Monday Matters (July 21st, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 21, 2014

Suffer the little children.

Several years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting Holy Cross Monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa, founded in response to a request in the late 1990′s that the monks come to that divided nation to model community. Several monks answered that call. They went, in the spirit of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible, not knowing where they were going or what they were meant to do once they got there. They went, and did what they knew to do, which was to say their prayers, confident that the Holy Spirit would show them the way.

It was not long after they had arrived that their mission became clear. Three young boys, who lived near the monastery had been left unattended one day, because the mothers had to work and could not afford child care. The boys were playing on railroad tracks nearby the monastery. An oncoming train hit them. Two of them died. The monks not only offered comfort, not only arranged for funeral and burial. They also discerned their call, which had to do with the local children who began to make their way down the long dirt road to the monastery. The monks began a scholarship fund to help these young people go to school. They founded a school on site for the children who lived in the area and in the local impoverished townships. The monks set a goal of providing an education as good as the best private schools in South Africa, making it accessible to people who never dreamed they could afford it. They found their vocation. It was about the children.

My ministry has offered the privilege of traveling to places where God’s love shines through with beauty and grace, even in most desperate and deprived settings. Grahamstown is one for sure. Another is Honduras, where I have traveled a number of times. I haven’t taken groups there in two or three years because we’ve been told it’s too dangerous. On one of my last visits, I visited an AIDS clinic in San Pedro Sula, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I stepped outside the clinic to take a phone call, just on the sidewalk. The staff urgently pulled me back through the open front door. It was not safe to stand on the sidewalk, even in the middle of the day, just a few feet from the door.  Since that time, the clinic has been robbed several times. Employees have been beaten up. Two have been murdered.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of those children who have made their way to the southern border of our nation, from places like Honduras and other neighboring countries. I remember the children I met in Honduras, who look so much like that 8 year old boy I saw in a news photo this week, standing in front of U.S. border agent, showing the policeman his birth certificate, the only thing he brought with him besides the clothes he was wearing. 8 years old.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of four boys playing soccer on the beach in Gaza who lost their lives when a missile ended their game.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of infants sitting on parents’ laps on a plane shot down over eastern Ukraine. Those infants had nothing to do with the conflict that raged beneath the jet they boarded.

Each of these situations suggests political challenges that defy solution, broken human relationships that defy mending. No one politician or policy will solve them. Apparently, no one knows what to do about them. I have neither inclination or aptitude to weigh in with answers. All I know is this Monday morning, my heart is heavy with the brokenness of the world, and with the realization that children seem to bear the brunt. So maybe this Monday we mimic those monks, and we stop right now and pray for all God’s children, and for what God would have us do. If you’re not sure what to pray, you’re not alone. You could start with the prayer for the human family from our Prayer Book. And perhaps, in some way, prayers can be offered not only with our lips but with our lives 

- Jay Sidebotham

But Jesus said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  -Matthew 19:14 (King James Version)

But Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” -Matthew 19:14 (New Revised Standard Version)

A prayer for the human family from the Book of Common Prayer, page 815:

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.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (July 14th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 14, 2014

No wonder.

Recent experiences lead this morning to a favorite spiritual growth opportunity: air travel. I’m choosing to regard recent random and unexplained flight cancellations as the work of the Holy Spirit, offering time (actually lots of it) for reflection, affording opportunity to embrace the Serenity Prayer, and calling me to consider the particular liturgy that begins each flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showing everyone how to fasten a seat belt as if I could not have figured that out on my own. Youtube has recently featured videos of flight attendants who have taken that liturgy to new heights, witty and whimsical variations on important messages we all need to hear (for the billionth time).  I recommend these videos. They will lift your spirits.

They stand in contrast to my experience on a recent flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showed safety cards, seat belt fastening technique, oxygen masks and seat cushions that become life preservers. I ached for this woman who was clearly really unhappy to be doing what she was doing, going through the motions, droning on about how to be saved in emergency. The repetition had gotten to her. I think in the moment, if I was a billionaire, I would have given her enough money to stop doing this job she hated because she was inflicting her unhappiness on a planeload of people who were already feeling like claustrophobic cattle. As we sometimes say in our family, this woman needed the joy of the Lord. Big time. No wonder. She had no sense of wonder. I compared her demeanor to the elderly women in another Youtube video, showing them on a flight for the very first time. Their sense of wonder about the experience was uplifting, as it should be, when you think about that mysterious miracle, all that metal, all that luggage, all those people lifting off the ground, up through clouds to the place where sun shines unobstructed and life is seen from new perspective.

