Monday Matters (November 30, 2015)


Not so great expectations

In conversations about spiritual growth, how it happens, what gets in its way, here’s one of the challenges I’ve run across. It’s the absence of an expectation that such growth could or would or should happen. I’ve heard people say: “I don’t expect anything to happen at church.’ Maybe it’s complacency or fatigue. Maybe it’s discouragement or disillusionment, insult or injury. Maybe it’s a matter of being busy with other stuff. Maybe the church these days offers what people don’t want, poses questions people aren’t asking. For many reasons, I’m finding many people expect little from church. I’m not sure why. When I inquire about the “so-what” factor, the intersection of faith and every day life, I often am met with reverential Episcopal silence.

Elizabeth Drescher is a scholar who focuses on shifting patterns in religious affiliation. Her latest book, which comes out in March, is entitled Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Life of America’s Nones, which explores spiritual practices among America’s fast-growing religious demographic: the religiously unaffiliated. As I thought about expectations, I recalled an interview Dr. Drescher gave in which she spoke about why Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and Mainline congregants were leaving their churches. I was particularly interested in what she said about Mainline folks since Episcopalians fall in that category.

For Mainline Protestants, we know that the data tells us that about 55 percent now of young people raised Episcopalian will leave the church as adults. About 20 percent of those will become “Nones.” For Mainline Protestants, the theme is neither hurt nor anger, but a sense of ennui. They got it. They get that they’re supposed to be good to people, share what they have, do good in the world. If I had a nickel for how they love, love, love their youth group, or what a great time they had on their mission trips, I’d be a very wealthy woman. What tends to happen with Mainline Protestants is that they are deeply affirmed in early formation and then they “graduate” from church. And we let them have that model. One young woman told me, “I learned everything I needed to know there, I get it. I don’t need this in order to be a good person or in order to make sense of everyday life.” I hear this when I interview parents as well: “Our children will learn good values. Check. They’ve learned this, we can move on.”

In other words, there seems to be little expectation for a deeper life in the church, a deeper life with God, a greater love of God and neighbor. Absent such expectation, such hope, such sense of possibility, I wonder why one should bother. I’m both puzzled and troubled by that, since my own interest in life in the church is the hope that participation will make a difference in my life, will make me a more centered person, a less selfish person (a big task), which I believe will make a difference in the church, in the hopes that the life of the church will in some way make a difference in the world.

Advent is a season about waiting, quiet and contemplative for sure, a counter-cultural invitation to slow down. It is also a season to elevate expectation, out of the conviction that things might actually be different, that there is more to learn. Something is going to happen. Something big. Christ will show up. That advent, that arrival can happen in all kinds of ways. Scripture tells us that when it happens, we’re probably going to be surprised by it. But we’re meant to be looking for it.

So what are you waiting for this Advent? Do you have any expectation that life could be different, better, transformed? If you wish for that, is it at all possible that the church could be part of that process, or does the church impede the process? As the season of Advent begins (today is day two), invite God’s spirit to be at work in you, helping you grow, and where needed, helping you to change. Get ready for Jesus to show up. Expect it.

-Jay Sidebotham

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Come to earth to taste our sadness,
He whose glories knew no end.
By his life he brings us gladness
Our Redeemer Shepherd Friend.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
– Hymn text written in 1744 by Charles Wesley as he viewed the plight of orphans and division among classes in England.


Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (November 23, 2015)


When peace like a river, 
attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, 
it is well, with my soul.


It is well with my soul

Anxiety is running pretty high, assaulting on many fronts. Fear is fueled by war and rumor of war. Institutions of all sorts seem profoundly dysfunctional. Driving around town, I maxed out on the news and put in a CD (remember those) of old hymns, including the one with this refrain: It is well with my soul.

Written by Horatio Spafford, the hymn text was forged out of tragedy, beginning with the Chicago Fire, which ruined Spafford financially. His business interests were further hit by an economic downturn in 1873, at which time he planned to head to Europe with his family. In a last minute change, he sent the family ahead, staying behind to attend to business. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank. All four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him this telegram: “Saved alone.” Spafford soon traveled across the Atlantic to meet his wife. The ship passed by the exact place where his daughters had perished. As it did, he was inspired to write the hymn text, the first stanza appearing in the column on the left.

