Monday Matters (June 20, 2016)

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If this story isn’t true, it ought to be. I ran across this urban legend in one of Brennan Manning’s books. He’s a favorite author who writes with singular focus on the gift of grace, and how grace goes to work in the world. In this troubled time in our world, this story which he told came to mind:

During the Great Depression, on a cold night in New York, Fiorello LaGuardia went to a night court serving one of the poorest parts of town. He sent the sitting judge home and took the judge’s place, apparently something mayors can do. An elderly woman was brought before the bench, accused of stealing food from a local store. She explained that her daughter was sick, her son-in-law had abandoned them, and there was no food in the house to feed the grandchildren, no money to buy food. Despite this compelling story, the store owner insisted on prosecution. He couldn’t afford leniency because there were so many people in so much need. He’d be overrun. The mayor agreed, and told the woman that she had to either pay a fine of ten dollars, or spend ten days in jail.

Then he reached in his pocket and found ten dollars, paying the fine. And he spoke to the group gathered in the courtroom. He said, “I am fining each one of you 50 cents for living in a city where a woman needs to steal bread to feed her family.” Policemen, court officials, those present for traffic violations, even the shop owner paid the fine. The woman ended up with $47.50, a lot in those days. The mayor had made the point that the whole community bore responsibility. Justice and mercy were on display that evening. The story captures my imagination with the mayor’s sense that we are all connected, all responsible and even complicit in the brokenness of our world. What’s our part in it?

Our scripture poses that question, perhaps most famously when St. Paul addresses the religious and the not-so-religious and says that all have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re all in this together. Our liturgy poses that question, when at the beginning of Holy Week, in another courtroom scene, we read the Passion Narrative and the congregation cries “Crucify”. I know parishioners who skip that Sunday, claiming they would never have been part of the crowd, never part of a process that would put love to death. “Never. Not me. I’m not part of it.”

Facebook now echoes with images that say “I am Orlando.” just as a while ago we heard “Je suis Hebdo.” There is sad empathy there. But perhaps also a challenging message to think of our connection and our responsibility to address the brokenness of our world, to work for justice and peace. What part do we play in it? What we can do about it? Speak? Pray? Learn? Listen? Vote? Advocate? Serve? Be present? Pastor the community?

Along with the challenge is hope, perhaps conveyed in St. Paul’s image that we are all part of the body of Christ. All that we do is related to the rest of the body. We need each other. Below, find a message from Martin Luther King to the clergy of his day, well-meaning main-line Christian ministers who remained dangerously silent as Dr. King led the charge. He gave them an image of interconnectedness that speaks to all who would follow Jesus, who would be his hands and feet in the world.

This Monday morning, is there a way that God is calling you to pastor the community, to work for justice and peace, to participate in the healing of a hurting world? Can you see yourself as part of an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny? Ask God to show you that way.

-Jay Sidebotham

In a real sense, all life is inter-related. All [men] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an excerpt from his letter from a Birmingham Jail

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 13, 2016)

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Maybe I shouldn’t write anything this morning when a hate crime rends our hearts. If you think so, stop reading and say a prayer for the victims, and for those who loved the victims, and for all of us.

If you choose to keep reading, a story (which may be worth telling today…I’m not entirely sure) about a walk in Central Park last week, a sunny, breezy day. Everyone was out. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The diversity of the crowd was energizing, everyone doing their own thing. But I texted as I walked, apparently not a good idea. I stepped in a small pothole, twisted my ankle and conducted a dramatic gravity experiment, sprawled all over the sidewalk. One young urbanite on his phone was literally about five feet away, walking toward me. I fell in his path. And nothing. He didn’t even look at me, let alone say anything. Not “Are you okay?” or “Should I call for help” or “Are you inebriated?” or “Get the heck out of my way.” Nothing.

So in addition to a sore ankle and wounded pride, I was unsettled with the lack of human connection. My gravity experiment became a social experiment. It made me think about what has become of us all. This story may sound judgy about New Yorkers. As a New Yorker, that’s not my intention. It may sound judgy about this young man. That’s not my intention (well, okay, a little bit) .

But it got me thinking about how we see each other. To the extent that I am judging the guy, I’m inclined to wonder how he is like me (Usually the ways I judge other people end up having something to do with my own growth opportunities. Funny how that works.) It made me think about the ways I regard other people. Or don’t. Who is invisible in my scope?