Where am I going with this, you rightly ask? I do have a point.

When I watched the flight attendant droning on in rote misery, inflicting that on others, I thought about how familiar I have become with sacred text in scripture, Prayer Book, hymnal, and in creation that surrounds us, preaching a loving creator. I thought about how I use words like awesome and amazing to describe a cup of coffee. I thought about how perhaps in my own spiritual journey I prattle on mindlessly, self-absorbed, captive of habit and ritual, and really expect little to happen. I thought about how I take grace for granted, all of which stands in contrast to folks in the Bible who meet the Holy One and are overcome with a mix of holy fear and praise. When I was ordained to the priesthood, my sister gave me an illustrated quote, Annie Dillard’s widely circulated critique of the ways we worship. It came to mind when I thought about the flight attendant.

I also thought about a letter that the mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1930′s as she observed clergy of her day and concluded that they had lost a sense of wonder. She wrote: “We look to the church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness, and prayer, which though it may not solve the antinomies of the natural world, shall lift us to contact with the supernatural world and minister eternal life. We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with a few noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experience of the life of prayer.” Ouch. She goes on to say: “God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice and love, by his own spirit of adoring worship, can help us to apprehend God.”

Her comments about clergy apply to all of us who move with intentionality on the spiritual journey. What would it mean for your life and mine to be soaked in prayer, sacrifice, and love, in a spirit of adoring worship? Look for the holy today. Savor the preposterous idea that in some way we can have divine encounter. Keep an eye out for amazing grace. Get ready to meet an awesome God. Go for wonder.

- Jay Sidebotham

Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law.

-Psalm 119:18 

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.

-Annie Dillard

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (June 30th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 30, 2014

Peter, Paul, and You   

Did you know the real name of the National Cathedral in Washington? Its official name is the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, and since today is the observance of the feast of these two boys, I thought I’d reflect on why they matter this Monday. That cathedral looming over the Washington skyline is a place of beauty and grace. Above the west façade are two towers, one named for Peter, one for Paul. On the façade, over the north portal, you find a depiction of St. Peter, with fishing net, at the moment he was called to be a disciple. At the other end of that same façade, over the south portal, you find a depiction of St. Paul at the moment of conversion. Those two depictions are there, but not right up against each other, actually with some distance from each other.

The distance makes sense. As I read the New Testament, I get the impression that Peter and Paul were not best buddies. Each was endowed with considerable ego strength. We read about a variety of run-ins they have with each other. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul called out Peter about issues in that church. In the letter attributed to Peter, Paul’s letters are described as confusing. All of which says to me that God puts us in community of imperfect people to learn from each other, even if we don’t like each other, or understand each other, or see eye to eye on every issue. We are each and all works in progress. The community of faith is not a community of agreement. It’s not a social club. It’s a community gathered in common worship, or as Episcopalians call it, common prayer, and then sent into the world to do God’s work. God uses us with our gifts and experience and past, including our failures and mistakes. Peter and Paul teach us that.

If the early church was a start up, these two entrepreneurs got it going. Called to this work, they left other work to fulfill a mission. God used who they were, their skills and personalities. Peter, ever-impulsive fisherman, clearly a leader, often speaking first and thinking later, brought brave, brash energy to the beginning of the church, as Jesus tells him he will fish for people. Paul, compulsive persecutor of first Christians, running from city to city to lock up any Christians he could find for the sake of his faith tradition, has that energy transformed so that after his conversion he runs from city to city for the sake of his newfound faith. God took who they were, used their experience, those gifts for the sake of his kingdom.

Both Peter and Paul could have imagined that their histories disqualified them from service, from ministry. Peter denied Jesus at the moment when Jesus really could have used a hand. Was that all that different from what Judas did? Paul gave his life to the persecution of Christ’s community. Did that qualify him to be the leader of the church? On their feast day, we are called to consider the ways that God acts in our lives, using our gifts and histories, transforming our shortcomings, idiosyncracies and sins for good work in the world. As Philips Brooks, the great Episcopalian preacher (Note: that’s not an oxymoron) put it: God will waste nothing.