How do people navigate those waters? Where does inspiration come from, affirming that, despite circumstances, all will be well? We’re moving into the season of Advent, a season of hope and expectation. I’m reminded of what Jim Wallis said: Hope is believing in spite of the circumstances and watching the circumstances change. Have you ever known that to be true? Does your faith deepen hope, so that you can say with Julian of Norwich that all will be well?

In my own journey, my own struggle for soul-wellness, I’m grateful to have been supported by others in this call to wellness. One of my spiritual advisors, at moments when I battled toxic church behavior which threatened spiritual wellness, simply reminded me: “Turn toward the light.” He meant Jesus. (He even gave me a t-shirt with that saying printed on the front.) One friend would take me to lunch from time to time, simply to ask how I was doing, whether it was well with my soul. Another participated with me in a weekly bible study. The gathering always began with a circle of prayer. As we went around the circle asking for stuff, he would always say a prayer for me and my family.

I’m grateful for those over the years who have found ways to show and share concern for the state of my soul, for my walk with God, in ways that didn’t make me want to run or shut down (I’m good at both), in ways that felt genuine and kind. It meant a lot to me when brothers checked in. I invite you to think about who there is in your life, leader or follower, employer or employee, friend or relative who might benefit today, not from inquisition but from generous, sensitive inquiry into spiritual health and wellness.

Such inquiry in word, action, prayer is service (as long as you listen for the answer). It shifts focus from self to the other. It lifts us out of patterns shaped by ego, patterns shaped by our narrative as hero or victim.

It may be a word of gratitude. It may be letting someone know you said a prayer for them. It may be a blessing, wishing that person well.

There’s a lot of talk about wellness these days. So what do you think about wellness of the soul? How can our faith provide it for us? How can we help those around us to receive it?

– Jay Sidebotham

All shall be well, 
and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
-Julian of Norwich


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
 -Matthew 6
(a bit of the reading appointed for the observance of Thanksgiving)


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (November 16, 2015)


Monday, November 16, 2015

The joy for our family ran deep. My son got married on Saturday to a remarkable young woman from a faithful family, surrounded by love and prayers of friends and relations who witnessed exchange of vows and pledged support for these two fine young people. There was a gracious plenty of feasting and dancing. It was one of the best weekends of my life. The whole thing filled me with hope for the future. The joy ran deep.

Alongside that stream of joy ran breaking news of a broken world, the human family one more time victim of violence, this time in a city my wife and I recently visited for our wedding anniversary. I heard the news as I walked into the wedding rehearsal. Joys and fears, sorrow and love, part of life at the same time. Perplexing stuff. How do we withstand when we can’t understand? How do we navigate such contradiction? Deny one or the other? Act as if one or the other is not real or pertinent? Stop watching the news? Give up hope? Hope for revenge?

Our tradition knows contradiction. When Mary is told that her child will be the savior, she was also told that a sword would pierce her heart. A few days after Christmas, we observe the feast of Holy Innocents, horrific violence visited on the powerless. These days, we read the story of Hanukah in the Daily Office: capricious cruelty of political and military power visited on the faithful, those who love God most deeply. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ hour of glory is his hour on the cross. Nothing new here. The Bible tells me so. But that doesn’t mean we have any greater clue how to respond.

What are people of faith to do? I don’t really know, but let me offer this thought. In our work with congregations, here’s one of the marks of spiritual vitality. They pastor the community. I love the phrase which researchers developed and which echoes Jesus’ charge to disciples. It suggests that the role of the faith community, and individuals in it, is to focus beyond self to pastor the community. That can mean hands-on service, like Habitat or Meals on Wheels or charitable giving. It can mean advocacy, lobbying with people in power for policies that move toward justice and peace. It can mean learning about what God is already up to in the neighborhood, perhaps much needed interfaith conversation. It can mean presence to those in need. It can mean prayer, in silence, in word, in action.

That ability to pastor the community, as individuals, and communities, comes from a place of grace and deep joy, allowing us to move beyond self to see self as part of the whole human family. And God knows, the human family needs pastoring. From a platform of grace, we pray for our broken world, in all the ways we pray.