I saw a video which described a recent study held in Europe, as people of that region grapple with the influx of refugees from Syria and other places. In this experiment, refugees were asked to sit in a chair facing a German citizen, also seated in a chair. In many ways, there was a huge chasm between those two folding chairs. They were told to stare in each other’s eyes for four minutes without saying a word. The study indicated that the silent engagement opened up deeper levels of understanding and compassion and relationship. After the silence, deep conversation started. People were changed when they really saw each other.

I don’t know if one can scale that kind of experiment, or if it has to say anything to us today but we could sure use something like it. It made me wonder how I might apply the principle on this day marked by collective grief. It might begin by recognizing that certain people may well be invisible to me. They may be strangers on the street, those without homes or food, and I just walk on by. They may be folks who differ from me on politics or religion. (How dare they?) They may be people of another religion. They may be people who work to add to my convenience and ease: waiters, grocery check out, flight attendants, folks on the other side of the globe staffing the phones for customer service. They may be people near by, with whom I work. They could be relatives. What would it mean to see people the way Jesus saw people? What happens to us, to our spirits when they are invisible to us, when they are dispensable?

Try this spiritual experiment. See someone today. See life from that person’s perspective. Look at the world from their point of view. Do so with the eyes of Christ. Maybe you’ll even notice someone who has fallen down.

And if you have read this far on this grim morning, now pray for the people of Orlando, those who died because of hate, those who mourn unspeakable loss, those now filled with deeper fear, those tempted to meet hate with hate.

-Jay Sidebotham

And who is my neighbour? Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

-Luke 10

Ubuntu:
I am what I am because of who we all are.

Namaste:
The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.

The Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self?

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 6, 2016)

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I was thinking this week about a friend, a rector, who in the middle of summer has his congregation sing “Joy to the world” as a reminder that the good news of Jesus’ birth is good news all year long. It often throws people a bit. He likes that.

I was reminded of this as I finished up the 2016 Advent calendar that I create each year with a brilliant collaborator, Susan Elliott. (She’s the brains of the operation. I do the sketches.) This will be our twentieth year producing this piece. Time flies when you’re having fun. But I’ll be the first to admit that it is challenging to wrap my mind around Advent when we’ve just celebrated Pentecost and by the way, the beach beckons.

Thanks be to God, I came across a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called “God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.” It’s about Advent, for sure. But it’s about so much more. Bonhoeffer makes this point about that short season:

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Good stuff. Here’s more:

God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us, whatever [men] may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

That’s a message for any time of year, for sure. Okay, one more:

Advent creates people, new people.

Each of the liturgical seasons tells a story that is true all the time. In my own spiritual journey, with its joys and challenges, that’s particularly true of Advent. I was grateful to stumble across Bonhoeffer’s vision of God in the manger, reminding me that our whole life is an Advent season, that we are always meant to be looking for where God is coming into the world, expecting that to happen. We are always to be seeking Christ’s arrival, which often comes in other people (as irritating as that may be). We are always ready to be made new, always hopeful that we will see the day of Christ’s arrival, and that we will know it when we see it. Who knows, it may be June 6, 2016 that we see Christ in some new way.

And the seeking, the spirit of Advent goes on all the time, in all the time we’re given. To that point Bonhoeffer offered a reminder that life is a journey, not a destination. He said:

While it is good that we seek to know the Holy One, it is probably not so good to presume that we ever complete the task.

-Jay Sidebotham

If you let people concentrate too much on special times, feasts, services and seasons, they forget it is always now and here when God happens. They stop living in the naked now and wait for Christmas or Easter, Sunday morning or some far off future day of enlightenment.
-Richard Rohr,
 The Naked Now
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,”At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
-2 Corinthians 6:1,2
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.
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.
-Charles Wesley
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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 30, 2016)

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Sunday matters

On this holiday Monday, I’m thinking about Sunday.

I remember when I was a rector, there were times I’d run into a parishioner in the grocery store, or almost run into them. Sometimes they’d see me at the other end of the aisle and pull a 180. Other times, we might have the chance to converse and I would get awkward apologies about why they hadn’t been in church recently. I considered shopping in another town.

I tried to assure people I wasn’t taking attendance. Occasionally, I’d confess to myself that I hadn’t noticed their absence (my bad). I learned that I was not the only one who faced this dynamic. As one of my colleagues said, after he’d had a few of these encounters: “I’m not a truant officer.”