Peter and Paul remind us that God works in and through our diversity, in and through (and often in spite of) our history. But we all share this one thing. The reading from the gospel for the feast of Peter and Paul describes Jesus’ final encounter with Peter, in which he commissions Peter to feed the flock and tend the sheep. The passage concludes with Peter asking about another disciple, the beloved disciple, and what will happen to that disciple. Jesus says, don’t worry about that. None of your business. Instead, Jesus leaves Peter with two simple words: Follow me. That was the call to Peter and Paul. It is the call to us this Monday. To look at our own journey, checking the rear view mirror to see where we’ve been, to remember what God has done, to honor our gifts, to honor each other (even if we occasionally irritate each other), to recognize our limits, to trust that as the road unfolds before us, we can and will be used by God, forgiven and empowered people on the receiving end of amazing grace. Peter and Paul heard that call. Each in his way found a way to follow. You and I are being called to do the same, this very day. What will it mean to live into those two words: Follow me? How will you follow Jesus this day?

- Jay Sidebotham

Continuity and economy; these are the laws of Him who is leading us, the Captain of our salvation. He always binds the future to the past, and He wastes nothing. O, there are some here who want to get away from all their past; who, if they could, would fain begin all over again. Their life with Christ seems one long failure. But you must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to get a future out of it. God will waste nothing. There is something in your past, something even if it only be the sin of which you have repented, which, if you can put it into the Saviour’s hands, will be a new life for you.

-Phillips Brooks

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (June 23rd, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 23, 2014

“You can do better than fine. You can do great.”

Last week, I met a friend over a glass of wine (okay, it was two) and we got talking about the church, about challenges and opportunities, about discouragement and hope, about what we find engaging and what is not engaging. We are part of different congregations, but there was plenty of common ground in our discussion, which didn’t go on long enough for my taste, since we each had dinner plans that night. My friend went home for dinner with his family, where apparently the conversation about church and worship continued. Since school is out, that family has assigned their children a weekly essay during the summer months. My friend’s 11 year old daughter left the dinner table and wrote her weekly essay, continuing the discussion about church. The essay is entitled: How should we worship? I thought you might like to see what this young person (11 years old!) wrote:

I think churches are getting a little too old fashioned, even churches that are supposed to be “more in generation.”  For example, in our church we read the Gospel, sing, say prayers, talk about the church schedule, and we listen to a sermon, etc. Do you think that is focusing on worshiping god and praying to him? I don’t. That’s probably why lots of people are not going to church as much. I know people who just go for holidays. Have you ever been in a church service and wondered about something the priest said? I have. Do you look it up when you get home, forget the question, or just not have time to wonder about it? Don’t you wonder why you can’t ask the question to the priest right after he/she is done? I think that you should be able to ask them during the sermon or text it to them so you will not be embarrassed.  I think that the church service should be more interactive, more questioning, and more communicative. That will bring the church community closer. There are a lot more ways to correct the church but the problem is that they don’t want to be corrected. They think their way is fine. They’re right that it is fine, but you can do better than fine. You can do great. You’re never done. You can always correct and change the way you think. You can change the world!! Worship God the way you want to.

Do you wonder what Jesus had in mind when he said that the kingdom of God belongs to children, that we need to receive the kingdom of God as a little child? I’m not sure what he meant, but I bet he would have liked this essay. I’ve been in the rooted and restless (but mostly rooted) Episcopal Church long enough to know that change comes slowly, that some of my young wise friend’s suggestions won’t immediately or readily or maybe ever be embraced. But I loved reading this essay, a window into a wonderful mind, fresh with ideas I might do well to take to General Convention, fresh with challenge to my own experience of worship. This Monday morning, this young lady challenges us to think about the possibility that wherever we are in the spiritual journey, there is more. I thank God for her and her family, for many reasons. Today, I give thanks for her challenge, which I take personally. She becomes my teacher as she says to me: “Jay, you can do better than fine. You can do great. You’re never done.”

One more thing. Know that I would be honored if you would tweet me a question during one of my sermons, or any other time. @sidebotham.

- Jay Sidebotham

 People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 

And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-16

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (June 16th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 16, 2014

Joy

Many of you know that one of my vocations is to create cartoons, specifically drawings commissioned by the Episcopal Church. As I write this Monday morning, I’m working on ideas for a calendar of cartoons for 2015, which has as its focus funny things about the church. (Feel free to send any ideas for cartoons you might have. I bet you have plenty.) I have done this calendar for a number of years. I will tell you, sometimes the ideas come quickly, just a matter of keeping my eyes open. The material presents itself and I can’t believe someone pays me to do this.