This Monday morning, if you’re looking for a way to pray in the midst of things beyond understanding, try the prayer for the human family (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815). Precede that prayer with ten minutes of silent remembrance of those who died, in prayer for those who have been injured in body, mind, spirit, seeking comfort for those who mourn, seeking guidance for those who lead, in intercession for twisted hearts that give their own lives to inflict random violence and spread terror. Pray for enemies. Pray for the human family.

Maybe the Spirit will lead you to actions that build on those prayers. I don’t know what those might be. I’m baffled by the contradictions, constrained by a sense of powerlessness, which is why I commend prayer. Whatever the response may be for you this morning as you pray for the people of Paris, and for the whole human family, may all be done in the spirit of Jesus, who was never afraid to confront evil, but never did so in a spirit of revenge. May our life of prayer be offered in the spirit of Jesus who came to live among us, to give his life for us, so that joy might be complete. May our life of prayer, with our lips and our lives, move toward healing in the spirit of Jesus, the great healer. May our life of prayer equip us to pastor the community.

That’s all I’ve got this Monday morning, with a heart full of joy and a heart that is broken all at the same time.

– Jay Sidebotham

A Prayer for the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

-John 15:9-11


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (November 9, 2015)


The Pope, the Presiding Bishop and you

“There is no such thing as a stationary Christian. You cannot think of a stationary Christian: a Christian that remains stationary is sick in their Christian identity. The Christian is a disciple to walk, to move.”

Over a year ago, Pope Francis offered these rather hard hitting insights in a homily: I thought about his insights as I reflected on another sermon, offered by our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, at his service of installation last Sunday, November 1. (Another Monday morning nudge to watch it. It is stunning, sterling, inspiring. Youtube has it.) He talked not so much about Christianity or the church, let alone the Episcopal Church. He talked about the Jesus movement, and how the Episcopal Church is one expression of that movement.

Bishop Curry framed it as a movement of the church into the world, turning the world upside down, which is in fact really a matter of turning an upside down world right side up. It’s the work Jesus did in all kinds of ways.

Jesus taught it: The last shall be first. You give up your life to find it. Blessed are the poor, the meek.

Jesus modeled it, when he washed disciples’ feet, or blessed children, or had a theological debate with the Samaritan woman, or called religious leaders “whitened sepulchers.” A king on a cross models a world turned upside down, with a movement animated by grace, culminating in resurrection. It’s a movement which expanded from a small group of disciples (ancient near eastern keystone cops) to a global communion that has reached even to us.

While it’s a movement of the church with global scope, I found myself thinking about the fact that it’s also interior movement exploring the geography of the heart. I’ve come to believe that the vitality, the forward movement of our denomination will emerge from the vitality of our congregations which will emerge from the spiritual health and vitality of the individuals in those congregations. I call it the cellular model. Which leads to the Monday morning question: What does that movement, the Jesus movement look like in your life and mine?

When in your life you have experienced such movement? What contributed to that process? When in your life has the movement come to a grinding halt? What was that about? Hear the words of Thomas Keating, great contemplative who linked the life of silence and prayer with a call to serve in the world. He wrote:

“The call of the gospel, “Follow me,” is addressed to every baptized person. We have within us in virtue of our baptism all the grace-given powers we need to follow Christ into the bosom of the Father. The attempt to do this – to reach more deeply toward the love of Christ within us and to manifest it more fully in the world – constitutes the heart of the spiritual journey.”

Take time today to reflect on your journey, with the help of our new Presiding Bishop. What do you make of this thing called the Jesus movement? Do you consider yourself part of it? Would you like to be part of it in some new way?

-Jay Sidebotham

Jesus said: I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.

-John 10:10

Whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it. For faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life – which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived – or have denied the reality of your life.

-Christian Wiman, from his book My Bright Abyss


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (November 2, 2015)



Last week at this time, I was attending a conference called “Discipleship Matters.” The Rev. Carol Anderson, one of our speakers, described the opportunities and challenges, hopes and fears, cost and promise of discipleship these days in the Episcopal church. She emphasized the importance of intentionality. She placed a lot of hope in this for the church.

In her travels, her visits to churches, it is often hard to know what a community is about. Often, it seems like churches are all over the place. They are about everything and nothing. The challenge becomes one of getting clear about mission, purpose, goal, identity and to be intentional about living into that. And what is true about faith communities, I believe, is also true about individuals in those communities. It may well be that a community cannot gain clarity if individuals in that community don’t have clarity.

