one of the articles delivered as a sermon 38 years ago. I included some of these articles in my dissertation research thirty years ago. But I’m working to understand in simple words rather than spiritual shorthand. And finding it hard.

For example, glory and glorify. What do they mean? For Andrew, years and years ago, the glory of God was the look of the beams of sun shining down between clouds in a stormy sky. But giving God glory and showing His glory. That’s rough to explain or describe without using words like, well, glorious.

And worship (without falling into debates about music and sleepiness). And mission (as opposed to missions and cultural imperialism).

I’m not complaining. If I’m going to struggle with understanding, it may as well be about God rather than about footballs. And it is a reminder that when I get lazy in my own writing and use cultural shorthand, I could be causing grief for you.

But it sure gets in the way of easy writing.

(If you have any easy ways to explain glory, let me know.)

+++

Can I make you an offer? If you go to the createspace site for my Lent reader (Lent starts February 18), and you place an order, and enter D83KHKRZ as the coupon code, you’ll get 25% off.

Tell them I sent you.

A sailor’s letter home, part three

(This finishes the story started in part one and part two)

But the storm got worse.

Praying to our gods hadn’t done anything. We prayed to Jonah’s.

“We don’t want to die because of his sin, God. That’s not fair. But we don’t want to die for sacrificing him to you either. That’s not fair. This is between you and him, for your good reasons which we don’t know. But let this sacrifice appease you.”

And then we grabbed his hands and arms and half-dragged, half-tossed him into the Great Sea.

Just as fast as the storm had started, it stopped. The surface was like glass.

I couldn’t see what happened to Jonah. A couple other sailors thought they saw something flashing near where he must have gone down. But who knows.

What we did know is that whatever god made the storm happen must have been satisfied by doing asJonah said. And immediately we all promised that we’d serve that God. We looked around at what little was left on the boat. We found some incense and offered a little sacrifice.

I wish I knew more about him. Jonah, that is. I’m still a little mad that his running from God almost got the rest of us killed. But I did see power like I’ve never seen before. And he was confident. Even though he was running, he acted like this God was real and specific and intentional.

I’m not sure what I’ll do now about gods. Maybe the next time I’m in Joppa I’ll find someone who knows about this God of Jonah. And I’m trying to figure out how not to run from him.

+++

So we’ve been looking at part of the Jonah story for the past few days. We used a different perspective to examine it, that of one of the sailors.

I’d like to invite you to think about it from yet another perspective.

There was a smaller boat once, on a smaller sea. There were sailors, there was an unexpected passenger. There was a storm and a sudden calming and God and terror afterward.

I’m curious. What are the connections between the stories?

A sailor’s letter home, part two

Jonah and I talked a bit. Then the captain’s voice called me back to work. Jonah asked if there was a better place to ride. I pointed to a pile of extra sails under the deck. He thanked me and laid down.

We were half a day and more from shore when the weather started to change. I shouldn’t say started. The wind exploded from behind us. I’ve never seen such a wind. And the storm came so suddenly that everyone grabbed desperately for the oars. The steersman turned us into the wind. All of us were shouting to gods, some names we knew, some we’d heard of in the ports we visited. We tossed anything heavy overboard, just to stay afloat.

Looking for anything more to toss, the captain stumbled over Jonah, sound asleep on the sails. “Wake up!” he said. “How can you sleep? Pray!”

We all made our mark on one of the broken pieces of pottery and tossed them in a basket. The captain drew out a piece. It was Jonah’s.

Everyone started shouting at him, over the screams of the wind. “What are you doing here?” “Who are you?” “Who have you killed that the gods are pursuing you?”

He looked at me and then looked away. “I’m a Hebrew, and I serve the God who made the winds and waves.”

There was panic in the faces of the younger sailors. “What can we do? Can you ask your god?”

Jonah looked calmer than he had since I first saw him on the dock. “Throw me in the water,” he said. “That will calm the waves. This is my fault.”

No one wanted to do it. We just started to row harder. Who wants to be the one who throws one of God’s people in the storm God made?

 

A sailor’s letter home, part one.

Dear mom.

I pray this finds you  well. And that it finds you.

I know you always offer sacrifices when I am on a sailing trip. Thank you for that concern. I had reason to need divine help recently, though I’m not sure that we’ve been sacrificing to the god most powerful.

Let me tell you my story.

We were loading our boat up at Joppa. We were almost ready to sail when a man showed up, looking a little haunted.

“Where are you going?” he asked the captain.

“Across the Great Sea,” the captain responded. It’s the way he answers curiosity-seekers.  The man didn’t look like a sailor looking for work, and we don’t usually carry people who can’t carry their own weight.

“Is this enough to ride along?” the man asked, holding open a sack.

The captain rubbed his beard, as if thinking. But we could tell by his eyes that we were going to have some paying cargo.

“How far are you wanting to go?” the captain asked.

“As far from here as can get,” the man said. He shuddered a bit.

The captain took the sack from his hand and stepped aside. The man walked up the plank and settled onto a ledge in the bow.

We ignored him as we finished our work, pulled up the ramp and set sail as the wind shifted. I did notice that the man looked back toward land as we sailed away. He seemed to relax a bit.

As we settled into our watches, I sat next to the man.

“Running from something?” I asked.

“I’m running from God.” He laughed a little. I laughed, too.

“You’re Jewish right? Your god is pretty safe to run from I guess. The way you all keep losing land. What’s your name?”

“Jonah,” he said.

Thinking about a prayer.

First published October 13, 2009

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be talking with a group of people about what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Many of you have heard of it, have heard it, or have even said it.

Here are some questions that use and challenge multiple intelligences (to useHoward Gardner’s term) to stimulate different kinds of thinking about this familiar text.

  • When was the first time you heard it? When was the last?
  • When you think of these words, what color comes to mind?
  • If you watched the Ken Burns special on National Parks recently, which park could you see this prayer being repeated? (When Jesus was teaching it, everyone was on a hillside, sitting on rocks, on the ground).
  • Is this a speech or a conversation? What difference would that make?
  • As you listen to the words, is there a sequence of requests (I ask A. You do A. I then ask B. You do B).
  • In the text, there is an us (“Give us this day our daily bread”). That suggests that there may be several people involved in this prayer. When Jesus is saying it for the first time, where are they sitting? Are they looking at each other? Are they all repeating it together or taking turns? And is he suggesting that it be an individual or a group conversation?
  • Is Jesus writing a formula, an equation of some sort?
  • Do you think that Jesus is describing how he talks to his Dad? Does that change how you think of the tone of voice of this prayer?
  • Think of all the musical versions of this text. Now, think of doing your own. Does it make more sense as a Bach anthem or as improvisational jazz? What instrumentation would you use to arrange it for your life?
  • Read it out loud. If you were talking to someone across the room, how loud would you say it? Try that. If you were talking to someone right next to you, how would you change your voice? Try it. If you weren’t talking to anyone but yourself, how would that sound?

As you read through the questions, it was likely that you read some and thought “Who would think that” and read others and thought “Oh, that’s easy.” That’s the point. We are different. Now, imagine that all the questions were of the kind that you don’t understand. That’s what we do to parts of our audience/group/congregation/whatever when we don’t take the time to think about how people learn or we ask questions that are comfortable to us.

And if you are interested in helping people understand how to talk to God, for example, or whatever you are teaching, doesn’t that time investment make sense?