At other times, I feel like I earn every cent. The church, specifically church people, can be terminally serious. As we note statistics about the rapid decline of mainline religion, one can see how that might become literally true. So I sit at my desk and think of ideas. Sometimes my wife is working in the same room at the same time. When she hears me start to giggle out loud to myself, she knows I’ve gotten an idea. But let’s just say there can be long periods of silence.

It all has gotten me thinking about joy and laughter. It’s gotten me thinking of the times when I have witnessed joy. I don’t witness it enough, especially in church. Ironically, joy often comes from people who seem to face the biggest challenges. I remember visiting a congregation near my church in the midwest. We had developed a partnership relationship with this church, and most of the congregants were recent immigrants from Central America, many facing challenges I’ve never had to face in my life. The spirit of worship was celebratory, joyful in a way I had rarely experienced. The church in which I served supported our partner church with financial resources, with guidance about governance, serious contributions for sure. But on occasion, let’s just say our church might have lived into the caricature of Episcopalians as the frozen chosen. The Hispanic church supported us with glimpses of what it means to show joy, in the various ways that joy can be manifested, sometimes effusive, sometimes serene.

When in your life have you experienced joy? Was there a reason it came to you? When in your life have you felt joy go away? What made that happen? Are there things you can do to foster more joy in your life today? Think of someone in your life who has figured out the joy piece. Talk to them about it. Where does it come from for them? What makes someone like Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu exude joy, even in the face of overwhelming hardship?

I suspect one way that joy takes root has to do with gratitude. I recently met with a group that included the rabbi of one of the largest congregations in L.A. She was asked to give the blessing over our meal, and she shared with our group (representing many faith traditions) that in her tradition, faithful Jews were invited, perhaps challenged, to name 100 blessings each day. My own spiritual practice has been to work on 10 a day. 100 seems like a lot but I’m working on it.

Another practice: finding a way to be of service. An intentional spirit of giving, put into action, can be an antidote to the resentment, bitterness, regret, joy-sapping self-consumption that lies close at hand for each one of us.

We all, for sure, can find reasons for joy to dissipate. But we can choose another way. We can choose joy. Or maybe it can choose us. St. Paul described joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit, something God does in us, a way God works through us. Ask God this morning to open that doorway of a little more joy.

The newspapers tell a grim story these days. Our world needs joy, not the denial of challenges we face, but a spirit that carries us through them and lifts us above them. I don’t know all my readers. I know some are facing huge challenges this very day. My prayer for you is joy, a peace that passes understanding, a fruit of God’s spirit, the serious business of heaven available here and now.

- Jay Sidebotham

Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. -Karl Barth

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. - G.K.Chesterton

We need joy as we need air. - Maya Angelou

Joy is the serious business of heaven. -C.S.Lewis

 Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. -H. L. Mencken

In thy presence is fullness of joy. -Psalm 16:11

I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly -Jesus (John 10:10)

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (June 9th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 9, 2014

More than we could ask or imagine

Last week, I attended a conference called Eformation2014 at Virginia Seminary. It was a gathering of church folk who met to talk about how new technologies, and especially social media, might change and enhance the way we do church. Since the Episcopal Church in terms of generational constituency is more Boomer than Millennial, the conference focused on how we bring folks who didn’t grow up with ipads and smart phones into the conversation, how we work with people who are immigrants (e.g., me), not natives (e.g., my kids) to the digital world. All of which reminded me a woman named Shirley, who taught me some important lessons.

A woman in her late 70′s, maybe older, Shirley lived in a local retirement community, and let us all know at church that her loneliness was a source of deep, prolonged unhappiness. There was, truth be told, a contagious, maybe infectious quality to her unhappiness. She shared it prodigiously, even imposed it, wherever she went. Note: This only exacerbated her loneliness. Shirley confessed to me at one point that she was not going to be able to come to church any more on Sunday mornings. Her arthritis made the task of getting ready for church too arduous, too protracted. She would have to get up way too early. So she stopped showing up at Sunday worship.

On one of my visits to her home, I noticed that Shirley’s spirits seemed a bit lifted. She told me that students from a local university were coming each week to her retirement community to introduce her and her friends to computers,  showing them how to get online. Well before Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram, Shirley found herself making connections with people of her age and in her station in various chat rooms. She was meeting people around the country.