What does intentionality suggest to you? Some may call it mindfulness. Some may call it attentiveness. Some may speak of purpose or mission or goals. My spiritual coach, who happens to be my wife, who happens to be a yoga teacher often begins her classes with a call to set an intention for the time “on the mat”. Pausing to do that can transform the time. It becomes about something. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Blessing. Setting an intention can also be about what we set aside, what we leave outside the room, what we decide to let go. (My professor at Union Seminary, Dr. Christopher Morse proposed that in theological reflection we need to think not only of what we believe, but what we refuse to believe.) The invitation to intention on the yoga mat may be a parable for our call as disciples. What intention might we set for this day?

First of all, what do we need to set aside? What is not serving us? In many cases, this has to do with forgiveness, releasing resentments that distract and restrict us. It may have to do with trust, releasing our anxieties to God’s care.

Then what do we need to embrace with intention? The church talks about it in terms of vocation. (Eastern traditions speak of it as dharma.) What are you being called to do and be? For many of us, the challenge comes in the fact that we have numerous and occasionally competing vocations. Parent. Child. Student. Teacher. Leader. Follower. Boss. Employee. Citizen of this nation. Citizen of the world. Church member. Disciple. Believer. Skeptic.

Jesus’ words to his disciples carried great intention, a command to follow him on the way, to enter the narrow gate, to fulfill commands to love God and neighbor, to be part of his movement. Hear that call this morning, and take some quiet time today to set an intention, to imagine how you will respond with intentionality to the call to share God’s love with those you meet as this Monday unfold.

And if you want an example of a Christian setting an intention, watch Michael Curry’s sermon yesterday at his installation at the National Cathedral. Think this week about his call to be part of the Jesus movement, and the specific intentions that come with that. More about that next time.

-Jay Sidebotham

Then Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
– Luke 9:23-25

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
– John 13:34-35

I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 3:14


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.


 Follow me

A few years ago, to supplement a sermon, I handed out cards the size of a small bumper sticker. On the card were two words from the gospel du jour: Follow Me. I asked folks to carry those signs with them, to put them to work in a place of prominence in their home, office, car. I imagined it was a clever way to foster the intersection of Sunday and Monday. That night, I went to a party at the home of a parishioner. I was greeted at the door by the host, who asked if I’d like a drink. When I said that I would, without a word he held up the sign which I had handed out: Follow Me. I followed him to the bar. Not quite what I had in mind.

What would you do with the two words: Follow me?

This morning, this beach person finds himself in the mountains. I’m part of a conference called “Discipleship Matters.” In the Bible, when people wanted to get clear, they moved to the mountains. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, they all did it. So we’ve come to a beautiful place to get clarity about what discipleship means, what it means to follow Jesus. Part of the work I’ve been doing, part of the reason I write weekly messages is to consider what it means to be a disciple these days, what it means to embrace those words: Follow me.

We’re blessed at the conference with two presenters who have been my teachers. One is the Rev. Carol Anderson, who served as rector of All Saints Beverly Hills for a couple decades. Imagine what the challenges of bringing discipleship to that part of the world must be like. She did it with wit and wisdom, power and conviction, grace and faith and spirit. Over the years, she built a vibrant community with this mission: disciples making disciples. More than any priest I know, she has helped me think about what renewal means in the church and in my own spiritual life. She helped me focus on what it means to meet Jesus. I’m so grateful for that ministry.

The other presenter is Dr. Dwight Zscheile, who I came to know through his book. People of the Way. His book takes its title from first Christians. Before they were called Christians, they were called “people of the way”. I wish we could go back to that name. First, because so many faith traditions in the world speak about the way. Second, the name implies movement, transformation, change. Sometimes the word Christian suggests arrival, destination, club. I’m not all that interested in a faith or religious system that leaves me the same, that doesn’t include the experience of growth, challenge, change, redemption.

I commend Dwight’s book to you (I’ve got to get a new copy because I’ve underlined everything.) In the introduction, he asks questions which stick with me, questions I’d ask you to consider:

  • What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world?
  • What does it mean to be a church member?
  • Are they the same thing?

