Author Archives: Johnna

About Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.


We pray for the victims of violence and war; for those wounded in body and for those wounded in mind.

John called his wife and the pastor of his church a couple of minutes beforehand because he didn’t want one of his twin sons to find his body in the garage – he didn’t leave enough time for Linda and David to prevent it.

John couldn’t find a way to talk about the war that left his heart, mind, and soul in a dark room with no way out but a bullet. 

John left behind a family and circle of friends that loved him, and a bunch of us in the congregational church choir who loved his wife and eight year old sons. 

At twenty-one years old, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so isolated and so grief-stricken that death seemed the best gift he could give himself and those he loved. 

War and violence claimed him, caged him, and spilled into the lives of those he wouldn’t for the world want to hurt. 

But hurt us he did.

I hope we learned enough from John’s death to find other ways out of dark places.

Jane Goodall's Prayer

No Choice

Every child deserves to be welcomed into the world with joy. Each baby should have the basics – safety, food, clothing, shelter, engagement – provided without fuss or resentment. No child should have to offer his or her body for the use and gain of others, and no one should have to choose between death and committing murder.

Violence or violation? No child should have to choose. No adult should, either.


We pray to the Great Spiritual Power in which we live and move and have our being. We pray that we may at all times keep our minds open to new ideas and shun dogma; that we may become ever more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life; that we may strive to heal the hurts that we have inflicted on nature and control our greed for material things, knowing that our actions are harming our natural world and the future of our children; that we may value each and every human being for who he is, for who she is, reaching to the spirit that is within, knowing the power of each individual to change the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to have mentors who provided guidance without insisting that I take up a particular profession or remain in their particular discipline. I had a grandfather who let me learn boy’s skills, and a father who didn’t value me less because I was a daughter. Math, languages, science, home economics – it was all encouraged if I wanted to pursue it.

Many of my friends weren’t so lucky; if they questioned the direction chosen for them, there were serious consequences. Perhaps they weren’t wished a lesser life, but they were encouraged to be who they were not rather than who they were.

In the here and now, here’s hoping we mean what we pray…


From Jane Goodall’s A Prayer For World Peace, Hong Kong: Minedition, 2015


What do I want to leave with my children when I die?

Something positive rather than a mess to clean up.

Something more than an account balance.

Fewer things and a smaller footprint.

The ability to tell wants and needs apart – and to be content with needs met if it means a healthy planet and a peaceful spirit.

The courage to be gentle with this creation.

Joy in the flight of a sparrow and the turtle’s measured gliding.

The World.

Please, God. Amen.

For All Life

A Prayer for World Peace

Jumping worms have invaded Vermont. They aren’t the helpful kind of worms that improve soil. Instead, they drive out native species and damage forests. They are causing enough damage that the state of Vermont has put out warning flyers. Because I’m installing a couple of raised beds, they may become my problem soon enough.

I’ll do my best to prevent an infestation – checking plants and soil for worms and eggs and keeping a watch on everything after planting. But if I find these jumping worms, I’ll have to make a choice: kill them or let them decimate the local environment. Loss of life will occur, by my direct action or my inaction. I hope I never get to the point that it becomes an easy choice.

[This is part of an ongoing series. Click ThreeP’s above for more in this series.]


A Prayer for World Peace

Dogma: A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

What can we say about our faith, our God, our world that is incontrovertibly true? Depending on when and where we were born, the dogmatic laundry list would be different. Even if the lists were identical, our own age and stage of life color our take on what we consider incontrovertibly true. Gender, age, experience, geography, current events, health – all these and more influence our lists and our understanding of what those lists mean.

So how do we make sense of it all when so much of what we think of as incontrovertibly true, given by an authority we honor, isn’t truly written in stone? What is the foundation that remains solid and reliable, a bedrock that can bear the weight of our lives and all the changes that come with them? Our perspectives are so limited, our life spans so short – how do we live holy lives?

From my own limited and biased point of view, with all its shortcomings and blind spots, I’m going with the perennial favorite that winds through every faith in every time: when in doubt, go with what honors God and offers love to self and neighbor. Dogma is just a list; God, self, and neighbor are life.

[From Jane Goodall’s A Prayer For World Peace (Feeroozeh Golmohammadi, illustrator); Hong Kong: Minedition, 2015

To Whom It May Concern…

Jane Goodall’s Prayer

God is great, God is good, God is the creator – our prayers and theological tomes are full of these adjectives describing the one to whom we address our prayers. The technical term for addressing the nature of God: Cataphatic Theology.

God is not fully knowable, God is not contained in this creation, God is not limited to our understanding – our catechetical books and seminary libraries are full of adjectives stating what God is not. The technical term for addressing what God is not: Apophatic Theology.

Spending time seeking knowledge of God in either way can be very helpful: it can clear away some of our misconceptions and make us aware of our own limited perspectives. If pursued with honesty and as an expression of faith, these two different paths can keep us humble and increase our capacity for kindness and compassion.

If we remember the most basic truth of life, we can avoid mistaking or preferring our ideas of God with our relationship to God. We can remember that we are always held by God. Said poetically:

We pray to the Great Spiritual Power in which we live and move and have our being.

[A Prayer For World Peace; Jane Goodall and Feeroozeh Golmohammadi(illustrator); Hong Kong: Minedition]

World Peace

She isn’t best known for her poetry or her praying. She’s known for the decades of research on our evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees. But anyone who seeks to understand fully, and who seeks this understanding for the benefit of life, ends up living a prayerful life. It may not be outwardly religious, but it’s reverent. And it’s Jane Goodall’s words, paired with Feeroozeh Golmohammadi’s images, that will end our foray into poems, prayers, and promises.

With luck, this is all three…

Love, Honor, Cherish

For better, for worse

In sickness and in health

Forsaking all others

I think the vows are a pair of tickets to a music festival: the main attractions you know going in, but the rest of the acts are a mystery. Some of it will be amazing, some surprising, some disappointing. But, at the end of the day, it’s the person you came with that makes all the difference.

A World of Common Things

Pets. Untensils. Fruit. Clothes. These are the things that we touch and see and hear and taste and smell every day. Pablo Neruda wrote a whole book of odes to them: spoons, an onion, the cat, and a pair of socks. He celebrates how much they have added to his life, and how he loves them for that.

I love this collection of poems because it is clear how much he sees common things as life-enhancing objects of wonder. Not because they can make him happy in more than a fleeting sense, but because they offer a chance to express gratitude for life in a tangible way – deep, inner joy brought into words through a cat, an orange, French fries. Here’s the end of the first poem – Ode to Things:

O irrevocable


of things:

no one can say

that I loved



or the plants of the jungle and the field,

that I loved


those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.

It’s not true:

many things conspired

to tell me the whole story.

Not only did they touch me,

or my hand touched them:

they were

so close

that they were a part

of my being,

they were so alive with me

that they lived half my life

and will die half my death.

Pablo Neruda (Ken Krabbenhoft, translation), Odes to Common Things, Ode to Things; New York: Bullfinch Press, 2010, p.17