Monthly Archives: March 2017

Monday Matters (March 27, 2017)


“I may not be much but I’m all I ever think about.”

I heard that line for the first time last week. Google reveals it’s been around for a while. I couldn’t find out who first said it, but it triggered a few reflections.

It reminded me of a clip from a movie featuring Bette Midler. She says to some other character, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” It reminded me of what a friend once pointed out: When you look at a group photo, and you happen to be in the group, where do your eyes go first? You look at how you look in the picture. It reminded me of what Frederick Buechner wrote about humility, that illusive virtue that disappears as soon as we become aware of it, bringing that temptation to be proud of how humble we are. Buechner wrote:

Humility is often confused with saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship. If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy. True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.

Mr. Buechner challenges us to question the way we think about what’s in our hearts. There aren’t easy answers. This is a spiritual issue. It’s been said that the word “ego” is really an acronym: edging God out. This calls for spiritual work. It’s complicated, because as I’ve said before, quoting a clergyman I admire, I never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Amidst the mixed motives, how do we combat the tendency to think that it’s all about me? (Newsflash: It’s a tendency that is a particular challenge for clergy, among other professions. Just saying.)

For those who try to be Jesus followers, it has to do with having the mind of Christ. See the passage from Philippians below. That passage includes an ancient hymn by which the early church figured out how to put faith to work in the world. It comes with seeing Jesus as a person for others, and deciding to follow him by doing the same: being a person for others. Maybe begin each day with this thought, a kind of prayer: How can I be of service this Monday?

As Lent leads to Holy Week, we have opportunity to put other concerns aside and focus on the spirit of Jesus, who rides humbly into Jerusalem, not in imperial chariot but on a donkey, who kneels to wash disciples feet, who stretches arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace, who on Easter morning is mistaken for a gardener and speaks Mary’s name so she can know he is alive. Take this holy season as opportunity to shift the focus from self to other, to think about how to be of service. It’s a way to find out that Jesus is very much alive.

-Jay Sidebotham

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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


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

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

Monday Matters (March 20, 2017)


Setting the Table

For a while, I worked in advertising, before I made the slight career shift to ordained ministry. (Some say I’m still in advertising.) Some have doubted there could be transferable skills from the first career to the second. But I’m grateful for what I learned: the importance of communication, the power of focus on a single idea, the importance of team work. One of my bosses said that there were really only two motivators for consumers: fear and love. That will preach.

The fact is, there are lessons for the spiritual journey that come from all kinds of fields. St. Paul wrote to early Christians and compared the life of discipleship to training in military service, or preparing for a long distance race, or being in the construction business (what foundation will you build on?), or agricultural work (also a favorite of Jesus’).

My gifted cousin and her husband are about to open a wonderful café here in North Carolina. I can’t wait. To guide them in their work, they have turned to a book by restaurateur Danny Meyer. The book is called Setting the Table. It’s a book focused on hospitality, on how we prepare to welcome people. In the past, I’ve used this book to learn about what it means to be church. In that book, Mr. Meyer identifies five core emotional skills which guide his work, and will guide my cousin in her new endeavor:

  • Optimistic warmth: genuine kindness, thoughtfulness and a sense that the glass is always half-full.
  • Intelligence: Not just smarts, but an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning.
  • Work ethic: A natural tendency to do something as well as it can be done.
  • Empathy: An awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel.
  • Self-awareness and integrity: An understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment.

Those five skills led to remarkable successful restaurants in New York and around the country. Can those skills be translated into Christian virtues, spiritual practices? Let’s give it a try:

  • Optimistic warmth: Sounds a lot to me like hope.
  • Intelligence: What is a disciple but someone who is always learning, and who knows, especially in the spiritual journey, that we’re never done?
  • Work ethic: A mentor used to tell me that we seek to make worship our most excellent offering. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or that we become perfectionists. It does mean that we do what we do with care, as an offering to the God we worship for the glory of God. Should we offer less?
  • Empathy: Just another word for love, or perhaps, compassion, the common virtue in all faith traditions.
  • Self-awareness and integrity: it looks a lot like humility to me.
  • Setting the table: That’s what the church is about, getting ready to welcome people to God’s feast. That’s what the individual spiritual journey is about, as we relate to those around us in a world so hungry for a greater sense of authentic hospitality.

This Monday, this Lent, how can we set the table with hope and love, in a spirit of worship and humility, as disciples who are always learning?

-Jay Sidebotham

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
– Isaiah 25:6

 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
– Romans 12:9-13

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
-Hebrews 13:2

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
-Henri J.M. Nouwen

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person. Henri Nouwen has described it as receiving the stranger on his own terms, and asserts that it can be offered only by those who ‘have found the center of their lives in their own hearts’.
-Kathleen Norris 

Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions – for and to – express it all.
-Danny Meyer


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

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

Monday Matters (March 13, 2017)


Spring Training

A nod to Saturday Night Live: I confess that Lent is often for me the “Debby Downer” of liturgical seasons, 40 days when I’m supposed to feel more miserable than thou, when I’m called to live into the definition of a puritan, i.e., someone who is unhappy because somebody somewhere is having a good time. Religious people have a special talent for this kind of joy-deprived way of life. No doubt, Lent is a time to take a rigorous look in the mirror, which can often call us to explore growth opportunities revealed in self-examination. It can be rough going.

