Ken L. Hagler

Author's details

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

Latest posts

  1. Jedi Pastor Ken: At the Edge. My First Thoughts On My Wife’s Fight. — October 20, 2014
  2. Jedi Pastor Ken: Invested: Make Your Life Count — October 13, 2014
  3. Jedi Pastor Ken: The Return of Lectio Visual (for Tuesday) — October 7, 2014
  4. Jedi Pastor Ken: Haikus on a Monday — October 6, 2014
  5. Jedi Pastor Ken: For Lack of Better Words? — September 22, 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

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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Jul 17 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: How I’ve Succesfully Organized My Gmail Inbox For Good

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Many of my friends have "LIKED" my empty Gmail Inbox on Facebook. It has been over two months now and after making it through the 3 week challenge of establishing a habit, my Gmail inbox is clean and organized so I can get to most every valuable e-mail I have. I spent a great deal of time reading and researching after reading Ken Zeigler's book, "Organizing for Success" (which I highly recommend).

The fact is most of us our running at the whim of messages and apps as they ding and sing at us all day.  It may even seem odd, as I usually talk about more "spiritual" topics.  But the truth is, most spiritual teachers, Christian and other, talk often about how we use our time so keep that in mind as you read.  Before you tackle your Gmail, I encourage you to tackle a few things first, in this order:

1. Plan your day first. Whether you're a FranklinCovey person or not, take the time and plan YOUR day. If you don't it will get planned for you. Whose gonna do that? Your technology.

2. Turn off the sounds! You don't need them for every cotton-picking text and message you get.

3. Commit to using and checking messages a few times a day. Really, you can do this and the world won't end. Do it in the morning, AFTER you've planned your day. Before or after lunch. Before you leave work. AND, if you must, do it an hour before bed.

4. Okay, now you're ready to get that Gmail Inbox cleaned-up and Jesse Chapman will tell you how here:  The Best Way to Organize Your Gmail Inbox.  If it seems too complicated, print off the copy and read through it and mark it up till you understand it.

- You may think you need more labels than he gives you. And you might, BUT don't add them UNTIL you've set-up your new system and get use to it.

- Just like paper, don't keep holding out filing e-mails. Do it when you get them.

- Divide and conquer. Organize your Gmail box first. Then take a break BEFORE you start deleting and filing. It took me a few hours to delete/file/unsubscribe so don't try to do it all at once.

-Enjoy. If I can help in anyway, let me know!

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Jun 30 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Practicing Awareness Means Trusting That God Can Speak To Others

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My daughter and I hiked for seven miles this morning as we prepared for and extended backpacking trip.  We got on the trail around 6am, it was still dark but the sun was just beginning to influence the lighting.  What was unique was the rain and water left over from the evening thunderstorms.  It was the same  trail as other mornings and yet, it was completely different.

The trail was more slick than usual in some places.  The spider webs glistened with rain drops.  Our sweat clung to our shirts and shorts in the Georgia humidity.  It was all different.  It was all the same.

Here at Bethelview United Methodist Church, I find myself in what is a new office to me.  It is a new building and sanctuary and new friendships are beginning to be formed.  That is what I am aware of right now.  For the people of this church, it is different too.  A new pastor is here in the pulpit.  I bring a different style and different ideas.  It is all different.  It is all the same.

My vision disability requires of me to be more aware of what is going on around me.  I have to be more aware when I drive and when I walk.  Going up stairs or down a trail, I must be more aware of certain conditions.  My daughter, while hiking on the trail, was aware too.  She pointed out the inchworm climbing his string.  She got to laugh at crazy squirrels running about and the massive snail making his own way up the trail.  I was not aware of these things, not until she pointed them out.  We were on the exact same trail but it was all different and it was all the same.

Awareness is a practice of attentiveness.  It can include all our senses or it maybe we need to only use one of them.  Being aware means we also can benefit from other people’s senses, on their awareness, on God’s voice speaking to them (this can happen only if we believe truly, that God might speak to another person).  In the book of Acts, in chapter 9, we find that when Jesus was speaking to Paul… “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 9:7).”  I suspect Jesus didn’t intend for them to see him but do we know for sure?  We find at the tomb Mary didn’t recognize it was Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:14).  Even those who knew Jesus were found to be unaware it was Him!

