Ken L. Hagler

Author's details

Name: Ken L. Hagler
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Jedi Pastor Ken: The Integrity Of My Faith: Thoughts from a Cancer Caregiver — November 24, 2014
  2. Jedi Pastor Ken: Storytelling Week 2: It is Our Story — November 14, 2014
  3. Jedi Pastor Ken: Storytelling Week 1: It is God’s Story — November 13, 2014
  4. Jedi Pastor Ken: At the Edge. My First Thoughts On My Wife’s Fight. — October 20, 2014
  5. Jedi Pastor Ken: Invested: Make Your Life Count — October 13, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Jedi Pastor Ken: How Losing My Sight Has Helped Me to See More Clearly — 2 comments
  2. Jedi Pastor Ken: Undoing Our Souls — 2 comments
  3. Jedi Pastor Ken: At the Edge. My First Thoughts On My Wife’s Fight. — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Oct 06 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Haikus on a Monday

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Awkward and alone.
No longer whole: shattered.
Pot shards and soul shards.

A hidden treasure
in shelter.  Shining.  Gleaming.
Ravaged.  Tried and torn.

I heard my soul speak.

I get stumped at times and I lose track of my own thoughts and feelings.  I misplace parts of my experience.  When I do that, and do it for long enough, I find poetry helps me center.  The haiku form seems best for me.  During my experience with the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation there were many friends who found their voice in poetry.  I rarely did but I do know when my soul cries out, it will, at times, cry out in poetry.

Long before there was Twitter limiting our characters, the haiku developed rules to keep the syllables to a minimum.  5. 7. 5.  I need those rules.  They function much like a rule of life and the simplicity and guidelines those rules offer, well, they push me to dig deeper, not just into vocabulary but into the soul work.  My soul work.

The Psalms are the reminder to us of the raw power of the spiritual work.  The words found there are real, raw, and ripping.  Some of them we do not like at all.  I think that is because they reveal our own base natures, the real needs we experience as human beings when our outer facades fade and fail us.

I heard my soul speak.

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Sep 22 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: For Lack of Better Words?

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I would love to write every day and I know I am not alone in that desire.  Most days I do write something though it is rare, at this time, that I feel the need to share it. 

But I feel there is a pressure to respond immediately these days.  I’ve been asked to respond to tragedies in public forums at times.  I get it, those are times people are looking for a comforting words and counsel from a clergy.  But that is not what I am talking about.

Maybe I am wrong about it but my feeds keep blowing up with everyone feeling their need to give an opinion.  


About anything. 

About everything.

Maybe the solution is getting off social media completely, or just learn to cope.  But I wonder if it is doing something to us, to our relationships, our lives, our society, and our friendships.  And here I am now, giving my opinion.

We need to find better words.  We need better words to describe those who we disagree with on important issues.  We need to choose better words before we condemn an entire race, religion, and gender.  We need better words to speak about those experiencing injustice, poverty, and unemployment.  We need to better words to speak about the rich, the 1%, our leaders.  We need better words to speak about those of a different political perspective than our own.  We need better words to talk to our children, our friend’s children, or a stranger’s child.  We need better words when we speak to our partner.

And we need better words when we speak about and to our enemies.

I don’t think we lack better words, I just think we are too lazy to use them.  It is so much easier (and far more fun) to build a silo, an ivory tower, a fortress of solitude, and cast verbal grenades and condemn others for what?  They vote differently?  They believe differently?  They speak different?  They act on different convictions?

Here is where I am.  I am stuck in the middle (though I’ve been told there is no middle).  My conviction is that I can’t be like Jesus if I take sides without hearing another point of view.  I don’t mean READING another point of view, God knows, I think, that we’re failing at that as a practice of faith or friendship or dialogue.  In the written word, we only seem to demagogue.