Shirley reported on one visit that she had made a friend online, a gentleman from Texas, someone exactly her age. She spoke about how they had developed a friendship, how much they had in common, and how they arranged for regular times to converse. Just the way she talked about it revealed to me that some of the unhappiness had abated. Before long, I received a call that this gentleman was going to come to visit, that they were going to meet in person, that he was, in fact driving his motorcycle almost 1000 miles for this visit. Shirley was nervous and excited. I glimpsed a teenage girl anticipating a prom date. I mentioned that I’d like to meet her friend. Maybe that was a little parental. Maybe I was a little worried.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later, I looked out my office window. Up the driveway came a Harley, with Shirley on the back, she and her new friend in matching motorcycle helmets and metallic jumpsuits. I walked out to greet them. Shirley said they had to hit the road. They were off for several days to ride the Blue Ridge Highway. Her arthritis didn’t seem to be getting in the way. As I write this, I’m realizing it could sound sketchy, maybe creepy. In real life, it seemed beautiful. These two didn’t get married, but they did begin a friendship that seemed to make them both pretty happy. Not bad.

Imagine sermon titles from this story: The virtues of connectivity. Never stop learning. Love conquers all. Feel free to submit your suggestions. Maybe the lesson this Monday morning has to do with new possibility. I imagine we can all imagine parts of our story that we imagine could never change, which I imagine could make us all cranky. When we think like that, when we get locked in that story, when we get in that loop, when that tape keeps playing (pick your favorite cliché) our faith reminds us that we are resurrection people, that a little Easter is celebrated every Sunday, that the gospel is in fact good news because it tells us that dead ends become thresholds. Maybe this Monday can be a threshold for you.

- Jay Sidebotham

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.

-Ephesians 3:20,21

“How do I get rid of the fear?” Alas, this is the wrong question. The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters. No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?” Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.

 -Seth Godin 

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

-Psalm 98:1

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (June 2nd, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 2, 2014

Let me try out this image of the spiritual life, courtesy of Desmond Tutu, who seems to know a lot about the spiritual life:

“One image that I have of the spiritual life is of sitting in front of a fire on a cold day. We don’t have to do anything. We just have to sit in front of the fire and then gradually the qualities of the fire are transferred to us. We begin to feel the warmth. We become the attributes of the fire. It’s like that with us and God. As we take time to be still and to be in God’s presence, the qualities of God are transferred to us.”

I can imagine you joining me in saying: I’m too busy for sitting by the fire. And by the way, it’s almost summer. Note that this comment comes from one of the world’s most energetic activists, who out of love of God tirelessly seeks to address injustice wherever he sees it. Lord knows, there’s plenty to address.

So it’s somewhat paradoxical that he wrote a piece called Reflections on Stillness in which he said that we are all meant to be contemplatives. He talks about the practices he has developed in his own life to foster that dynamic, letting God be God in and through us. For him, spiritual practice includes a “reasonable amount of time” in meditation early in the morning. It includes prayer out loud or to himself before every meeting, before every drive in the car. It means a monthly retreat at a local convent, one day every thirty days to pause. It means an annual retreat, three days of silence. I’m struck that this busy man, who answers the call to address the world’s deep hungers, with limited amount of time and energy to do so, feels that quiet time is so important.

Right now in the church calendar, we find ourselves in the days between Ascension Day and the Feast of Pentecost. Ascension Day, that mysterious feast when Jesus, defying gravity, leaves his disciples. Those disciples are called to wait for what God will do, wait for what will happen at Pentecost. That is a word to each one of us as disciples right now: We are called to wait, to be still, to listen, to be silent, to expect. In so doing, there is the possibility that we might grow to be more like God, as audacious as that seems.

One more thought from Desmond Tutu, as he spoke about the journey of growing in our God-awareness, demonstrated by our God-likeness, as we increasingly becoming what we love. He said: “People tend to look like the things they love which is why many people end up looking like their dogs. But we can also begin to look like God if we love God and strive to be like God.”

Today, find the time to be still in God’s presence. In that quiet time, consider what it might mean to love God more deeply, maybe even to become more godly. Imagine the ways you might be changed by that expression of affection.