The news tells us that patterns of church attendance are shifting. Regular church attendance today would formerly have been considered sporadic. In previous generations, there was no competition for Sunday morning. Now soccer games, open malls and little if no cultural expectation compete with worship on Sunday. Summer is upon us, a season when church attendance drops, prompting one child to ask: Is God on vacation?

I can imagine any number of reasons why church attendance is in decline. Too often, worship can seem boring or irrelevant. Often clergy (at least this clergyman) and congregants appear to go through the motions, not quite on auto-pilot but closer than I’d like to admit. Often the failures of organized religion (or disorganized religion in the case of the Episcopal Church) drive people away. Often we are answering questions no one is asking. Often we fail to offer challenge, a way to put faith to work in the world. Often we promote our own tribal notions of what worship should be rather than proclaiming good news, telling the story of Jesus and his love. I could go on. The question surfaces: Why go to church?

I got to thinking about that question when I read a newspaper article last week. (Raleigh News and Observer, Health and Fitness section, 5.23.2016.) A new study released in a journal published by the American Medical Association indicates that church attendance is actually good for your health. People who go to church apparently live longer. I thought: There’s got to be some way I could use this information.

But I think we need to shift from focusing only on what we get out of worship, move away from thinking of worship as consumer product, as entertainment, as a presentation subject to our critique, dependent on our approval. Can we move towards a focus on what we bring to the experience, what we offer, how we can be of service, in anticipation of a transformative encounter with the Holy One?

The idea of a weekly gathering goes back to the first days of the church. Christians got together on the first day of the week, for remembrance of resurrection, to be reminded of new life, for eucharist (thanksgiving) recalling grace experienced in the Jesus movement. They gathered for strength to carry on the journey, mindful that one can’t be a Christian alone. They needed to be together in a hostile culture. They gathered so the world could witness a new kind of community marked by compassion. The Book of Acts tells us that outsiders looked at the early church and said “See how they love one another”, with the implication that they soon would join.

With cultural pressure to show up on Sunday dissipating, it’s an opportunity to discover a new call to worship. Communal worship (a.k.a, Common Prayer) alone will not be the key to our spiritual growth, but it is an indispensable element. So ask these questions: What is my spiritual community? What is the commitment, for me and my household, as regards to gathering for worship? Where do I go to find strength for the journey? How can I support others in that journey? What do I bring to the table? What can I offer? How will the community be diminished by my absence? How will it grow with my presence?

-Jay Sidebotham

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.
-Acts 20:7
 
 
 
 
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-Hebrews 10:24,25
 
 
 
 
Worship is like a drama:
The clergy, ministers and musicians are the prompters;
the people are the actors; 
and God is the audience.
-Søren Kierkegaard

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 23, 2016)

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Monday, May 23, 2016

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

-Luke 10

So I’m sitting on the floor of the Phoenix airport, near the gate, waiting to board. It’s crowded. The plane is delayed. Folks are grouchy. I’m wearing jeans and an old shirt so no one knows I’m an Episcopal priest. Incognito, I can be as cranky as I want without impeding the spread of the gospel. I’m focused on my laptop, in my zone. But for some reason I look up to see a guy in a clerical collar. He’s got a big nametag that says chaplain. And then I recognize him. He’s the Bishop of Arizona.

I’m not sure I’d ever met him in person, but he’s well known and well regarded in the wider church. We have some mutual friends. So I yelled to him, “Hey, Bishop.” I introduced myself, told him what I was doing in town (I was leading a Vestry retreat for one of the local parishes) and mentioned the folks we knew in common. Having done with all that, I asked what he was doing.

He told me that he asks each of his clergy to spend time serving as chaplain somewhere in the community, usually one day a month. The venues come in great variety. He said that if he asked his clergy to do that, he should do it too. So he clears the bishop’s calendar (loaded with meetings about meetings about the next meeting) and spends one day a month practicing a ministry of presence in the airline terminal of all places.

As I suspect you know all to well, it’s a place ripe for pastoral care. The harvest is plentiful (see gospel reading above.) The whole system breeds anxiety. In case you forget the anxiety, they insist on reminding you by having you remove your loafers which after all could be incendiary devices that bring down the aircraft. (Have a good day!). The boarding process has become a parable of a grace-starved world, as the human community is divided into an increasing number of categories conveying status. First class. Premium, Platinum. Gold. Silver, Wood. Hay. Stubble.

