WHAT DO I ? (Four Questions and the Life Wisdom of an Acting Exercise)

As actors, we use certain tools to flesh out a character and, hopefully, to make the character and the scene authentic.

One of those tools is to ask four questions of the character:  
1. What do they need?
2. What do they want?
3. What do they fear?
4. What do they love?   

The answers inform so much of how actors develop characters into “real” human beings, with thoughts, emotions, intent, desire and yes, fear.

I have found this to be an interesting and helpful tool in pastoral ministry and counseling, as well. When counseling (or just casually conversing) with someone, when I am hoping to be intentional and (Ideally) helpful… these questions can help me hear the hopes and cries of the heart more accurately.

Ultimately, it can help to ask myself these same questions when faced with opportunity or risk or key decisions or hard feelings or confusing relationships or mixed emotions or inspiration or … you get the picture…

1. What do I need?
2. What do I want?
3. What do I fear?
4. What do I love?

It is an incredibly helpful tool that I admittedly came to later in life than I wish.
Especially the fear question.
It has only been in the last few years that I have started to more intentionally ask this question in the midst of difficult conversations with Jana, or a co-worker or even conversations with God, in prayer, as I try to sort things out in life. It can be incredibly helpful to identify what I fear.

When I do that, it takes away the power, to some degree, of whatever is haunting or holding me up from a goal, a relationship or a project. If I am strong and wise enough to identify my fears… and especially… if I can, in a non-emotional way … or in a way that does not point fingers or blame.. but just rationally (easier said than done, I admit), “name” the fear… well, then I can start to do something tangible and intentional about it. And in conversations with another person, it takes it off of “YOU” statements and makes it more about addressing those hurdles to good communication, rebuilding trust or analyzing my own wants, needs and motivations.

Try it. It is in incredibly helpful.

What do you have anxiety or anger about right now?
Or what key decision are you needing to make but are quite worried about?

Ask yourself what you fear.
(And what you need, want and love.)

The answers will absolutely guide the next steps in coming to resolution. They will help you in communicating and building trust and finding answers with others. And they will also inform your prayers, as you bring those concerns and fears to God and continue to ask for clarity and help.

Not bad for an old acting exercise, eh?

And they say a theater degree is impractical for life.

“They” speaketh incorrectly.

Love you, friends.

And more importantly, Jesus loves you.


+ Jonathan



Jana and I have been sharing our story of her journey with Breast Cancer. We told it each of the last two weeks of Adult Camp here at Mount Carmel Ministries this past month.  2015-08-02 19.46.39

When we give the talk, it naturally causes many emotions to surface… both for us and for those listening. People identify with our pain, but they also re-enter their own stories of trial and loss… and this, of course, can bring tender tears.

As the group was sharing thoughts and reflections at the end of Jana and my presentation the other day, one gentlemen in the crowd (I will call him “Bill”) shared, though the tears, that his wife of many years had died of cancer a few months ago.He went on to say that, naturally, in his grief, he had been struggling to let go.

And then, with a tight throat and tears streaming down his cheeks, Bill shared the following experience which took place fairly recently.

12795119_10156610050235711_9128133260199630244_oHe told us that not too long ago…. a few months after his wife had died, he had been struggling to sleep well.. and he was lying in his bed on night, in the middles of the night, wide awake.

Then suddenly he heard his wife come to him and speak the following words, as clear as day:

“I’m not coming back.”


“I CAN’T come back.”


“Bill… I DON’T WANT to come back.”

When he shared that last word with us, a hush came over the room. I believe everyone of us hearing his story knew what he clearly knew: He had been given a great gift from God. And though he is certainly still grieving, as he NEEDS to do… at the very same time, his tears while telling this story were tears not ONLY of grief… but tears of assurance… with a hint of peace and joy.

Through this gift of God, his wife was reminding him that in Jesus something far greater awaits us on the other side. And so she blessed him (and now all of us) with incredible words of hope.

The Bible says:                                                                                                              “For we do not grieve as those who have no hope.”  (I Thessalonians 4:13) and     “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).

Hear that truth in this woman’s words to her husband: “I’m not coming back. I can’t come back. I don’t WANT to come back.”

Unforgettable words. Undeniable Hope. Unstoppable Savior.

