Monthly Archives: November 2015

Monday Matters (November 30, 2015)


Not so great expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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


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

Monday Matters (November 23, 2015)


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


It is well with my soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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


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


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (November 16, 2015)


Monday, November 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

-John 15:9-11


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (November 9, 2015)


The Pope, the Presiding Bishop and you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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

-John 10:10

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

-Christian Wiman, from his book My Bright Abyss


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (November 2, 2015)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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


Jay SidebothamContact:

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