Often people prepare to board a plane at critical moments in their journeys. Saying goodbye. Reuniting. Responding to a crisis. Moving to a new home. Trying to make a meeting or meet a deadline. Often people are fatigued, worried about travel, fearful of flying. And meaning no offense to the folks who staff the desks, the airlines seem increasingly limited in the ability to provide humane service. Clearly, this place could use a chaplain.

There were many things I loved about what I learned that afternoon. The bishop was providing a good example of the mission of the church. It was not about hoping people would stumble through the red doors of the local parish. (Really, how likely is that these days?) It was not about expecting people to find their ways into our pews, picking up our special, occasionally precious rituals. It was about going out into the neighborhood, doing what Jesus asked his disciples to do (though I’m not certain what they would do in an airport), doing what Jesus himself did. In a world where it seems nothing is free, it came close to being an unconditional offering.

The airport was one place where a chaplain might really come in handy. I can think of others. A workplace. A dining room table. A hospital waiting room. The line for unemployment insurance. This kind of ministry in the world need not be limited to bishops. Each one of us can take the opportunity to think about where God calls us to be of service, to show love without expecting return, meeting the anxiety and fear of the world with a word of grace and kindness. Or maybe no word at all. Just presence.

Will this Monday in May provide that kind of opportunity? I’m guessing it will. Don’t miss it.

Jay Sidebotham

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 16, 2016)

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Everyone has a story

Way back when, as I announced to my boss that I was leaving the ad agency to enroll in seminary, a number of co-workers were surprised. I had been private about my church involvement, not to mention my desire to go deeper in theological study. It was not the kind of thing we talked about around the water cooler or at happy hour. When I broke the news to my boss, who had had a few martinis at lunch that day, I said I was leaving to study theology. He heard geology and said: “I had no idea you were interested in rocks.”

There were a couple weeks where I continued at work. Much to my surprise, almost to a person, folks in the agency came by to talk, closing the office door to share their own experiences (good and bad) with church or religion or the spiritual life. We had worked together for years and never talked about it. In amazing variety, the stories were there in each person.

Years later, a parishioner asked for help in sorting out a question. She was a successful lawyer, in a firm filled with other hard-working folks. They were honorable, moral folks. For the most part, they had no connection with church. She puzzled about that. So she decided to invite a few of them to dinner. There were a few churchgoers added to the mix, but mostly not. With her dinner invite, she offered this heads up: We’re going to have a conversation over dinner. You will be asked to fill in the blank. God in my life:___________________. No one declined the invite. The group met and you couldn’t shut them up. Everyone had a story. The group continued to meet, on a monthly basis, to explore the question. It became a community, in its own way, a kind of church.

These recollections were triggered by an article sent to me last week, entitled: “When you’re called to your life’s work.” It builds on the 2006 Gallup Poll which said that 33% of respondents found that the following statement completely applied to them: “I have had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of my life.”

The article tells about an Anglican priest in Australia, Dr. Hugh Kempster, who recognized how hard it was for people to talk about those experiences. He started a group called Mystics Anonymous, offering a chance to talk about the life of the Spirit, because as Dr. Kempster said: “Everyone has a story.’

The article tells about a medical student, raised in the Catholic Church, working in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. One day she heard a commotion at the entrance. An elderly man, dirty, disheveled, drunk, stumbled in, bottle in hand. The staff tried to redirect him to another shelter. The man found the face of this intern and said “Can’t you tell them I have to stay?” That was a turning point. She said: “Where I come from we were always encouraged to look for a Christ in our midst, coming down from the cross and asking for help.” She saw Christ in the elderly man’s face. It led her to a new direction, to dedicate her medical career to work with the neediest, most difficult populations.That was her story.

Augustine said each of us has a God-shaped space inside. Our hearts are restless until that space is filled. This Monday morning, are you aware of that space? Before you tell anyone else, tell yourself the story of that space. How it is being filled? Recall a moment of religious experience or awakening. Then, is there anyone in your life you can talk to about that experience? Is there a way to open the door for that kind of conversation, in ways that are kind and inviting and grace-filled?

Everyone has a story. They are so worth telling.