How would you answer those questions this Monday morning, as you think about how your church membership/affiliation (or perhaps lack thereof) intersects with your own commitment to following Jesus? Use the question as a chance to reflect honestly on what the heck it means to follow Jesus today.

When you’re done with those questions, consider these questions asked by Dwight:

  • How does the shape of life in the Episcopal Church (or your respective denomination) foster depth and commitment to the way of Christ?
  • How does it undermine it?

The questions don’t assume that hanging around a church, being a member, whatever, will deepen the spiritual life. The questions admit that church can get in the way. Imagine! I’m shocked! But also deeply pleased to be challenged to think about what we do with what we’ve been given. This Monday morning, what will you do with those two words: Follow me?

And if you’re so inclined, say a prayer for our conference in the mountains, that we might increase in clarity. Wish you were here.

– Jay Sidebotham

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
-Matthew 16:24
Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
-John 8:12
The life-and-death question for each of our churches and denominations may boil down to this: Are we a club for the elite who pretend to have arrived or a school for disciples who are still on the way?”
-Brian McLaren

We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.
-Richard Rohr


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (October 19, 2015)


O God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you.

It’s a prayer I’ve offered, though not one I composed. I didn’t get it from a skeptical millennial or a burnt out cleric. It didn’t come from a newcomer exploring the church, or from one of the frozen chosen (someone who has been at this mainline, organized, institutional religion stuff for a while). Though in some respects it has a contemporary feel, it comes from Teresa of Avila, saint of the 16th century. I was leading a retreat of young people this past weekend. It was a gift to be with them, to learn from them. With a distinctive mix of love and energy, they were trying to figure out what it means to have a life with God. When asked to give a homily at a eucharist around a campfire, I noted that it was the feast day of St. Teresa. As I launched into the homily, I had one of those “What were you thinking?” moments. I wondered if discussion of a saint from so long ago would put these young people to sleep, all the while confirming their conviction that I was a hopeless church geek. But while Teresa’s life circumstances were, how shall we say, different than those of these young people, she had something to teach them (and me) about loving God.

Her memory lives on for a number of reasons, including a cut-to-the-chase approach to faith. One of my favorite stories about her: She took her show on the road, going from town to town proclaiming the gospel. One day, she was riding a horse or a cart or something (accounts vary). The horse bucked or a wheel of the cart fell off, and she was thrown to the ground, ending up in a mud puddle by the side of the road. She looked to the heavens and said: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” I’m wondering if you’ve ever joined her in that mud puddle, praying that prayer, maybe even adding expletives. Maybe you’re in that mud puddle this Monday morning.

She is credited with the beautiful prayer that says that we are Christ’s hands and feet in the world now. The prayer is printed in the column on the left, and provides a wonderful way for us to think about what we’re called to do.

But she’s on my mind because she helps me wrestle with the question of what it means to grow in love of God, which is the heart of spiritual growth. I confess that sometimes I wonder if the cynic/comic/commentator Bill Maher is right when he says that people who talk about a relationship with God are really talking about an imaginary friend. Sometimes my prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling, seem to be little more than wishful thinking. It’s why the story of Teresa of Avila is so important. At a critical moment in her own spiritual journey, she was visited by an angel, who in a vision pierced her heart with a golden burning spear. In that vision, her heart was set on fire with love for God. Sure, there was pain/challenge/difficulty. But it changed her, and paved the way for an answer to her request; I want to want to love you. I could stand to have my heart set on fire for love of God.

In our liturgy, in confession, we admit that we have not loved God with our whole heart or soul or mind, and oh by the way, we have not loved neighbor as self. (The two things apparently go together, though sometimes I feel like the guy who said: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.) Every day I need to focus on that call to deeper love of God and neighbor. I try to start each day with the confession just to establish the point. It reminds me that love of God is the issue, the heart of the matter. Join me this morning in giving thanks for Teresa. Try today to figure a way to open your heart a bit more to the Holy One who created us and from whose love we can never be separated. Never.

– Jay Sidebotham

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.

Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.