- Jay Sidebotham

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

-Matthew 6:21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

-I John 4:7

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

-St. Teresa of Avila

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (May 26th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 26, 2014

On this Memorial Day, I remember Clyde and Evelyn.

I served in a church near a VA hospital that had a nursing facility where two elderly parishioners resided, Clyde and Evelyn. They were both well into their 90′s, a husband and wife who never had children and apparently had no family except the family of the local congregation. They were not able to get to church any more, so I would visit them, as did other parishioners. I learned how they met in the military, how they had served in the Second World War together, how proud they were of that service.

One day, I got the call that Clyde had died in his sleep. He was to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, and the person at the hospital asked if I would officiate. I was honored to be asked. I got in my car and drove several hours to Washington for the service, and was directed to that place where he would be laid to rest. I had been to Arlington Cemetery before, but never to officiate at a service. As I drove past the thousands of gravestones, as I prepared to officiate at this service, I saw those gravestones in a new light. I realized in a new way that each stone represented a life, a person, a sacrifice, a sorrow for the group that would gather at the resting place for the service of committal. I thought about the cost of war and the brokenness of the human condition. I thought about the power of remembering each life. It was all about honor. It was an honor to be there.

There were no family members present. Evelyn could not travel. Nor could Clyde’s friends. It was me, with my Book of Common Prayer, representing the wider church, offering that polished liturgy which affirms our Easter hope. Two women were in attendance, volunteers who come to any funeral, so that no one is laid to rest without a “congregation”. And there were the soldiers, polished and crisply attentive offering military honors for Clyde. Folding the flag. Shooting the rifle. Playing taps. It was a holy moment.  No homily or eulogy called for. I got in the car and drove home in silence. That seemed appropriate.

The next week, I got a call from that same VA hospital. Evelyn had died. Back in the car. Back to Arlington. Back to that gravesite. This couple, who had been inseparable for decades except for the last few days, were reunited. Same holy gathering. The officiant (me). My Prayer Book. The volunteer women. The soldiers, the guns, the bugle. An honor.

On Memorial Day, I remember Clyde and Evelyn, a window for me into the meaning of the day. I give thanks for their service, for their lives. I suspect we can each think of individuals to remember on this day, because frankly, sadly there are lots of them, too many of them. On this Memorial Day Weekend, 220,000 small flags have been placed, one in front of each gravestone at Arlington Cemetery. That’s a lot of flags. That’s a lot of lives. That’s a lot of war. That’s a lot of tears. That’s a lot to honor.

Today, don’t forget to remember. Remember the lives of those who were lost. Remember their loved ones. Pray for peace in our world. Amidst the joy and relaxation afforded by a vacation day, remember it’s also a holiday, a holy day. On this day off from work, with picnics and games and retail opportunities, carve out a few minutes in silence to remember. If it’s helpful, offer the prayers in the side column which focus on heroic service, and remember those who have died, and call us to work for a more peaceful and just world.

- Jay Sidebotham

A prayer for heroic service:

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer from the Burial Office:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

 

Monday Matters (May 19th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 19, 2014

I read recently that when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met Mahatma Gandhi he said, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike him.”

I’ve been intrigued with the spiritual journey of Mahatma Gandhi since my teens, when for several months I lived with an Indian family as an exchange student in Mumbai (then Bombay), an adventure for a teenager who had rarely left the bubble of suburban New York. I learned a lot from the deep spirituality embedded in that culture. In retrospect, it changed my life. I also learned about the history of how some Christians treated some people like Mahatma Gandhi, and so I was not surprised that he chose not to sign up for the newcomer’s class at the local parish. On one occasion, after he decided to attend a church in South Africa, he was barred at the door. “Where do you think you’re going?” an Englishman asked Gandhi. Gandhi replied that he would like to attend worship. The elder responded: “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.” So much for radical welcome.

Thoughts about Gandhi’s spiritual journey have been triggered for me recently by daily readings appointed by the Book of Common Prayer. In that lectionary, we’re working our way through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus’ discussion with his disciples about what it means to put faith to work in the world. Over the history of the church, that sermon has been transformative. It shaped the call of Leo Tolstoy to give up wealth for the sake of the poor. Gandhi applied Tolstoy’s learning to his own context, bringing non-violence and soul force to the struggle for freedom and justice in India. Martin Luther King Jr. in turn, studied Gandhi and applied those same learnings to his context in this country. And so it goes, all the way to this Monday morning in May, when we are given the chance and the challenge of putting the teachings of Jesus to work in the world. Today, how might we increase love in our hearts, for God and neighbor (especially neighbors who might be hard to get along with, perhaps even enemies)?