But the word Lent finds roots in the old English word for “Spring.” Lent is for sure a time in the wilderness, a time of challenge, maybe even deprivation. It’s a time to admit that we have fallen short. But that wilderness is also a time of formation. Scripture tells us that it led the children of Israel to a new land, a new world.

Lent leads us to new life, as well. Its connection with springtime means that it draws our attention to signs of new life all around us. An extra hour of sunlight in the evening. (Did you all get to church on time yesterday, or did you arrive for the dismissal?) Trees beginning to blossom (though yesterday in North Carolina we had snow). And of course, Spring training.

Which reminds me of a favorite quote about baseball, which has something to say not only about the joys and challenges of Lent, but about the spiritual journey. Hear this word from former baseball commissioner, Francis T. Vincent, Jr.:

Baseball teaches us how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball, and precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers error to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.

The Christian faith is good news because in its rigorous truth, it recognizes that we are not perfect. Denial of that truth doesn’t help anyone. The baptismal covenant speaks of the opportunity to return, whenever we sin, not if ever. St. Paul reminds us that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, but also reminds us that we can never be separated from God’s love. What part of never do we not understand?

The gospel invites us to rely not on our ability to get it right all the time (to bat 1000. Who can do that?) Rather, it invites us to rely on grace and mercy, and to show our dependence on grace and mercy by showing grace and mercy to others.

It’s a process, a journey for sure. A wise parishioner described the process this way: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgment.

As disciples, we are learners, on a journey or continuum calling us to be more and more like Christ. How will you reflect on that journey this Monday morning? Maybe you can use the prayer for young persons (below). Note how that prayer speaks of the gift of failure. And as you do, as you observe this Holy Lent, also note that Spring is in the air.

-Jay Sidebotham

From the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the invitation to observe the season of Lent:
Dear People of God: 
The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our moral nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
A prayer for young persons (and we’re all young at heart)
The Book of Common Prayer, page 829
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways
give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. 


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

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

Monday Matters (March 6, 2017)


I spent Ash Wednesday in Manhattan. In a nostalgic moment, I stopped in at a church where I had served, a big place on a big New York avenue, with an aisle about the length of a football field. As in many churches, ashes were being imposed all day long. I sat and watched a steady stream of New Yorkers in glorious diversity, a vision of the kingdom of God, coming to receive ashes and to be told they were dust. It caused me to recall times when I had stood up front and imposed ashes as part of my ministry in that church.

We offered ashes continuously from 7am to 7pm. One year, I had the last hour-long shift. At about 6:59, we were ready to call it a day, I spied a young businessman, dark three piece suit, attaché case in tow, sprinting pell-mell down the aisle. When he got to me, I told him: “Relax. Take a deep breath. I’m not going anywhere.” He looked at me as he kneeled and said: “You don’t understand. I gotta make this quick. I’m double-parked.” Ashes delivered, he sprinted back down the aisle.

As I watched him, I thought he was trying to do what we all try to do: Fit a spiritual life into a full life. Not always easy to do.

As I enter into conversations with congregations about spiritual growth, about what helps spiritual growth happen and what gets in the way, one of the persistent answers I hear when I ask about obstacles to spiritual growth: the busy lives we lead. That can happen in church, where too often we confuse church activity with a deepening relationship with God.

My current work with congregations is based on insights from a huge, bustling, seemingly successful congregation, thousands in regular attendance. The church had grown, based on this model: More church activity = greater spiritual growth. But was that true? This church discovered, after many years, that the model was flawed. Many of the most active, many of the busiest folks in church were spiritually stalled, depleted, annoyed, thinking of leaving, done. So why am I telling you this on this Monday morning?

Lent is a season for spiritual growth. That growth may have a lot to do with the less we do. I know well that for many churches, programming cranks up at this time of year. I don’t wish to discourage participation. But maybe giving up something for Lent will have to do with clearing something from the calendar, carving out time for silence, prayer that involves more listening and fewer instructions to the Almighty.

I commend a book by Bill Hybels called Simplify. It points to the spiritual growth that comes by rigorous assessment of very full lives, an attempt to simplify what we make too complicated, doing fewer things better. Speaking from my experience, activity (especially religious activity) may be an attempt to prove to God that we are worthy of attention. God is not impressed. The fact is, the gospel is that we are already beloved.

Saints of our tradition knew this, making time for silence, for prayer, following our Lord’s example. I’m always amazed at the number of times we read in the gospels that Jesus goes off for solitude and prayer. Didn’t he realize how much he had to do to save the world in three years? Martin Luther was asked how he could spend so much time in prayer when he had all of Europe to reform. He said: “I have so much to do each day that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” In their collaborative book, The Book of Joy, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama playfully compete about who wakes up the earliest to pray (The Archbishop at 4am, the Dalai Lama at 3am).

So how about you? Take the gift of Lent as a chance to simplify, to be quiet, to listen to what the Spirit is saying. You may have to be quite intentional about it. It may be inconvenient. It may seem outwardly unproductive. It may be counter-cultural, and even get you in trouble.

But try it, even if you get a ticket for being double-parked. It’s worth it.

-Jay Sidebotham

Matthew 14:23
After he had dismissed them, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 6:46
After bidding them farewell, Jesus left for the mountain to pray.
Luke 5:16
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
Luke 6:12
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
Luke 11:1
It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”
Luke 22:41-44
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.


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

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