-St. Teresa of Avila


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (October 12, 2015)


In 1970, the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge went to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa. As he learned about the work she was doing in the slums, he began his interview by asking:

MM: Do you do this every day?
MT: Oh, yes, it is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.
MM: How long have you been doing this? How many months?
MT: Months? Not months, but years. Maybe eighteen years.
MM: Eighteen years! You’ve been working here in these streets for eighteen years?
MT: Yes, it is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.
MM: Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry? After all, you are beginning to get older.

MM: Oh, no, this is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.

For those of us who have occasionally lost direction or battled burnout, her witness of persistence is remarkable. Of course, since her death in 1997, we have learned that her long life of service was marked by private passages of doubt, discouragement and despair. That is true of many holy people. But at one point in her ministry, she was asked how she could face the overwhelming poverty, when her daily work seemed to make absolutely no dent, no difference. When asked what kept her going, she responded: God calls me to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

Her comment came to mind when I was asked to give a talk at church about the ways we might address global issues, about what works and what might work better. I was honored to talk about the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, which does a stellar job of responding to needs around the world, with hard work and creativity that look a lot like success. I was also struck with the ways we face problems, locally, ecclesiastically, nationally and globally, problems that seem insurmountable. We face them all the time, but right now I’m thinking of challenges like the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the racial divide in our own country, the inability to address issues of gun violence. To me, it often looks like there may be no successful solutions, at least none I can help bring about. In spite of all that, we are called to faithfulness.

I think about the church, and the challenges facing those who care about the church, serve in the church, hope for the church. In my travels around the church, I meet heroic people who work with minimal resources, with entrenched resistance to change, with dwindling attendance. It can seem as if efforts may not make a difference. How do we focus on faithfulness when success seems elusive?

I think about each one of our lives, the great variety of ways that people are called, as followers of Jesus, to take up the cross, whatever that cross may look like. I think of quiet endurance, in relationships and situations that are burdensome or broken. I marvel at the ways people keep on keeping on, living faithfully, even if in the world’s terms they are not successful in healing the situation. What is God asking you to do and be this week, in your household, at work? Is there a situation there that seems to defy success? Think about your place in the church, in the community of faith. Think about your call as a global citizen, in a world marked by challenges. We are not promised success in resolving all the challenges that surface in those places. We are called to faithfulness, which sounds a lot like trusting the concerns of our heart to the one from whose love we can never be separated, the one whose character is faithfulness.

Today, think more about what it means to be faithful and worry less about what it means to be successful.

– Jay Sidebotham

Definition of success: the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
Definition of faithful:  strict or thorough in the performance of duty; true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.; steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant:
Philippians 3:10-14: St. Paul, writing from a prison cell, where by many accounts his ministry would be viewed as failure:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (October 5, 2015)


Admiration and imitation

“Of all the saints, St. Francis (of Assisi) is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated.” So reads the description offered in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, a publication of the church that helps forgetful clergy like me recall why we remember these folks. Yesterday, October 4, is the day our church remembers St. Francis. Churches do that in all kinds of ways, most notably the Blessing of the Animals. This has proven to be a very popular liturgy, one which draws people who won’t otherwise come to church. For instance, I remember the woman who came to church on the subway, with a rather large iguana in a snuggly. At the time, I served as an associate at this church. As she made her way toward the clergy at the time in which we offered blessing, the Rector pointed her in my direction. He told me later that he didn’t do reptiles. My theology of blessing was tested as I laid hands on Fluffy or whatever the creature’s name was. (I don’t think I had ever actually touched an iguana before.) In something of a leap of faith, in my best effort to imitate St. Francis, I declared its goodness, beauty and belovedness. St Francis would have blessed this creature. I gave it my best shot.

For that same service, a limousine pulled up in front of the church. The chauffeur ran around the back of the car, opened the door and three small dogs with bejeweled collars and fur whiter than snow marched up the steps to the church. I could feel the anxiety of the owner who thought her pets would be soiled by our church steps, or by contact with other animals (including people). I was struck with the irony of a feast day for someone committed to the needs of the poor being observed by this city dweller who clearly had an exorbitant  amount of disposable income and wasn’t afraid to put it on grand display. We blessed those three dogs, in imitation of the grace of St. Francis, even though I confess that a part of me was judging the owner for her ridiculous extravagance (as if I was somehow holier than she was).