We are a lot like Hugh Laurie’s character, “House.”  He avoids dealing with patients believing he’ll be a better doctor to them.  The problem is, he does the same with everyone in his life.  It is really hard to love people at a distance who you’ve never known up close.  That is what I get out of Jesus’ words,
Rather, love your enemies, help them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will have a great reward. You will be the children of the Most High God. After all, he is kind to unthankful and evil people. (Luke 6:35 GW)

It is hard lend to someone you've not met.  It is hard to help those you've not ever known.  If you lack better words, then just be quiet for a while.  Just love others for a while.  Just listen to other people for a while.  Stop writing for a while.  And be glad that the Most High God does in fact keep his word and is kind to unthankful and evil people.

Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner, another unthankful and evil person.  Amen.

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Aug 28 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Where Does Spiritual Direction Fit In Christianity and Methodism?

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Oh what a foolish child I was!  I can say that now, as a parent, for I see now the wisdom of my parents’ advice so many times, so many years ago.  Why am I reminded of this today?  I have two teenagers who live under my roof and each day it seems I open my mouth and hear either my dad or my mom speaking.  Oh what a foolish child I was!

We equate diplomas and accreditation with people who will give us wise counsel.  Most
times, this works out for us.  Yet, it seems to me that more often, the greater wisdom is found in the lives of those who carry no parchments and titles with them.  I think of my grandparents often when I think of wisdom and direction.

My dad’s dad and I had it out a couple of times.  He was a man hardened by struggle, who never slacked off and provided for his family as he baked in the west Texas heat maintaining oil wells for Gulf.  I’ll not ever forget the night when, with tears, he said to me, “Don’t be like me.  Stay in school.  Don’t be like me.” 

One of the struggles in church (and society for that matter) is that we have too many who seem to be saying the very opposite: “Be like me!”  I get the e-mails for promotional books.  I get the postcards for the next conference.  I hear colleagues maintaining the idea that if we’d only be like this person or that person, hold to this philosophical approach or implement these “cutting edge” plans, we’ll be successful.  Be like me.  Be like them.  Be like us.

In his book, “Soul Care,” Kenneth Collins points out that the sins of lust, drunkenness, and greed, dull our senses but so does boasting in our intellect, freedom and refinement.  Collins writes,”To use [John] Wesley’s own words, ’Dozed with the opiates of flattery and sin,’ these people imagine that they walk in great liberty.  It is actually a mistaken freedom, however, a freedom not to serve God and neighbor, but only to continue in sin (57).”  This, I think, is one of the blinders we install into our spirituality, namely, to ignore our sins in all their forms. Another is to dismiss the need for spiritual direction for laity and clergy.

The role of spiritual direction, while not always described by that term, is one of the foundation elements of the Christian spiritual journey (and Methodism as well).  Read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ many conversations with people one-on-one.  We find a pattern of questioning and listening and then the plain, simple words of guidance Jesus gives.  Paul’s and Peter’s letters reflect this.  Look at Paul’s personal letters of direction to Timothy, Titus and Philemon and we find Paul giving direction without missing the opportunity give correction.

The Methodist movement has embraced the ministry of spiritual direction and guidance from it’s inception.  Steve Harper makes note that as Methodist Christianity caught fire, John Wesley began relying on the example of spiritual direction given to him by his parents.  Dr. Harper notes, “The grand principle which gave rise to their ministry was ‘watching over one another in love’ – a clear reference to the spirit and methodology of sound guidance (Prayer and Devotional Live of United Methodists,74).”  Our soul care needs to be entrusted who care more for another than for the promoting of self.

It is important to note however that as we watch over one another, we are not to make anyone feel weak, “…only pilgrims on a way of formation that none of us is able to achieve ultimately or perform perfectly (75).”  Our lives should be permeated by the fruit of the Spirit, for it is, “God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways. And because we belong to Christ Jesus, we have killed our selfish feelings and desires. God's Spirit has given us life, and so we should follow the Spirit. But don't be conceited or make others jealous by claiming to be better than they are. (Gal 5:22-26 CEV).”

