Monthly Archives: July 2017

Monday Matters (July 31, 2017)


On occasion, I participate in yoga classes taught by my wife. I’m surprisingly good at certain parts of the practice, like shavasana and child’s pose. There are poses I refuse to do in front of parishioners, like happy baby. And there are parts that make me think one should never receive yoga instruction from a spouse. Take plank for instance, which is basically holding an army push up halfway down for about 3 or 4 days. Or chair pose, which is something my Junior High gym coach made us do when we misbehaved.

And don’t get me started on this particular instructor’s ability to count: “Hold that pose for 10, 9, 8, 7, you all look great, 9, 8, 7, 6, breathe deep, 8, 7, 6, 5, now smile, 7, 6, 5, 4…”

All of this is preceded by a time in which the instructor prepares us for practice with mindful meditation, helping us make transition from busy lives outside the studio. My wife is particularly gifted at these reflections. Of late, she has incorporated a passage attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh (see below) to begin the session. It has caught my attention as it includes this particular intention: to be awakened from the trance of forgetfulness.

I don’t think that this wise Vietnamese monk is talking about forgetting names, forgetting where I left my keys, forgetting my password (though I often find myself in that kind of trance). The power of that phrase comes in recognizing that the spiritual journey is about remembering, and in recognizing that a lot of the time I am spiritually asleep.

This awakening, this act of remembering is a spiritual intention, at the heart of the Christian tradition. The story of the children of Israel is told again and again to the children of Israel, to keep them on track by reminding them to look in the spiritual rear-view mirror. “Remember, your father was a wandering Aramean.” When wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel would complain to God, as if asking “What have you done for me lately?” To counter that complaint, they were called to recollect divine provision, redemption, forgiveness and liberation. Scripture calls people of faith to do the same these days, to awaken from the trance of forgetfulness.

The psalmist knows that a strong relationship with God comes with awakening from forgetfulness. In exile, the psalmist speaks of holding on to the memory of Jerusalem. See the portion of Psalm 137 below. Or read the first 8 verses of Psalm 78. It includes this intention: We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done…that the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn, that they in turn might tell it to their children, so that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God. (vss. 4,6,7)

In the New Testament, Jesus gathered disciples at the Last Supper, instituting the eucharist with the command: Do this in remembrance of me. In our liturgy, a portion of the prayer used on Sunday at communion recalls the great and gracious things God has done in the past. That portion of the prayer is referred to as anamnesis. That literally means not forgetting (not amnesia).

Have you ever felt yourself caught in a trance of forgetfulness, spiritually speaking? Maybe you’re there this morning. The call to thanksgiving is meant to awaken us. We give thanks to God not to stroke the ego of a narcissistic divine being. Rather, we reflect on ways we have come to experience grace in the past so we can embrace those experiences in the present, and trust they will unfold in the future. When we can remember that amazing grace, we can awaken from the trance of forgetfulness.

Carry that phrase with you this Monday. Awaken from any trance you might be in. Forget forgetfulness. Remember that grace abounds.

-Jay Sidebotham

 People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.
-Samuel Johnson
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
-Psalm 137:5,6
Mind, space and body in perfect oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of my breath.
May my breath awaken me from the trance of my forgetfulness.
So that I can transcend the path of sorrow and suffering.
-adapted from 
Thich Nhat Hahn
Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy.
-Henri Nouwen


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 (July 24, 2017)



Where do you go these days to hear a word of hope?

Early in my ministry, a seasoned priest offered this advice. He said: “Jay, in Sunday worship, you only have to do two things. First, keep worship to an hour. Second, leave people more hopeful than when they came.”

About ten days ago, I had the privilege of attending the Ordination and Consecration of Sam Rodman, new Bishop of North Carolina. I’ve known Sam for years. The diocese will be blessed by his strong, gentle, faithful leadership. The service was great. It did not succeed, however, in the one-hour rule. Wasn’t even close, perhaps the exception that proves the rule. But it did leave me hopeful about the church, with bishops to lead like Sam.

I was struck in the service with one sign of hope in particular: The strong commitment to engagement in scripture. Like all our liturgies, there was ample opportunity to hear what the spirit is saying through words from the Bible. Let’s not take that miracle for granted. It’s amazing grace that we draw meaning and purpose from words written centuries ago. But there’s more.