-Jay Sidebotham

The following message was posted last week by a friend (and hero) named Jim Stephenson. Jim is a composer who is following his calling, using his considerable gifts to bring music to the world. He asked this question on Facebook as a way to get other inspired musicians to share their stories. His question about passion for music translates to other areas of life, including the life of the Spirit. He wrote:
Musician friends:
I was thinking about my passion for music this morning. To be truthful, I don’t share it very overtly (unfortunately). I’m very passionate, but keep it somewhat close-to-the-vest publicly.
But I’d be curious what some of you earliest memories of getting “hooked” are.
For me – it was being a 10 yr-old trumpeter, playing “Russian Sailor’s Dance” and thinking to myself: “how does this guy (Gliere) basically pull off one long accelerando and crescendo throughout the entire piece!?” For me, the ending was way better than rock music. (remember, I was TEN).
Also – a year later, playing Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and LOVING the harmonies in his little brass fanfares.
My gifted friend, Jim, knows that everyone has a story.

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 9, 2016)

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A spiritual Fitbit

One year, I gave my wife a vacuum cleaner for her birthday. Bad idea. She actually requested one when I asked what she wanted. But with the wisdom of hindsight, that doesn’t matter. Take it from me: Find another occasion to give someone you love a vacuum cleaner.

Maybe turn about is fair play. I had a birthday recently and my beloved gave me a Fitbit. Strapped to my wrist, it tells how far I’ve walked, how many stairs I’ve taken. It shows my pulse, calorie intake, and how well I sleep. It’s good to know all that, I guess, but the gift conveys a message that I could probably be doing better. One of those growth opportunities.

In the short time I’ve been wearing it, I admit it has made me more mindful. It has made me choose stairs over escalator at the airport. It drove me to choose furthest parking space, not closest. It motivated me to pass on the donuts near the coffee machine at work. No more onion rings. In other words, it is shifting the way I think about health. It has made me more aware, or awake. And it’s made me wonder, maybe because it’s my line of work, what a spiritual Fitbit would look like.

I’m spending a lot of time in the work I’m doing thinking about what makes for spiritual health. As I read doom and gloom statistics about organized religion, mainline congregations and religious affiliation, I’ve come to believe that the spiritual health of a denomination is linked to the spiritual health of local congregations which is linked to the spiritual health of individuals in them. I call it the cellular model. It means that each person who identifies and affiliates with the church (or with the Jesus movement, as our Presiding Bishop calls it) has both the freedom and responsibility to participate in those things that make for spiritual health.

It all has to do with spiritual practice, the word practice a double entendre, an indication of what we do practically, but also in the sense of practice by which we get better, go deeper, grow. It can easily be heard as a message that it’s all up to us, that unsatisfying brand of teeth-gritting religion that feeds the ego and thrives on comparison (Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.) Spiritual health will acknowledge that temptation and by God’s grace, move beyond it towards awakeness and awareness. Spiritual health will set up habits of gratitude, silence, prayer, study, service. A spiritual Fitbit would be like a coach, commending practices that draw us deeper into love of God, reminding us that we’ve been through a day without offering thanks, or being of service, or finding some way to listen for God’s voice in all the clutter.

One pastor I know invites his congregation to the 10/10 rule, ten minutes of reading scripture, ten minutes of prayer or silence. Those who practice Centering Prayer and other contemplative traditions often recommend 20 minutes of silence in the morning and evening. Forward Day by Day is one way of developing patterns of spiritual health. I know one executive who begins each day with quiet reflection on the values he considers important for the day ahead, and then reviewing at the end of the day the ways he lived into those values. You get the idea.

In our culture we have coaches for all kinds of things: sports, finance, nutrition, management skills, job search, life decisions, relationships. Where are you finding spiritual coaching, the encouragement and challenge to go deeper in your life with God, to practice those practices that open the doorway for that deeper relationship with God?

It’s Monday morning, a good time to start.

-Jay Sidebotham

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air.
-2 Corin. 9:24-26

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
-Hebrews 12:1

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
-Philippians 2:13

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
-2 Timothy 4:7

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 2, 2016)

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Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.
-John 5

So help me out here.

I’m plenty supportive of the bracelet, WWJD (What would Jesus do?). The world would be a better place if folks paused to ask that question more often. In this political season, I wish our candidates were spending more time on the question. But the fact is, sometimes the Jesus we meet in the gospels doesn’t do or say what I would script.

That’s probably providential. Case in point: yesterday’s gospel (above), Jesus addresses a man who’d been ill for 38 years. Not 38 minutes (that would be enough to do me in.) Not 38 days or months. 38 years. Jesus approaches and asks: Do you want to be made well?