It matters how we do that, not only for the sake of our relationship with God. It matters for the sake of our relationship with those around us, in our household, in our workplace, in our church, in the community. It matters for a grace-starved world. Our prayer book, when it speaks of the ministry that each of us have in the world, says that lay people, bishops, priests and deacons all share this call: To represent Christ and his Church. That’s a responsibility, for sure. I remember a sermon I heard many years ago. The preacher asked: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What do our lives say about what we profess. Is there a gap between profession and practice?

It’s also an opportunity, because we have the chance to reflect, indeed to magnify, the grace we have received. The early church grew exponentially because people looked at the early Christian community and said: “See how they love one another.” A far cry from Gandhi’s experience. Is it a far cry from our own?

I’m mindful this Monday morning of the gap between Christ and this Christian. But wherever we are in the spiritual journey this morning, there is always a small step we can take to close that gap, to grow in spirit, to follow Christ more closely, as he calls us to reflect his way of being in the world, so that the world will know the wonders of his love, so the world will know we are Christians by our love.

- Jay Sidebotham

From the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?

-Matthew 5:43-47 

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

-Matthew 7:12-14 

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

-Mahatma Gandhi

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org

 

Monday Matters (May 5th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 5, 2014

Last week, I attended a conference with about 20 rectors and a guest speaker, Bill Powers, author of N.Y. Times bestseller, Hamlet’s Blackberry, Building A Good Life in the Digital Age. The book is described by one reviewer as an “oasis of serenity and sanity.” The book resembles its author. Mr. Powers is a gifted journalist, a great guy. He’s not a churchgoer, but/and he had a lot to teach us clergy, some of whom have been ordained and serving in congregations for a while. He sees the challenge of the digital age this way: We need to move from quantity to quality, from speed to engagement, from breadth to depth. He believes that communities of the spirit, communities that help mediate meaning, can bring that kind of growth.

As an alumnus of an Ivy League school, he has been asked to interview prospective candidates for admission. In conversation with one young woman, he asked about how she used technology. She responded that she had developed a “personal digital strategy” and actually produced a copy of this written statement, a covenant of how she would use technology, specifically social media, how she would limit and focus that usage in order to make it work for her, how she would balance its cost and promise.

Mr. Powers then talked about his family’s practice, how he, his wife and son unplug for the weekend, how that can be both challenging and liberating. It sounded a lot to me like a Sabbath, an ancient divinely ordained spiritual practice that was mostly lost to our culture when blue laws disappeared (those antiquated laws that kept businesses closed on Sundays, active at a time before sports practices and games were scheduled on Sunday morning). I considered the practice of the Powers family against the backdrop of this past Lent, in which I heard of a number of people who gave up Facebook for the season.

I found myself wondering if there was a spiritual growth opportunity for me, because sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, say at 3 a.m., I check my email, as if someone was going to write me in that time period, or like there was something I really needed to act on in response. ‘Fess up. Anyone else ever do that?

The conversation among the rectors, connected on ipads, phones, laptops throughout the conference, turned to the question of how to manage the marvelous resources of technology when they threaten to manage us. We discussed a call to mindfulness, intentionality about how much time we spend in the digital world, how we relate to others through these amazing devices, how we do that well, and how, well, not so much. It was a stewardship conversation, an exploration of what we do with what we’re given. The thought of a personal digital strategy began to sound like a rule of life, another ancient spiritual practice of intentionality.

Here’s a bit of coaching. (Newsflash: the preacher is preaching to himself.) Unplug, even for just a few minutes each day. Carve out silence. Start with a minute one day. Two the next. Three the next. Get to twenty. Then do twenty in the morning and twenty in the evening. Put the smartphone away. Press mute. Step away from the screen. Take your watch off. Sit in silence.

That kind of silence can be a most faithful prayer, marked by audacious expectancy that we will actually hear the God of creation, the Holy Spirit, say something if we shut up, that God will speak in the silence if we reduce the chatter, the static, the interference, the noise that we create. Give it a try. Give yourself (and the digital world) a rest.

- Jay Sidebotham

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. 

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for all.

Psalm 62

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Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org
www.forwardmovement.org