From the informal direction from friends and peers to the more formal relationship I have with a spiritual director, I continue to experience and see the fruit of the Spirit being formed in my life.  This direction keeps me on the rails, helping me recognize the change being done in my soul is only evidenced in how I am living with other people in this world.  A spirituality that only informs or conforms and does not transform is not Christian spirituality. 

At a time when our lives are hidden behind our avatars and constructed social media images, the need for connection and direction is all the more important.  None of us can simply assume it will happen but we must be intentional.  If you’re interested in knowing more, read my thoughts here or better yet, I encourage you to visit Heartson Fire which is the website of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and has a directory of UM directors.  Or consider Spiritual Directors International who also has a directory and maintains the guidelines for spiritual directors.

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Aug 06 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: On the Trail as the Pilgrim: Praying the Jesus Prayer on the Journey

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I recently posted regarding the week my daughter and I spent backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.  One of the things our time on the trail reminded me was how memories are made in living not watching others live.  Intentionally separating ourselves from digital communication was a renewal of personal communication.  It provided great conversation for her and I, for us and the people we met on the trail and for me, it was a chance to meet up with God in a unique way.

          In the past few years, I’ve begun changing the focus of my blog and writings toward spiritual formation.  During that time my ministry as a United Methodist pastor has been directed toward helping both churches and individuals engage in spiritual practices which help us not just speak to God but to listen to what God is speaking to us.  One of the formative elements of my journey and my teaching has been in regards to “The Jesus Prayer,” and I’ve written about it in other places.  It is a simple and profound prayer which goes, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

          On the trail, as I hiked my own hike, I prayed the Jesus Prayer and prayed other “breath prayers” over and over again (Note, a breath prayer is a prayer in the same structure as the Jesus Prayer.  It is formed by an individual addressing God regarding a particular yearning or need in one’s life).  Each step I took, each breath I took, I spoke the prayer again and again.

          The story and history of the Jesus Prayer is best told in the book, “The Way of thePilgrim.”  The tradition of the prayer comes from the Orthodox Tradition of the Church.  It is a very ecumenical prayer and though simple, is profound.  The history of the book is unknown as is the identity of the pilgrim.  The author writes,
“In the first part, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ it leads our thoughts to the life of Jesus Christ, or, as the holy Fathers put it, it si the whole gospel in brief.  In the second part, ‘Have mercy on me, a sinner,’ it faces us with the story of our own helplessness and sinfulness (pg 135).”

          With each step and with each breath, the phrases of the prayer rolled around in my mouth, in my head and in my heart.  And it was in the journey that I came to realize that the trail, the actual, physical journey opened up my soul to the work of the Spirit.  In the book, the story of the pilgrim is one of journey, of physically seeking and moving. 

Why is that important?  Maybe it was something like Saul/Paul, maybe Jesus needed to speak to him on the road.  I’m not sure but I can tell you that I experienced something on the trail I had not in prayers at home or in the sanctuary.  I could sense the Spirit pulling out of me two people, two moments in time, buried down deep who I need to make amends to.  It was at once easy and difficult but I doubt that I could have come to that place in my soul had I not been at that place on the trail.

We are a sent people not a staying people.  We are not called to rest on our laurels but in Christ Jesus.  

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Jul 30 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Hike Your Own Hike: Giving Grace to Others on Their Spiritual Journey

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Bly Gap at border of NC & GA
This summer, my daughter and I took our first steps toward reaching our goal of section hiking the Appalachian Trail.  We covered nearly 50 miles in 4.5 days.  There were many things she and I learned on the trail.  Some of it was about backpacking, some about life, some things about people, some things about ourselves and some things about God.

There is a popular phrase regarding the AT that goes, “Hike your own hike.”  Most of my years on the trail have been spent leading and being responsible for groups anywhere from 5 to 75.  This was the first time that I could remember in a number of years that I have done a long hike where my concern was just me and my daughter.  She and I gave each other permission to hike our own hikes, as we set boundaries and rules for staying in touch even when we lost sight of each other (pardon that pun).