I look forward to not wanting to come back as well.

Thank-you, Lord Jesus.  IMG_9998

Monday Mornings… and Dad

I am a bit tired from a wonderful, but very full last couple of weeks.

And I am tempted to think, “It’s Monday! I don’t want to get out of bed. I just want to sleep a bit more.” I may even be tempted to be a bit crabby.

Then I think of my Dad.   2015-09-05 10.29.47

He lost the love of his life over two years ago now. His body is giving out, slowly, as is the case with age. He used to be strong and a leader. He was often approached for advice and he was someone who influenced and changed lives. Not many people tap into his wisdom or gifts anymore. Which is tragedy.

But what is he doing? He is living life. He exercises nearly every day. He reads his Bible.. every day.. in Greek and in English. He seeks to sharpen his mind and strengthen his body. He loves his family and almost never misses an event. And currently, he is cruising around the country seeing friends and relatives he has not seen for a while. He is reliving memories.. and visiting place he always wanted to see with Mom, but never did. It is like our own personal Swenson-family version of “Where’s Waldo?” Every third day or so we get a text telling us what state he is in now. He is super happy. And I love it.
He is living life. And living it to the fullest he can as an 80+ (and growing older) man… for whom much of life is now in the rear-view mirror. (But don’t try to tell him that.)

So, when I think of Dad. I realize… I can probably get out of bed just fine this morning.
And I can attack life. That is what my Dad has done for over 80 years. I am only 50.

Time to brew the coffee… take a shower.. and hit the day with passion.

If I can be half the man my Dad is… it will be a good day. Even if it is Monday.

And I am not quite so tired now.

Thanks Dad.

Have a great Monday everyone.

A Word to the College Student as Finals Draw Near

I just sent this verse to my daughter this morning, to help her with the increasing end-of-the-college-year stress and the final push to finals.  IMG_1439

Such a stressful time for college students. Perhaps you would like to share it with the college student in YOUR life in the weeks ahead as well.  Here it is…

“Then they took the stupid final and got it over with. It wasn’t so bad after all. And all the people agreed that finals are stupid and whoever invented them is a big poopy-head. They forever banned the “Final” in the land of Israel. And there was much rejoicing.” I Chronicles 4:67

Okay… I suppose It MIGHT be helpful to note that this is NOT an actual verse in the Bible. But I thought it sounded pretty good.. so I made it up. No authority from God whatsoever. But perhaps therapeutic.

Hang in there college students. God IS with you. You CAN DO this!  

A Thank-You to Pastors and Church Staffs at the End of Holy Week


For every pastor who survived Holy Week,
and to every church staff these words I now speakIMG_9998

You DID it! You DID it! You’ve now crossed the line.  
You told the Great Story and I’ll bet you did fine.

Palm Sunday you spoke of the Triumphal Entry
The church was so packed not a seat was left empty.

You then served communion in a powerful way,
You made it so special for Maundy Thursday.

Next, dressed in black, you declared to the pews…
That Jesus had died — you shared the sad news.

You preached the seven last words that Christ said,
you probably spoke of the crown on his head.

And then, the next day, though so VERY tired,
you kept right on working so you wouldn’t get fired!

There was still much to do, and so little time
to prepare your sermon and make it sound FINE!  

While others were out on the town, having fun.
You stayed in your office, your work not yet done.

You prayed and you prayed and you wrestled with the text
for the perfect Easter sermon, to make it the best.

When others were watching the Sweet Sixteen Tourney.
You tried to describe how Christ took his last journey.

Imagining your parishioners’ great anticipation.
You tried oh, so hard, for the perfect illustration.

It sounded so good when you ran it in the morning…
But during the service, most folks found it boring.

Nevertheless, you kept right on going…
You made sure that everything kept right on flowing.

The choir, communion, the kid’s message too…
every part of the service you made sure went smooth.

And somehow you managed in all of this haze
to visit the sick and and kneel down and pray…

You visited homebounds and hospitals too.
Things time-consuming, you made sure to do!

And perhaps the greatest miracle of all…
you carried this out with a beautiful smile.

And now that it’s over and you’re finally home,
I hope you can rest. DO NOT ANSWER THE PHONE!