Really, Jesus?

The gospels are full of stories of Jesus healing people. Sometimes he reaches out to people with a healing touch. Sometimes he responds to a persistent request for healing, someone shouting from the sidelines. Sometimes he heals without seeming to know it (a woman in a crowd reaches out to touch the edge of his robe and experiences healing). Sometimes he heals because faithful friends come forward on behalf of someone else. Good friends. (See Mark 2.) In the story we read yesterday, he asks the man impaired for almost four decades whether he wants to be made well.

Is there any other answer but yes?

Taking the passage at face value, apparently there is some question that this man would wish to be made well. We don’t know much about him. I don’t want to turn this into a blame-the-victim story. But I’m wondering if there is a parallel/parable here for us? The particulars of this man aside, how does this question sound to us: Do you wish to be made well?

It may be that the path to wellness signals change. None of us (especially Episcopalians) are big fans of change. As the social critic Dilbert put it: Change is good. You go first. It’s been interesting to discover in the work we do with congregations, work focused on spiritual growth, that people often don’t expect or want much to be different. There’s not much expectation of such a possibility, especially as far as engagement with the church is concerned.

But parish ministry has taught me at least one thing. Everybody has a need for healing. Those needs surface in a variety of ways: healing of body, mind, spirit, relationship, memory. The needs are individual and corporate and if the current dispiriting political discourse is demonstrating anything, it is that there is a need for healing in our common life.

So this Monday morning, making your way through routine, maybe doing things you always do in the way you always do them, perhaps limited or bound by some particular need for healing, take a simple step. Think about whether you are open to something new. Invite Jesus’ power into that place. See what happens. Take up your mat.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (April 25, 2016)

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I learned that the cab driver who drove me to the airport had recently moved to the states from Ethiopia. We talked about that for a while, and then he asked what I was doing in Portland, Oregon. I told him I was participating in a conference of Episcopal Communicators. I found my answer required some unpacking, not only because he did not know English well and I did not know his native language at all. I told him I was a priest. I told him I was giving some talks on how we share our news. He asked: “So you’re a missionary?” My knee jerk reaction, offered to someone raised in Africa, a region subject to the often painful collision of imperial and Christian expansion, was simple: “Well, not really.” When those words came out of my mouth, as so often happens, I wished I could have recalled them. I found myself thinking that I should have said something like this: “Yes I am.” Or maybe even: “Aren’t we all?”

In a couple different settings, recent conversations have gotten me thinking about what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be an apostle, where those two overlap, where they differ. If I were king, I might find every place where the word “disciple” appears in the New Testament and, for a season, change it to the word “student.” That may not capture fully the idea of a disciple (one who follows), but it does help us realize that in the journey of faith, we are called to be learners all the time. Wherever we are on the spiritual continuum, there is more.

The word “apostle” suggests something different. It’s about what we do with what we’re learning. It connotes someone who has been sent, someone given a mission. Anyone who answers that call (your mission, should you accept…) could well be called a missionary. I believe that we can all see ourselves in that great company.

When Jesus met with his disciples, after his resurrection and before his return to heaven, he told them: “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” I’ve reflected on that phrase: “As the Father has sent me.” I found myself thinking of how Jesus was sent to the world: to change it, to bring healing, to say that what the world often considers wretched, Jesus declares to be blessed. (Proper attribution: that’s a phrase I heard in a sermon given by our Presiding Bishop at this conference.) Jesus was sent to help us know and show grace, to reveal what is sometimes hard for us to see or believe, that love is at the center. That’s the way we are sent into the world. To do that kind of thing.

That idea of mission, that apostolic vision surrounds us in the Christian community. If it’s your tradition to refer to the eucharist as a mass, know that the word mass (in Latin, missa) really has to do with this idea of mission, of being sent. For those reasons, some have argued that the most important part of the eucharist is the dismissal (Note again the root of that word: missa) when we are sent into the world to love and serve the Lord. Many churches have put this sign over the exit: “The worship is over. The service begins.”

I don’t think we can be too expansive about this. Anyone made in the image of God (i.e., everyone) has the potential to reflect that likeness, and to go into the world to share and show grace. Everyone can engage in that apostolic ministry. Everyone can be a missionary. I know the term has baggage, with coercive connotations. Maybe you can simply see yourself as part of the Jesus movement, listening as much as talking, finding out what God is up to in the neighborhood, bringing with you news of grace.