In this day and time where we face so much division, is it not surprising we are not aware when Jesus is in our midst?  Is it any wonder that we resort to frustration and anger?  It may well be all the more important for us to be about the spiritual practices and learning to listen to God and one another.

We are all different.  We are all the same. 

We all yearn to hear God.

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Jun 10 2014

Jedi Pastor Ken: Five Questions I’ve Learned from Vision Loss that Improve Awareness

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Over this past year, the upper part of my eyes and vision, has grown stronger and adapted to being able to read better. Because reading is such an important part of my work, I have effectively given up reading for pleasure. Your eyes really can get tired!

I have also found that movies and television can allow my eyes a chance to relax. Movies are really great because everything is so big and the theater is dark, so my vision doesn’t have to strain. So with no new episodes of The Walking Dead right now, I’ve picked up watching two detective shows, Longmire and The Glades. While the shows are very different in their design, settings, and characters, both main characters are very aware of everything and everybody.

From the details of crime scenes, behaviors of suspects, and in the searching out for evidence, these two detectives are almost hyper aware of what is taking place. They are always observing, always questioning, and always learning. And like any good character (really the writers) knows, it is not just about the crime, they also have to be aware of themselves.

Just how aware are you of you? 

Because of my vision loss, I have to be hyper-aware of the
environment, people and traffic around.  I have found most people are completely unaware of others around them and it could be easy with low-vision to get upset when others are not paying attention.  I can get mad at myself for not being more prepared too.

As I have learned to be more aware of my environment and that has led me to consider my spiritual awareness.  Think about this five questions:

  1. How aware are you of your motivations, your passions, your thoughts, your questions, or your behaviors? 
  2. How aware are you of your responses to other people and are you aware of what assumptions you are making regarding them? 
  3. Are you projecting previous experiences onto a new experience? 
  4. Are you projecting your motivations onto other people? 
  5. Are you doing all this with God too?

I am pretty certain, even after 2,000 years, we don’t fully understand or have learned all there is to know about the Sermon on the Mount. It is at once liberating and convicting. Jesus is on a roll of examining the fulfillment of the Law when He says, "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:26-28 NASB).” Just how aware are you of this inner orientation? Adam Clarke’s words on this verse (and the passions), call us to being aware of our reality:

         Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of [people], in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!

Is it possible we are, at times, too quick to think the best of motivations of others and ourselves? Are we really aware of our inner condition or are we quick to think so well of ourselves we miss the ancient truth of Jeremiah that, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (17:9 NASB)”

The desert fathers and mothers went to the desert, in part, to be away from the distractions of the world so they might become more aware of their passions and to wrestle with demons in their various forms. The practice of bands and class meetings of the early Methodists was to ask questions, to use these methods to be aware and be accountable. Sometimes we miss our motivations because we don’t take the time to be aware of ourselves.

This is part of what I think having a process of ordination does for the Church. My intent isn’t to cast stones at other traditions. However, we need to realize the Board of Ordained Ministry is more than just a gate-keeper in the United Methodist Church’s process. I think one underlying principle might be expressed this way: Those in ministry need to be aware of their own motivations, passions, and demons.

I do not always agree with the process or the decisions made by these boards who examine. What I do know, looking back on my process, was how being deferred made me more aware of myself and what God was preparing me for the work of ministry. I needed to be more clear, more aware. I needed to ask better questions.   I needed to know myself better.

This same awareness is what spiritual direction offers. It gives us

opportunity to have someone listen to the Holy Spirit with us, so we might be more aware of God’s voice and God’s leading in our lives.  I have found an experienced spiritual director makes a huge difference but this could be in accountability or even just daily time set-aside to be more aware of God. It is so much easier to be blissfully ignorant of the spiritual nature of our world. We can just tune it out as many have done or just crank the volume up and drowned out the Spirit’s silent voice as others have also done.

There is a hunger and desire in us to treasure the unique and the rare. To know ourselves and voice of God, we must make time to be aware.

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