But hear this, proclaimers of Gods’ Easter Grace
Take time now to be still… to sit in one place…

… and let it sink in: What you preached on is TRUE!
Jesus died and he rose.. and he rose for YOU TOO!

And just in case no one else told you today…
let me be the first voice, to put it this way…

YOU ARE A HERO — do you know what you’ve done?
You proclaimed the GOOD NEWS.. that Jesus has won!

Cross by ChapelIt’s the most sacred calling that anyone could do.
And to share this Great News, our dear God chose YOU!

So THANK-YOU so much, for making it real…
For leaving it all, as they say, on the field.

Now go take a nap, you deserve it so much.
The work can now wait, take a break and have lunch.

Then go back to sleep and sleep a bit more
Spend time with family, don’t do ANY chores.

And when you awake from that well-deserved rest.
May you, too, rejoice… and may you be blessed!

You did it. You DID IT. Now may you be FREE…
To praise God for FREE time! He is RISEN INDEED!

+ Jonathan Swenson      www.paraphrasetheatre.com

50 Random Thoughts As I Approach a Half Century

50 Random Thoughts As I Approach A Half Century  12795119_10156610050235711_9128133260199630244_o
1. Life experiences will be fickle and can be interpreted by emotion. People will be inconsistent. But one constant is this: God is good.
2. I always believed my parents were special. Not perfect. But special. At 50 I know it.
3. No one tells you when you are 25 that you will, in many ways, still feel like you are that age (or at least 32) when you are 50.
4. An Oreo a day adds up to a lot of Oreos. And it is harder to take off than to put on. One less Oreo a day would have been a good idea.
5. Choose great friends. They will be your lifeline when the storms of life come crashing.
6. Sometimes God speaks loudly. Often he is quiet. Each voice is part of the relationship. And each voice draws you closer.
7. Everyone needs to take Advanced Placement English. It will serve you well the rest of your life.
8. At the end of the day, it is God’s job to get people to Heaven. It is our job to love people well, and to point them to Jesus.
9. Nothing… and I do mean NOTHING… Nothing will rock your world more than the birth of your children. Your heart will explode and you will never be the same.
10. Related to #9 – Nothing has taught me more about the Heart of God than being a Dad.
11. I believe. This does not mean I have no doubt. Doubt is part of faith. And it is okay to embrace and learn from it, rather than fear it. It is better, in my experience, far better.. to live with faith and hope and joy.. than to give in to cynicism and negativity.
12. Very few people truly listen to other people. If you listen well, you will be well loved in return. Truth.
13. A great sermon is, to me, one that names my sin honestly, declares the grace of Jesus Christ unconditionally and calls me to serve the world compassionately.
14. There is inequality in the workplace. Reality. Some of the most gifted leaders I have known are women. And they are treated differently. That is just truth. And it needs to change.
15. Few things are more dangerous and damaging than a Christian leader without legitimate accountability.
16. * Forgiveness is this: a. Giving up the Right to Be Angry (for the sake of the relationship) b. Giving Notice (Being honest about where and how you have been hurt and committing to talking it through maturely and fairly.) c. Giving Gifts (The gift of unconditional love and forgiveness modeled to us first in Jesus Christ.)        * Thanks to Walter Wangerin, Jr. for that summary.
17. A dog will sooth your spirit and love you well. (And drive you crazy too.)
18. Getting married forces you to recognize your own sin. And teaches you how to give and receive forgiveness.
19. Being a parent forces you to grow up.
20. Seeing a parent die will change your life forever.
21. There is a difference, at a funeral, for those who know Jesus Christ and those who do not. There just is. Truth.
22. God will lead us to refining fires, whether we like it or not. He wants us to grow up. And often.. usually.. this is what it takes.
23. Positivity will take you much further than cynicism.
24. The happiest people I know are those who give their life away in the cause of loving other people.
25. There is a vice and a virtue to nearly everything.
26. Narcissism is common. Humility not so much.
27. If you want to be a good actor, public speaker, presenter, etc., the first thing to do is to stop shuffling your feet. It will give you strength in your presentation immediately. And this will transfer to self-confidence.
28. One book read well and applied is better than several on the shelf.
29. The point of reading the Bible is not to “get through the Bible”.. but rather, to let the Bible get through you.
30. Road trips late at night provide the best opportunity for meaningful conversation.
31. The Vikings may never win the Super Bowl in my lifetime. But it is still better to be Purple than Green.
32. Know what you LOVE to do and find a way to get paid for it. Major secret to life.
33. Call your Parents.
34. Harboring anger hurts you much more than the other person.
35. Everyone you meet has a story.
36. Talking to the elderly is important. Very few people do.
37. When you graduate from High School know this: Your 25th Reunion will be here faster than you can spit.
38. There are some issues that are dividing and destroying Christianity. We MUST keep the cross at the center. It will guide everything else. And to realize one is a sinner is the first step towards loving others better in the midst of the conversation.
40. Expectations can be defined as “predetermined disappointment”.  Be careful and aware of them.
41. If you are in a mellow mood nothing tops Simon and Garfunkel.
42. You cannot truly celebrate Easter Sunday unless you have first journeyed through Good Friday.
43. Sometimes, when one is in pain, you cannot pray. Or sing. Or give praise. But the body of believers around you can.. on your behalf. And this is okay. In fact, it is amazing.
44. Riding in an ambulance or being put out for surgery will make one consider whether or not this God thing is for real.
45. As long as there are tests given, there will always be prayer in school.
46. Marriage is Wonderful. And it is Hard. And is the best thing worth fighting for. End of story.
47. At the end of the day, whom will you have loved with the love of Christ and how? That is what matters.
48. The joy of the Lord is my strength. – Nehemiah 8:10
49. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in Jesus Christ who loved me and gave himself up for me.        – Galatians 2:20
50. “I could wish you joy and peace, to last your whole life long. I could wish you treasures, or that all your dreams come true. Or wish you all the happiness, that this life could bring. But I wish you Jesus… more than anything.” – Scott Wesley Brown                                                                                                                            

