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.

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Gentle giants.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” That’s what Paul says after he says to rejoice. Growing up, the translations we used said ” let your gentleness be known.” The two words overlap well, speaking of an intentional style of interacting with others.

It’s no surprise Paul mentions it in the immediate context of two good people not getting along.

I know people whose presence fills a room. When they walk in, everyone looks. Everyone listens. Everyone is interested in what they have to say. Or, often, is terrified by what they might say. We worry about what might set them off. They don’t worry about filling the conversation.

308_0330In contrast, the kind of person Paul is talking about is often ignored when they walk into a room. But soon, voices that had been overwhelmed are being heard. The person sits next to the quietest person in the room, the most ignored person in the room. And she says, “How are you doing?” and waits for the answer. And in the very waiting compels others to wait. And in saying “#metoo” opens space for community and conversation.

Because the person Paul is talking about, the person with a reputation for reasonableness and gentleness, is known for holding truth tightly and people gently, for allowing justice to work carefully and quietly, for inviting people to a table.

The person Paul is talking about, the person who lives preferring others, is found in more rooms and more groups than we imagine. It’s just that we miss them. Our eyes are on the noisy ones, our ears are dominated by stridency. We miss the people at the edges, who sit quietly by piles called ‘collateral damage’ and call them back to being human.

There is much work to do. That’s why the Spirit invites us to build this reputation.

Instead of the one we’ve often made for ourselves.

Rejoice differently together

My friend Lee is a rejoicer. I used to go to his office when I was needing to be cheered up. He would look up, smile, say my name and welcome me.

So when Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” those of us who know Lee think that Lee has this one covered. And we think that we don’t have it covered.

“Rejoice” can get translated “be like Lee.”

But when I talked about the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche yesterday, and I mentioned that Paul was going to help us figure out how they might resolve the tension and get back to working together for God, I don’t think the first step is to be like Lee.

That may have been the problem in the first place. Because Lee rejoices in the Lord, but he’s also a happy person. And there are people who rejoice in the Lord and are less outgoingly happy people.  And it’s possible for tension to arise in a clash of personalities.

Like happened when Lee and Michael were on a mission trip together. Lee wakes up smiling. Michael wakes up. I never knew this to be true, but I can imagine Michael quoting Proverbs to Lee one morning: He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him.

A way to deal with interpersonal tension is to shift the focus from pleasing or proving each other and turn to finding meaning and identity and satisfaction in the Lord.

Both Lee and Michael did this. In their different ways. And without trying to be each other.

It’s a first step.


Learning to get along.

“I hate when I do that.”

That’s the beginning of a conversation I have all the time. Sometimes in my head. Sometimes with others. You probably know the next sentence.

“But I get exhausted and overwhelmed and then it comes out.”

Or “But I’m so afraid and so I panic.”

Some well-meaning Bible people, including the people inside our heads, say things like, “Rejoice. We’re supposed to rejoice.” Or “Don’t be anxious.” They want to be helpful. But we’re not.

Responding to a mistake with what feels like a judgement or an obligation only makes the mistake feel worse. “I feel upset but Paul says that holy people rejoice. There must be something wrong with me.”

It’s easy to mistake the description of a training process for the giving of the final exam. To read some skills and attitudes that are learned across time, and believe that they should just happen.

Here’s what I mean.

Joan and AprilPaul wrote a letter to some friends in little church in the Roman colony of Philippi. In the letter, he often talks about joy and rejoicing. But what if Paul wasn’t wielding a happy club, bashing people who aren’t? What if, in at least one place, he was talking about how to help two people who were having conflict with each other get back on track?

There were two women in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche. They were thoughtful, helpful, faithful people. They were important members of the team. But at the moment Paul was writing, they weren’t seeing eye to eye. They weren’t standing shoulder to shoulder. They were a soprano and an alto singing two different songs.

Paul asks them, pleads with them, to sing their parts in the same song. To be in harmony.

And then he gives them some things that will help.

And so will I this week. Up next, “Your voice changes when you smile.”


Joan and April, pictured above, are actually getting along fine. And you can hear the two of them and Terry and I talking about The Self-Aware Leader at