With all that in mind, how might you be an apostle this Monday?

-Jay Sidebotham

Lord, you give the great commission:
“Heal the sick and preach the word.”
Lest the Church neglect its mission
and the Gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you call us to your service: “In my name baptize and teach.” That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each, give us all new fervor, draw us closer in community;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you make the common holy:
“This my body, this my blood.” Let your priests, for earth’s true glory, daily lift life heavenward,
asking that world around us share your children’s liberty;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you show us love’s true measure:
“Father, what they do, forgive.”
Yet we hoard as private treasure all that you so freely give. May your care and mercy lead us
to a just society;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you bless with words assuring:
“I am with you to the end.” Faith and hope and love restoring, may we serve as you intend,
and, amid the cares that claim us, hold in mind eternity; with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (April 18, 2016)

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Jesus told his disciples: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
-John 20:21

This past weekend, I attended a conference called Missional Voices. It was great. It was ably organized by a group of seminarians, and it left me with great hope for the future, as we explored new ways of thinking about church. I learned a lot, as we talked about the mission of God. I wonder what you think that mission might be.

One priest serving in a southern city told a story about his community. One of the members of the congregation made his home on the streets, sleeping near a bridge in the downtown area. The priest had noticed that this guy was missing from the church for a number of weeks. When the guy showed up again for worship, and they came to the exchange of the peace, the priest greeted him and asked where he had been. The man explained that one night, two guys had thrown him over the edge of the bridge and taken all his stuff. He had been in the hospital recovering from the fall. The priest inquired more about the incident. In the course of the conversation, the man said that the two guys who had thrown him over the edge of the bridge were actually attending the service that night. He wouldn’t tell the priest who they were. He thought the priest would make the two guys leave. The homeless gentleman explained that those two guys needed to stay. They needed Jesus. The priest told us the story to report that he learned something that night, something important about Jesus, something important about the mission of God.

According to the Prayer Book, the mission of the church has to do with reconciliation. Specifically, we are told that the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and others. But the point of this conference was that this reconciling work is primarily God’s mission in the world, ours by extension, our as instruments of God’s work. Story after story reminded me that God’s mission can be fulfilled in many ways. It can be the work of the church, occasionally even the clergy. Who knew? It can be fulfilled by people in the church who are not the leaders in the church. It can be fulfilled by people who have nothing to do with the church. Each one of us created in the image of God, each one of us with a God-shaped space inside us, can do this work. Ultimately, it is God’s work, God’s mission.

Jesus knew this, and taught about it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story, the person who carries out the mission of God (i.e., healing a man who had been attacked and was then ignored by the really religious people of the day) is the Samaritan. He was the outsider, the guy who knew nothing of liturgical tradition, had never been confirmed, had never been to seminary, was not a pledging member of any parish, didn’t know the creed. You get the point.

I come away from this conference mindful of the ways I am called to participate in the mission of God, how I might be a reconciling influence, bringing wholeness where there is brokenness. Lord knows, there’s a sufficiency of brokenness surrounding us. I come away with a sense of commission. How on this Monday morning might I participate in reconciling work?

I come away from the conference mindful of the ways that the church (its members, including clergy like me) often work at cross-purposes with the mission of God, building walls that divide instead of opening doors, setting up barriers to healing and wholeness instead of tearing them down, focusing on judgment more than mercy, on being right more than being righteous. Let’s just call this a growth opportunity.

Mostly, I come away interested in the ways that I might learn from unlikely teachers like this homeless guy tossed over the edge of the bridge. His story teaches about grace and forgiveness. He makes me hopeful that in moments when I find meaning and identity in resentment, I can remember his forgiving spirit, and in some small struggling way fulfill the mission of God.

-Jay Sidebotham

Notes from the Missional Voices Conference:
 
One of the highlights for me was a talk by Christian Kassoff, who leads a congregation in California that focuses on a ministry called Laundrylove. That ministry carries out the mission of God, building community by helping people in need realize the simple (but for some elusive) dignity of having clean clothes. 
 
He told the story of his own conversion, as he moved from a life challenged by substance abuse and a criminal record to leadership in his church. Here’s how he described it:
I used to be a hopeless dope fiend. Now I’m a dopeless hope fiend.
Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.
-Richard Rohr
Authentic spirituality is always about changing you. It’s not about trying to change
someone else.
-Richard Rohr

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.