Jonathan Swenson


Valentine’s Day, 2016

On this Valentine’s Day.You Are Loved
You are loved.

You are a child of God, brought into the world intentionally… with a plan and purpose.

God wants you here. You are beloved by your Creator. God delights in you.

Shoot. Hard truth comes now. Crap!
You are lost in sin. Trapped in it.

You do things you don’t want to do. You don’t do things you want to do. You fail to love, fully. To love God. To love others. To love yourself. Reality. For all of us.
Greater truth now. We need to get to this next. Now. Immediately.
Best truth. Game-changer. Life-changer!

Ready? GET THIS. Here it is…

Let’s say it again. At the very moment that sin wants to rush in.. to define you, to tear at you… to rip your self-worth and self-understanding apart… AT THAT VERY MOMENT: GRACE BREAKS IN INSTEAD. And YOU ARE LOVED BY THE INVENTOR, THE AUTHOR OF LOVE. So this truth NOW defines you: You are loved. And you are redeemed, by Jesus, in and through the Cross. And… this changes everything.

This. Changes. Everything.

It changes your self-understanding. Your reason for being here. Your sense of calling. Your grounding. Your direction. Your future. Your eternity.

And so, it changes, too … your motivation to love others. And your ability to receive THEIR love for you. And your ability to love YOURSELF.

It changes your heart.

This changes YOU.

Hear it. Know it. Jesus loves you. You are forgiven. You are free to be the person God brought you into the world to be.

This changes everything.

And, know this, too.. as an added bonus… You are sanctified and kept in faith by the Holy Spirit. You are empowered, called to share that same love with those around you. You get to love people! Not for what they can do for you, but because you know you are loved, and BECAUSE you know this, this love for others flows out of you naturally. It is the Spirit’s work in you. And there is great freedom and joy in this too.

Don’t doubt this truth: You are loved. Jesus loves you.

Don’t doubt it! Don’t ever forget it.
Don’t ever let this reality stop defining you.
God wants you here.
And God is with you.


SURVIVOR STORY – A Powerful, Deeply Moving Presentation for your Church, Retreat or Conference

Jana Swenson is a two-time Breast Cancer Survivor.

She and her husband Jonathan (both ordained ministers) have begun to tell their story of her battle with this terrible disease. In this very moving presentation, “SURVIVOR STORY”, Jana shares portions of her prayer journal, and together the Swensons discuss their fears, questions, doubts and the ways in which God has revealed his Grace in the midst of the storm.