Sam was asked to solemnly declare his conviction that the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and that they contain all things necessary for salvation.” All things necessary for wholeness. All things necessary for healing. All things necessary to keep hope alive.

Sam was asked if he would be faithful in the study of Scripture, in order that he as bishop might have the mind of Christ. I ran across a study not long ago that said many clergy only read scripture in order to prepare for a sermon. Relatively few clergy actually read scripture to feed their souls or deepen their spiritual lives or discover a lantern for the path. This liturgy asked Sam to read scripture to have the mind of Christ.

Sam was asked to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of the people. Scripture has that power.

And once Sam had been ordained, the Presiding Bishop gave him a gift. You guessed it, a Bible.

Since Sam’s service, I’ve been thinking about why he got all those questions about the Bible, about why we still read scripture. The material is really old. There’s tons in there that is perplexing. There’s a lot that offends. Much of it can be used in spiritual malpractice. Too many of us have been clobbered by proof texts ripped out of context, separated from inspiring love.

But we keep on reading it. Every year, at the end of the year, we read a prayer about scripture (printed below) which reminds us why we pay attention to the Bible. It says we hear, read, learn, mark, inwardly digest scripture so that we might hold on to hope. And which one of us does not need some hope. The kind of hope reflected in the story of the Exodus. Freedom happens. The kind of hope reflected in the Exile. There is a way home. The kind of hope that lets Peter walk on water, kept from sinking by Jesus’ hand. The kind of hope reflected in Easter. Dead ends become thresholds. I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that old, old story all the time.

Research indicates that engagement with scripture is transformative in the Christian journey. For all that is confusing or annoying or even offensive, it is a story of relationship with God, a story of healing amid brokenness, a story of persistent grace. In other words, it is a story of hope. Are you in need of hope this Monday morning? Where do you go when you need a word of hope? The news? I think not.

Find your way into what Karl Barth called the strange world of the Bible. Make it a part of a daily routine. Persist in parts that are difficult. Ask your irreverent questions. Ask God to speak to you through it. And let it be a source of hope.

-Jay Sidebotham
Interested in diving into scripture? Looking for a way to do that? Let me recommend:

The Path, published by Forward Movement, in which the Bible is broken down into 25 chapters.

Read Forward Day by Day each morning

What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

The Good Book, by Peter Gomes

The Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels

Psalm 139. Memorize it and it will change your life.

 From the Book of Common Prayer:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We have found in the Bible a new world, God, God’s sovereignty, God’s glory, God’s incomprehensible love. Not the history of [man] but the history of God! Not the virtues of [men] but the virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light! Not human standpoints but the standpoint of God!
-Karl Barth, The Strange New World of the Bible
How do you stand up against injustice and not lose hope? How do you live with less worry and more joy? How do you forgive someone who has wronged you? What do you do when the person in power doesn’t have any integrity or moral compass? When do you take action and when do you trust that it’s all going to work out? What we see in the Bible is that we aren’t alone in these questions – these are the questions people have been wrestling with for thousands of years. And on page after page after page of their writings they never stop insisting that this struggle we call life isn’t futile, hopeless or pointless. It’s divine.
-Rob Bell, 
What is the Bible?
We are left with our question. What makes the church, your congregation and mine, different, utterly essential, without equal, unique? Let me venture a response: A congregation is Christian to the degree that it is confronted by and attempts to form its life in response to the Word of God.
-Will Willimon, 
Shaped by the Bible


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 July 17, 2017


You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. -Anne Lamott

Years ago, Life Magazine featured a two-page spread of photographs, a mosaic of images of Jesus from around the world, portraying a Jesus who might have grown up in Africa or Asia or South America. To me, the most jarring of the images came from the Scandinavian tradition, which portrayed Jesus as a Bjorn Borg look alike. I’m not sure what the historical Jesus looked like. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a blondie.