Francis is popular for sure, in part because his love for all God’s creatures taps into the great affection people have for their animal companions. He is popular for other reasons, witness the visit of the current pope to our neck of the woods, where his own popularity is revealed as he imitates his namesake in dramatic ways. In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi broke the mold. Born in affluence, he reached outside his bubble to commit to “Lady Poverty”. A devout leader off his own faith tradition, he reached outside his bubble to connect with the Muslim community, and to work for peace. He saw brotherhood and sisterhood not only with other people, not only with animals like the wolf of Gubbio or the birds that listened to him preach, but with the sun and moon and stars and water. He called for the healing of creation. He answered a call to heal the church, to rebuild the church. He did it all with a spirit of joy that is remembered over the years. Admired, indeed. Imitated, not so much.

Join in admiration for St. Francis of Assisi. That is relatively easy to do. Give thanks for his concern for the poor, his commitment to creation, his hope for the church, his outreach to people of other religions, his joy in service to his God, his call to be an instrument of peace.

Then join in imitation, taking his life and ministry and witness as an example. That’s maybe harder. But it would be good work for this Monday morning. What might that look like in your day?

– Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of Francis of Assisi, Friar, who died in 1226

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of Joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From “Canticle of the Sun” composed by St. Francis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,To thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
And blessing without measure.
Let creatures all give thanks to thee
and serve in great humility


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (September 28, 2015)


Making the common holy

I grew up going to Madison Square Garden in New York. My dad had season tickets for the Knicks, when one of the best teams ever in the NBA was assembled. Fans were exuberant (and noisy) in those years of Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Phil Jackson (who didn’t play much but turned out to be an okay coach). We would also go to rowdy, raucous Rangers games at the Garden, where the spectator sport was as much about cheering on fights in the stands as about hip-checks on the ice. I learned a lot about ways to combine expletives, these deleted from this email. As a teenager and college student I went to concerts there, again, marked by high decibels.

I was near the Garden last week. Actually beneath the Garden. The advisory board of RenewalWorks had a meeting in New York, scheduled long before we knew that another religious gathering would be taking place in Manhattan. (For some peculiar reason, the Vatican never consulted us to check on calendar conflicts.) I’ve never witnessed such extensive security and news coverage, though it was not for our advisory meeting.

I left New York on Friday morning, taking the train to the airport, leaving from Penn Station, located underneath Madison Square Garden. In those early hours, the place looked grim, filled with weary travelers and way too many people with nowhere else to sleep. I found myself thinking about the gathering that would happen later that day, in the arena above the train station. I got home in time to watch the Mass on TV. I noticed how the eucharist transformed that place. It’s tough to create a sense of sacred space in a huge sports arena. My associations with the Garden were not particularly spiritual. But the liturgists did well. By God’s grace, they transformed the space. It made the common holy.

For me, the most striking moment was near the end of the service when the Pope asked for silence. The camera panned around the Garden, filled to capacity. The place was absolutely still before the presence of the Lord. The presence of the Pope, too, but I sensed it was mostly the presence of the Lord. And then came that stunning moment at the end when the Pope said: Remember to pray for me. The Pope and the liturgy at which he presided changed that place for me, and many, many others.

In the work to which I’m called these days, I’m thinking a lot about change. Listening to learn about how people grow, how people move spiritually. I would ask you to think this morning about what has brought about spiritual deepening, growth, movement, transformation in your own life. We ask this question incessantly in our work. Many Episcopalians from all kinds of places provide the same answer. The eucharist, worship, communion have been catalysts for their own spiritual deepening. Taking common things of life, bread and wine, those elements are transformed into spiritual food. In turn, ordinary, individual lives are transformed into a community meant and sent to serve in the world, to change the world. The body of Christ. Transformation. The noise of busy schedules is redeemed by holy, sacred silence.

God is in all things. Christ is in all persons. Every moment, every space, no matter how common, can be holy. As you start this week, take that thought with you. Savor some silence. Do your part to make this a holy week.

– Jay Sidebotham

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1,2
Lord, you make the common holy: “This my body, this my blood.”
Let us all, for earth’s true glory, daily lift life heavenward,
Asking that the world around us share your children’s liberty
With the spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
Text of stanza 3,
from the hymn: 
“Lord you give the great commission”


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.