Seriously though, my vision loss provided a unique challenge for me as I had to learn my limits and my abilities.  It was at times very difficult to navigate stone steps and inclines.  I did not always get to see the beauty around me as I had to pay attention to each step.  But in that process, I did get to see beauty under my feet that I would have missed in the past.

I had the chance to be more aware of myself which is something very difficult when leading a large group.  I also could be fully attentive to my daughter and I got to know her better as a very strong, very independent, amazingly creative and funny young woman.

Getting to hike my own hike made me more aware of our need to give others permission to hike their hike.  I think if I had tried to make my daughter hike “my hike,” it would have robbed her of what the AT experience can be.  If I had tried to hike “her hike,” I would have missed precious moments of hearing God and meditating on the experience.

One thing unique about our hike, was that we were going south and most everyone was going north.  A
Low Gap Shelter, Georgia
couple of times we met up with people at shelters on the top of a peak and share lunch and stories.  We were all on the same trail, the same mountain, or the same shelter but each of us had hiked a different hike to get there. 

I do not see this as an analogy for all religions.  What I “see” in my experience is that the Body of Christ is big enough and there is room for diversity and experience for everyone to hike their own hike.  I know for some, denominations are seen as a perversion of Jesus’ call for unity.  Within my own tradition of Methodism, we have a diversity and often do not reflect our heritage which the United Brethren offered us in their name: “United.”  We talk about grace but often fail in sharing it with one another.

There is within the Scriptures, a diversity of experiences regarding salvation and growth in grace.  Just look at Peter and Paul (though there are other comparisons)!  They experienced Jesus in two very different ways yet it was still the one Lord they followed and worshipped.  I think this final conversation with Jesus that Peter had, illustrates the point…

“Peter turned around and saw behind him that other disciple, whom Jesus loved---the one who had leaned close to Jesus at the meal and had asked, "Lord, who is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus answered him, "If I want him to live until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" (John 21:20-22 GNB)”

Jesus calls Peter to “hike his own hike,” and not to try and pull John into his model of following Jesus.  We are not created to be clones and puppets.  Jesus doesn’t say to us we need to be identical but to be unique, using our gifts and that means, we’ve got to take a different path up the mountain, the same mountain all followers of Jesus are on.

Be aware of God’s presence and the work of the Spirit guiding you into Christ-likeness. Beware that you do not hike someone else’s hike or insist other people hike your hike.  Be attentive to voice of the Savior calling you to follow!

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Jul 19 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Continuing to Open Our Eyes to Disabilities in the Church

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I awoke on Thursday morning a bit blurry eyed as I headed out to teach our Men’s Morning Bible Study but thought, “This will pass.” It didn’t. More accurately it was my right eye that was blurry and it took a quick
trip to my opthomologist to recognize something was very wrong. Having already survived a diagnoses of testicular cancer in 2000, I had a good understanding of how things worked. When specialists like a “Neuro-opthamologist clear their schedules to see you, you know something is really amiss. But when the MRI Center takes you IMMEDIATELY? You know that you don’t know anything and that is a scary place to be.

I was diagnosed with Ischemic-optic neuropathy, a swelling of the optic nerve in my right eye due to a vascular condition. Thankfully, there was no sign of a more severe condition, though we were told it could occur in the other eye. Almost exactly a year later, it struck my left eye. A trip to the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia offered us only a confirmation of the condition and no hope of healing treatment through medicine.

According to field of vision tests, I am nearly half-blind. I do maintain legal vision in my left eye so I might drive, but just barely. Suddenly, I found myself in a different world, a cloudy, unfamiliar world that I began to learn about through the internet and Vision Rehabiliation Services in Cobb County. I have worked some to learn Braille, been trained in the use of a cane, I’ve learned to navigate public transit and have received gifts of Closed Caption Video Readers. And yes, I have also been prayed for by prayer ministries and had verifiable Christian healers pray for my healing as well with no improvement.