For me, the collection of images indicate our tendency to make Jesus into our own image. You’ll be shocked to learn that people often use religion to affirm what they already value, confirm status quo, ratify existing (and dearly held) points of view. We hear reports that Jesus favors one candidate or policy over another. On social media, people claim they know exactly what Jesus would do about divisive issues of our time. All I know is the guy was full of surprises, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

I recalled the Life Magazine photos when I recently read an article by Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy who spent 48 years teaching at U.S.C., a theologian known for writings on Christian spiritual formation. In this article, he spoke about his work with churches and religious schools, trying to measure spiritual vitality. For him, this kind of growth was about growing in Christ-likeness. It stood in contrast to those Life magazine images, suggestive of the ways we try to make God or Christ in our own image. Dr. Willard challenged readers to think about how we might change to become more like Christ.

But what does that mean, to be like Christ? I’m sure there’s not one answer. But try this exercise this morning. Think of five attributes of Jesus, based on what you know of him. Can you make some commitment to be more like him in those five ways?

I’ll start. Here are five things that came to my mind about Jesus:

  1. He valued simplicity, born as a refugee in a stable. He was itinerant, often homeless, and navigated all that with joy and freedom from anxiety.
  2. He was big on forgiveness, even forgiving his torturers and executioners. It makes me think he knew how to manage the kind of petty resentments that drive me nuts.
  3. He made a commitment to be of service, washing disciples’ feet, maybe an episode from an ancient near eastern version of Dirty Jobs
  4. He paid attention to people no one else liked or noticed: the rich and wildly unpopular Zaccheus, the crazy guy in the cemetery, the woman at the well with a scandalous past, those incompetent and fickle fishermen (who apparently never catch a fish without Jesus’ help).
  5. He went off by himself and prayed a lot, recognizing the need to appeal to the one he called Father, to a higher power.
    There’s more of course. I’ll stop there and ponder these five, focusing on them this week. Rather than trying to make Christ look more like me, I’m going to try to make some shift to look more like Christ, try to bring that shift to my work, to my responses to the troubled state of our world, to my relationships, my family and friends.

A clergyman I admire offered the following wisdom in a wedding homily. He charged the couple standing before him to be Jesus for each other. In other words, to be more like Christ.

It would be a good idea if we all in the church worked on that, mindful of what Gandhi said when pressed to convert to Christianity. He declined the invitation, saying: “I like your Christ, but not your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

-Jay Sidebotham

 A reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians
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 slave, 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.


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 (July 10, 2017)


I’m wondering if it’s your time to ask Rabbi Kushner’s question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Maybe you ask that question all the time.

The question has come my way lately, with a big challenge suddenly faced by a friend I care for and deeply admire. It’s basically inexplicable. At times, maddeningly sad. I’m guessing you know about such challenges. They come in great variety. As one of my mentors says, suffering is the promise life keeps. How’s that for a cheery kickoff to Monday morning?

Part of why I spend time reading the Bible is because scripture knows and shows that these kind of questions make up our stories. Most famously, the book of Job raises the question but resists any neat answers. Psalmists repeatedly ask where God has gone. Jesus posed the question, echoing Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In such moments, about the worst response one can offer is something that tries too quickly to make sense of it all. Job’s friends, prime example, offering something that ties it up in a neat package, often more about easing one’s own discomfort than supporting those who suffer. I have in mind sayings like: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” “God never shuts a door without opening a window.” All feed into the Gary Larson cartoon image of God at the computer, watching the falling grand piano about to smash an unwitting pedestrian, God pressing the smite button. Do we worship such a God?

If you’re asking the bad things/good people question, there may on occasion be explanations for the challenges, something we have done or something done to us. Too often, there are no available easy answers. So we are led to the prayer from the burial service which asks for God’s help in the midst of things beyond our understanding.

And we withstand when we can’t understand. We proclaim when we can’t explain. What we proclaim is God’s presence, often felt most deeply in love and prayers of others.

We proclaim resurrection, which literally means “to stand again.” When folks we love get knocked down, we move forward with them and for them, helping them stand again. We say our prayers with them and for them, prayers with our lips and with our lives, prayers that may be no more or less than silent, faithful, loving presence.

We give thanks for what we are able to give thanks for. And if the attitude of gratitude is too hard, we let someone else do the thanking and praying.

With courage (it suggests both bravery and heart), we hold on to hope. St. Paul, who knew suffering and challenge, prayed about it, occasionally whined about it, asked for relief from it and didn’t always get relief. He referenced his own suffering in the letter to the Romans. Speaking of his own experience, he said suffering brings endurance which brings character which brings hope because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. (Romans 5).

