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.

Anticipating a conversation.

We have other obligations most Sundays. So it wasn’t until Monday morning that we went walking again. I looked for the man, “Saint John of the Mall” Brenda had called him.

We started our walk at Red Robin. We tossed our coats on the bench near the door. At 7 on the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s not much concern about theft.

As we approached the center court, I started getting nervous. I never know how to start conversations with people I don’t know.

But he wasn’t on his bench.

It’s a big mall. I’m not sure why I expected him to be there, but I still wanted to know about him.

It made me think a little about anticipation.

I never was much of an Advent person as a kid. But back then, I looked forward to Christmas. Now, I don’t so much. I think I got exhausted from all the Christmas performing. Planning events, scheduling rehearsals, solving technical problems. We never got around to thinking about the family part of Christmas until after Christmas Eve.

I’ll be accurate. I didn’t. Nancy did. And she would pull me patiently into the gift process.

We started doing treasure hunts for our kids. We wrote some clues. It made opening gift cards slightly more interesting to when you had to find them.

<FW>One year, we sent them to the mall. We hid clues in lockers, then hid the keys in other lockers. While other people wandered the mall wondering, our kids were following a calling.

What made the adventures interesting was the anticipation. You appreciated the gifts because of the process. You grew to appreciate the process because it was pursued together.

That’s what Advent is for the church, a collective anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I nearly tripped over the man’s feet. I turned to apologize.

“My name is John,” he said.


For links to other advent writings, see

Saint John of the Mall

Nancy and I started walking at the mall a few winters back. It saved our lives.

starting 8th year of walking.That sounds dramatic, like it kept us from a heart attack. For all we know, it has. But we started talking every day while we walked. And since then, we’ve weathered a variety of life events. Deaths of parents, job changes, kids in college, kids in weddings. We’re still talking and walking.

Like I said, it saved our lives.

We were walking at the mall early one Black Saturday. It was a way to avoid the crowds that would show up later. On our first lap, we saw a guy sitting on a bench not far from Starbucks. Just sitting. He had a white beard, but not the usual Christmas white beard. It had the look of necessity, not choice. And he was much thinner than the usual bearded holiday hero.

But his eyes.

I’ve seen the eyes of people that sit in the mall. There is distractedness. There is pain. There is a sense of resignation or worry or lostness.

This man’s eyes were different. There was an intensity. And affection.

He was looking into an empty section of the hallway as if he was looking at a friend or a holiday memory. It was a little scary, actually. I’ve seen that look in the eyes of people who were hallucinating. But when we were passing his bench, he glanced at us. And the eye contact made it clear: he was fully present.

We walked our second lap and stopped to get a cup of coffee to take home.

I knew the barista from years ago.

“Who is that guy? Do you know anything about him?“ I asked.

Brenda laughed. “We call him Saint John of the Mall. I think you need to talk to him sometime.”


For links to other advent writings, see

keep telling yourself that.

IMG_0758I have piles of rocks around my office. I have piles of rocks outside my window. Some of the rocks I gathered a year ago as part of a spiritual practice in gathering rocks. Some of you participated. Other rocks are from places that I’ve been and my friends have been. But now there are rocks on my desk and shelf that I cannot connect back to specific locations and events.

I understand that they are just rocks, low-cost souvenirs. But the reason I gather them is to remind me of moments and prompt me to pray. And without the stories, I end up doing neither.

God taught Joshua and me the importance of stones and stories.

The Israelites were ready to end their tour of the Sinai wilderness. They had crossed the God-dried normally-flooded Jordan River. Before the water came back, God told Joshua to tell a dozen men to each pick up a rock from the middle of the river. So Joshua told the men, and then explained, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”

The rocks prompted the question. The parents had the answers.

But you have to remember the stories. And the way to do that is to pick up the rocks and tell the stories.

During the next month, as you review the year, pick up rocks and tell stories. Find the stone you picked up on your trip to Nepal or New Jersey. Tell the story of the bonfire on the beach. Find the stone from the cemetery and tell the story of her life.

It’s a way to remember God and others.

Reflecting on thanks.

“Happy Thanksgiving.”

I understand that’s a hard thing to hear for those who are grieving the loss of a life or of a mind this year. For those who are wondering about the next job, about the next step. For those who are missing family members this year because of service to God or country, fractures in relationships or health.

Some of those themes will be running through my head and heart this on this day. When people say, “Happy Thanksgiving” I will be thinking, “Thank you for your wishes but there are things you don’t know.”

And yet. Even as I write of my hesitation,  I know that I have things and people and events that I am grateful for. And grateful to. And I know that the phrase is offered as a wish, not an obligation.

I am grateful in this year that I can still remember the loving actions of my mother whose mind cannot remember for herself. I am grateful that I saw Nepal before the earthquake so that I can remember faces and ask God and others to give them peace and support. I am grateful for watching our daughter and son-in-law make commitments to each other, and our son and daughter-in-law navigate life changes with hope and grace.  I am grateful for friends and conversations and questions about God and what it means to follow Him.  I am grateful for you and your encouragement as we meet here. I am grateful for a life with Nancy that is full of quiet surprises and daily invitations to obey Christ together.

famAnd I am grateful that God meets me and patiently directs my steps and renews my heart, that he has offered me gifts and opportunities to use them. That he loves me.

Peace to you.


Photo from Perregeaux Wedding Photography


184 days.

May 25th I went for a run. I’ve run at least a mile every day since. A couple days I ran 13.1 miles. Many days at least three. But every day at least one.

It’s called a running streak. You can start your own on Thursday as part of  Runner’s World’s “37 days of awesome”. Run a mile a day from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day.

12246841_10153729106772008_3977364845334677584_nAnd I admit. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve had good enough weather and healthy enough legs, stomach, and lungs to keep moving. But I have the luxury of safe streets, strong legs, a flexible schedule, and a supportive family.

I may be a little like Will Wade. He’s a college basketball coach who has been on a running streak since January. According to a New York Times article, “Wade said: ‘I ask my team to be disciplined. I’ve got to be disciplined as well.'”

We all have the possibility of streaks, of consecutive days of choosing to do as much as we can, of choosing to discipline ourselves. It can be in running or in reading or in exercising patience with annoying customers. The training is challenging, but it teaches us that we can be focused, that we can do more than we thought.

Paul wrote to friends in Corinth, people familiar with the training that athletes endured.  He said,

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I’m with Paul. I’m with Will. We can’t ask what we won’t do.


Thanks to Jeff Arnold for the Wade article.