What are we to make of this? I have had both friends and family come to me struggling with their own faith in God because of my disability and how it has changed my life. Today as you heard my story, I suspect, only because of experience, some of you wonder as did the disciples in John’s gospel:

"Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents sin?" (3) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him. (John 9:2-3)
You may well wonder about what sins I must have committed. I have heard one preacher say, “The reason bad things happen is because people take Jesus off the throne of their heart.” And some of you are wondering about faith: my faith or the faith of those who have prayed for me.

Read carefully to the Parable Jesus tells in Luke 14:16-24 of the Parable of the Banquet…

The words of this parable have been shared for centuries. Like most Parables, we have come to see there are often times more than one interpretation, more than one meaning. Today, I want to draw your attention to what the Banquet Host tells his servant in Verse 21: “Bring back the poor, the handicapped, the blind, and the lame.”

It is not healthy who are called and it is not the rich who the hosts asks for in this third invitation. The truth in here is simple:

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

Healing is not a litmus test of one’s worthiness anymore than one’s health or wealth. What one has or has not does not make a seat at the table. The seat at the table of the Kingdom of God, is the seat prepared by Jesus Christ for any and all who will say, “YES!, to the invitation the host extends.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

My disability has, pardon the pun, opened my eyes to what others face. This spring, our family spent a day at Little Five Points enjoying lunch and shopping. At one point, my son and I were walking on the sidewalk and I stepped, stumbled, and fell hard onto the sidewalk. My son was gracious to help. Me? I was hurt and embarrassed. What had happen? It has to do with what the Rev. Dr. Doug Gilreath, Pastor of Covington told me. Doug’s vision disability is far more severe than mine and has been with him since childhood. He said to me, “You have it more difficult because you do not know your limits yet.” He was right! I my vision couldn’t process all the data because I couldn’t see everything and in the end, it was a small corner of concrete that had shifted by a tree root that caused me to fall.

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

The parable Jesus tells the people reiterates the explicit command of verse 13. In that verse Jesus tells plainly the followers of God are to “…(13) invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. (14) Then you will be blessed because they don't have any way to pay you back.” So where do we get the idea that Kingdom of God is to be grown in the suburbs? Where did the idea come about that we need financially well to do people to grow God’s Kingdom? Is it not James who calls us out?

James 2:2-4 GW For example, two men come to your worship service. One man is wearing gold rings and fine clothes; the other man, who is poor, is wearing shabby clothes. (3) Suppose you give special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say to him, "Please have a seat." But you say to the poor man, "Stand over there," or "Sit on the floor at my feet." (4) Aren't you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

You need to know that the American Disabilities Act and our Book of Discipline are not a hindrance to the ministry of the Kingdom. The very model of the Kingdom that Jesus describes should have us going far beyond these laws and requirements. Simple accommodations of larger fonts on video screens, brighter lighting and large print hymnals are helpful. Ensuring wheelchair ramps are available and doors wide enough for them is not costly, it is hospitality! Making people aware and comfortable with those on various spectrums of autism or learning disabilities should be a priority. Reaching out to families in need of respite is a vital step but it also means we recognize that those with disabilities are of sacred worth and worthy of hearing the Gospel in a way that they can understand.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

At another dinner gathering recorded in Matthew 9:11-12 it says, “…the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

What if we began to not and recognize the Gospel of Jesus is for us all and there are many who have not heard because we have not said in the language of their disability, “On behalf of Jesus, I invite you to the table?” What if we quit fearing what we don’t understand and instead ask, “How can we do this better for you?” What if we asked simply, “What do you see? What do hear? What do you feel?”

What if we believed and acted on the truth Jesus tells us, that in the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth?” Me? I believe, there would be more healing of souls and those bound by disabilities will know the truth that they too, can be made free at last.

(This is the sermon text written for the opening service of the Mission u Conference 2014 hosted by Mission Committee of the North GA Annual Conference and the United Methodist Women in Athens, GA)

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