C and C Makeup with Jana During CancerJana and Jonathan share their journey with humor, tears, wisdom and great
honesty in a deeply personal and engaging way that helps listeners identify their own spiritual, emotional and relational needs when in crisis.

The presentation is powerfully relevant to anyone who has been (or is currently IN) a time of pain, loss, fear or grief. It is also helpful for pastors, social workers, health-care professionals, chaplains, educators, volunteer ministers, parents and grandparents (anyone who cares for others intentionally) and anyone who longs to be more deeply aware of God’s presence in situations where it would be easy to think God is absent.  

11822762_10155927879630711_1625316169436860615_nThe Swensons are available for churches, retreats, leadership gatherings,
hospitals, conferences, you name it. As part of this presentation, Jonathan (a trained actor) is also able, depending on time, to bring dramatic monologues and other elements to their sharing to offer variety, humor and interest. They have shared their story at Pastor’s Conferences, Leadership Gatherings, Hospitals and Churches around the country.


Here’s What People Are Saying…     “Jonathan and Jana shared their story at our annual Psychosocial Cancer Care Conference at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. This conference is for all types of providers involved in cancer care. Physicians, midlevel’s, nurses, social workers, etc. I am so grateful they shared their journey with us, and so were the over 60 people in the room that day. It was powerful, personal, informative and eye opening, but above all, it had God’s hands all over it. The raw pain, emotion and even humor that came through them as they told the story was not only instructive, but inspiring. It gave a real life, fresh perspective in how cancer affects both the patient and the caregiver and how faith in God can make a difficult journey bearable. Anyone going through a difficult time needs to hear this story, caregivers of any kind would benefit greatly from their story. More than anything though, seeing God’s love and grace at the forefront of their entire journey is what makes their story so special, touching and a message that NEEDS to be shared!”

Emi J Chapman RN
Development Manager/Cancer Services, Unity Point- St. Luke’s Foundation
Nassif Community Cancer CenterCedar Rapids, IA 52402

“The Swensons are wise, capable and kingdom-minded leaders in the church. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside of them in a number of settings through the years, and count them among some of the best people I have ever worked with anywhere. They will be a blessing for your event.”

Dr. Bill Donahue
Associate Professor, Trinity Int’l University; Formerly Director of Group Life and Leader Development, Willow Creek Church & Association, Barrington, IL

For more information about bringing Jana and Jonathan to your church, retreat, or event, please contact Jonathan at jonathan@paraphrasetheatre.com or call 319-431-9934.


Philippians (Getting Started) — JOY in the Midst of the “Where ARE you in this, God?” Moments of Life

I am experimenting with journaling my way through Philippians.  I know myself well enough to know that I am not going to write every day. Maybe not every week. But I am going to write.

IMG_9998It may be just a little. It may be more some days. I may cover a whole section on Monday, and the next Thursday we may only cover one verse.
I’m not going to set any specifics. I am just going to commit to sharing my thoughts as I go… partly as a way to keep myself accountable in my Bible reading… and partly to encourage you.
This will not be a scholarly journal. It is unlikely to be very academic or in-depth.  It will be intentionally simple and straight-forward, and… hopefully… brief. I will just tell you the first thoughts that come to mind in my own heart and refections as I read the text. And I will trust that God will use that for something for YOU too.

If this is good for you, great!  If not, don’t follow along. Just seems like it may be a God prompting for 2016. So… for what it is worth…  here we go.

A BRIEF word of Intro, today, to get us started. Philippians is a book of Joy. It is one that I hold close because it reminds me of my mother.. who loved the concept of JOY and exemplified it, without trying, in her life.  Always.

Paul writes these letters from a prison cell. Things are not going well for him.

Did I mention the book is about JOY?

So… does it ever feel to you like your life is stuck? Or going south? Or you are locked-in to a fate, an outcome, a relationship, a job, a future.. that is NOT what you had planned and dreamed for yourself?  Yeah?  Do you sometimes just stop in your track
s and say, “God, what is the deal? Where ARE you in this?”

Yeah?  Me too.

So.. I am thinking this book will probably have a few things to say to us. I am looking forward to jumping in with you.

See you tomorrow… or next Thursday… or whenever the Spirit moves…

+ Jonathan

www.mountcarmelministries.com   www.paraphrasetheatre.com