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, when understanding or explaining elude us, when we can do no more than withstand, in those moments a positive spirit, a sense of hope and promise becomes our guide. Easier said than done, I know. But something we are each and all given to do at some time. Maybe this Monday morning is that time for you. Blessings in this time.

-Jay Sidebotham

 Elie Wiesel died one year ago, a holy man whose survival of the Holocaust forged such an authentic response to the mystery of suffering. Here’s a sampling of his wisdom, from his book entitled Night:
I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.
I was very, very religious. And of course I wrote about it in ‘Night.’ I questioned God’s silence. So I questioned. I don’t have an answer for that. Does it mean that I stopped having faith? No. I have faith, but I question it.
When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.
Don’t lose hope… Have faith in life… Help each other. That is the only way to survive.
For me, every hour is grace.


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 (July 3, 2017)


Monday, July 3, 2017

Tomorrow we observe the Feast of Independence Day (a.k.a, the Fourth of July). It’s one of the few secular holidays that has found its way into the church calendar, along with Thanksgiving and Labor Day. Appointed scripture readings and prayers help us reflect on who we are called to be as a nation. The feast indicates that our lives as citizens are related to our lives as followers of Jesus.

The feast has to do with more than hot dogs and hamburgers, though I won’t turn those down. It has to do with a sacred celebration which invites us to ask this holy stewardship question: What do we do with the gift we’ve been given in our common life, as a nation blessed with remarkable prosperity and unprecedented freedoms?

As Episcopalians, who claim that praying shapes our believing, we can look to the collect crafted for this day (below), and see what it says to us this Monday. Look at what we pray for. We ask that we may all have “grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.” So join me in reflection on that word righteousness.

Righteousness means so much more than being right or even being good. In scripture, righteousness suggests right relationship, with a recognition that so many of our relationships are out of whack. What does it mean to be a righteous nation? It seems to me that it is about building relationships marked by healing and wholeness, mending places where relationship is broken. The scriptures (you can look them up…a nice spiritual discipline for a day off) appointed for the Feast of Independence Day speak to the character of this common life.

There’s a reading from Deuteronomy (10:17-21) written to the people of Israel before they entered the promised land and started to figure out what it meant to be a people. The reading talks about the character of the nation: executing justice for orphan and widow (the neediest, the marginalized), loving the stranger and providing food and clothing for them. Maybe this is one of those places where folks say we don’t need to take scripture literally. But at face value, the righteousness of a nation has to do with how we treat the least among us. Across the political spectrum, folks will disagree about how best to accomplish that. But the goal seems clear.

The psalm chosen for the day (Psalm 145) reflects God’s character as loving to everyone. “Compassion is over all God’s works. The Lord upholds those who fall, and lifts those who are bowed down. The Lord opens wide his hand and satisfies the needs of every living creature.” Again, scripture indicates a community marked by healed relationships.

The New Testament reading from Hebrews (11:8-16) calls readers to remember that they were once strangers and foreigners, that they desire a better country, a heavenly one. It’s a graceful, hopeful acknowledgement that we can always do better.

The Gospel reading, excerpted from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48) is a call by Jesus to love not only neighbors but also to love enemies. Does he really mean that? It’s not fun. It’s not easy. In our divided nation, what would it mean if we would and could do what Jesus asked us to do?

As I reviewed these readings, calling us to think about who we are on this national holiday, I was struck with how much we have erred and strayed from a righteous vision, from right relationships. The measure of a great nation, it would seem from scripture and especially from the prayer, has to do with an embrace of grace, a commitment to live in righteousness and peace, to let that be shown in compassion, especially towards those pushed to the edges.

Independence Day is a holiday, which means it’s a holy day, a chance to reflect on who we are, and who God is calling us to be. Enjoy the celebration tomorrow. Give thanks for our remarkable nation. Pray for our leaders. And consider the call to deeper righteousness, to healthier relationships, marked by compassion. Is there a specific way you can live into that imagination this week?

-Jay Sidebotham


A prayer for Independence Day

(Book of Common Prayer)

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Another prayer for Independence Day:

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!


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.