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.

making room for the work

Five days from today, I’ll be running in my first marathon. And walking. Because my focus is finishing. (track me if you’d like.)

Among the things I’ve learned during my training is that long distance running is as much about the mind as about the body. I need to concentrate on the task at hand. I need to let my body not have to worry about things other than running, at least during long runs.

And that’s a challenge for me. Because I worry about, or am concerned with, or am aware of needs in many areas. When my mind and heart are full of worry or fear, my body slows down and tightens up.

At the moment, these words from Hebrews are not metaphoric for me: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

If I am going to survive on Saturday, I have to spend time this week unencumbering.

So I’m taking theandrewjon week off writing here. And a couple other places. I have other commitments which cannot move, but I’ll get margin where I can.

Have a great week. I’ll see you on the other side of 26.2. Unless, of course, I see you on the course. If you’re there
, just yell “perseverance.”  I’ll know what you mean.

Original faithfulness.

(First published October 8, 2014.)

Originality is a compelling value. It is in our core, part of the image of God we were formed in. But it is possible that originality, creativity, is not the highest value. In some things, fidelity – faithfulness – may be higher.

AwayPaul’s last letter, written near the end of his life as a maker of disciples (apprentices), is full of this language of faithfulness when it comes to teaching. Paul tells Timothy to follow the teaching outline Paul used.  Paul provides a mentoring model: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul grounds the model in living, not just words: “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” And Paul reminds Timothy that his faith was learned from his mother and grandmother and is rooted in all of scripture. 

But this idea of fidelity of teaching is not original to Paul. That would undermine the value. He was merely echoing, in his own way, the last words of his leader who said, “make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded.”

Everything is new to people who haven’t ever learned it. It’s when we hear the same thing repeatedly that we crave something new. Particularly if we don’t see evidence that the words are livable.  Especially if we want to avoid living them. We add requirements. We reduce options. We focus on bits and ignore perspective.

When originality becomes mere novelty or sheer destruction, it’s not creative. Then, perhaps fidelity becomes the most original thing: core truths, lived simply.

Finding your stride.

(First published September 29, 2014)

My friend Richard says it sometimes takes him three or four miles to find his stride.

It’s the place in every run where you aren’t thinking about the mechanics of running: speed, coordination between breathing and steps. It’s the place where you aren’t thinking about whether you can afford the time for this run,  where you aren’t taking every twinge in your knee or ankle or breathing as a sign to quit. It’s the place where start to actually just run.

Richard runs marathons. So he has plenty of time to run after finding his stride. At the time in my running he said it, a long run WAS three miles. “Never find my stride in a whole run?” I thought. “That’s depressing.”

stepsBut as I thought about it, and as I kept running, I realized that he was giving me a gift. Even for experienced runners, starting is often rocky. There is often resistance. But if you keep moving, the rhythms of leg and lung, arms and heart, feelings and focus begin to settle down. You run slower than you know you can. You take your time.

Now that I can run further, nearly seven miles at a time, I understand Richard’s words. If I can make it past the first mile or two, I can often make it five or six.

I thought about all the friends I know who say, “I tried to listen to God, but all I heard was the noise in my head.” Or they say, “Three days in a row. I was asking God for wisdom. But then I kind of forgot.” And what I wish I had known to say was, “Sometimes it takes three or four miles.”

And it may take a few weeks to be able to run that far.

On conversation with Dad.

The other day, I had this image of our daughter Hope calling our son Andrew.

She says, “I need some tips on talking with Dad. Like ‘5 easy ways to get dad to do what you want’ or something.”

img_1547Andrew says, “I don’t understand talking with Dad at all. Sometimes I ask for something and he doesn’t respond. He just has one of those really long pauses where he closes his eyes and you wonder whether he’s thinking or he’s falling asleep.”

Hope laughs. “I know. And then he tells the story about the time he actually did fall asleep while he was in the middle of counselling someone. Like we haven’t heard that a dozen times.”

“Or he just starts talking about something completely different,” Andrew says. “As if he’s more interested in what we’re doing than in answering our questions. And when you try to take him back to what you want, he just ignores it.”

“And then a week later, he goes back and answers. As if it’s the next breath.”

“I know,” Andrew says. “I’ve forgotten all about it. But it’s like he was thinking about my question the whole time. And the weird thing is, half the time I understand why my question was silly, and the other half I understand why the answer was slow.”

“And half the time, his answer is ‘I know. It’s really hard. I’m sorry you are walking through this,’” Hope says. “But I think he means it. And he tries to show us somehow. Like, there was this one time a guy on the worship team said, ‘I’m supposed to give you a hard time.’ When I looked at him, he said, ‘Your dad.’ And I knew.”

“So maybe there aren’t 5 easy tips?” Andrew says.

“I guess not,” Hope says. “It’s probably supposed to be just like praying.”

On relationship.

(For the first part of this story, see “The Manager and a Business Opportunity.”)

fenceThe manager knows he’s in trouble. He doesn’t want to go back to digging ditches. He doesn’t want to beg. He realizes that the only resource he has will be his network.

So he calls in the farmers.

“How much oil do you owe?” he asks the olive man.

“You know. 1000 gallons.”

“Write a new contract for 500,” the manager says.

He does the same for the wheat farmer. And all the rest.

He doesn’t touch what is owed the owner. He’s giving up what he was stealing. But he looks like he’s done people a great favor.

“Pretty smart,” the owner says, as he meets one last time with the manager. Because the manager is still being fired. He’s still been dishonest.

But the owner saw that the manager, as warped as he was, knew that relationships are more important than money.  You can spend relationship to grow money, or you can spend  money to grow relationship. Even cheats understand that money’s not worth keeping if it costs you your life

When he tells this story, Jesus isn’t in favor of the cheating. But he is in favor of putting relationship first and money last.

Money IS helpful.

But when Jesus talks about it, he’s talking about something that is a tool, not a measure of value.

God notices the poor. Jesus himself became poor. Financially poor at least. Because from God’s perspective, being broke isn’t the worst thing, and being financially successful isn’t the best.

After his story, Jesus says that managing little things like money is a measure of how we will manage important things.

So what would it look like to be shrewd? To be faithful with little things? To “throw away” money and time to grow relationship?

If that manager understands, how much more we can understand.

And do something.


Adapted from my meditation at the Sunday chapel at Parkview Regional Medical Center, September 18.