Monthly Archives: January 2018

Monday Matters (January 29, 2018)


Ethel was a distinctively unhappy person, gifted in sharing that spirit. That spirit was indeed contagious. As she made people around her unhappy, her loneliness deepened. Even her children paid her little mind. (Note: Ethel is not really the name of this woman I knew a few years ago.)

She lived in a residence for folks who were getting on in years. She had given up her car, which added to isolation and limited her freedom. Folks had volunteered to drive her to church, but she declined. Her arthritis meant that it took too long to get ready to go to church on Sunday mornings. She rarely showed up, so I would visit her.

Her residence was near a university. One semester, students from that school volunteered to teach residents how to get on the internet. Ethel, quite bright, was interested and skilled. Before long, she was meeting people online, including Bud from Oklahoma, hundreds of miles away. (I changed Bud’s name too.) I began to hear a lot about Bud, a widower in his 70’s who had a Harley. Soon I learned that Bud was coming to town for a visit.

I was sitting at my desk one morning and looked out the window. A Harley pulled into the driveway. Two figures dressed in shiny white jumpsuits dismounted. Helmets came off and I was introduced to Bud. Ethel told me they were off for a week long motorcycle tour. As Dave Barry says: I’m not making this up. Love had conquered the debilitating arthritis that had so limited Ethel’s life. I was happy for Ethel. Her neighbors were happy for Ethel. Ethel was happy for Ethel.

Last week, I came across a photo of her in that silvery jumpsuit. It reminded me of how debilitating and self-fulfilling loneliness can be. It affirmed the possibility that people can change, that they can be changed. It made me think that if we are to be changed for the better, it will come from the heart. It will be about love. So to channel my inner Tina Turner: What’s love got to do with it?

When Jesus was asked about the path to eternal life (i.e., the path to the experience of God’s life that can begin right now and doesn’t end) he said it’s simple but not easy. It’s one thing that is really two. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. He modeled that for us. We call it grace. We respond with gratitude and generosity. That kind of love is our goal, our highest purpose, the intention behind our creation. It’s why we’re here. When we tap into that love, it changes us, and the relationships around us. It allows us to do things we never thought we could do. If an arthritic woman in her late 70’s can hop on a Harley, love can find a way. Or as Rob Bell says, love wins.

So what does it mean to grow in love of God? If you’re not sure how that happens, maybe begin with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila: God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you. Then practice those things that build love in any other relationship. Spend quality time with that person. Learn about the other person. Give thanks for that person. Imitate what you admire in that person.

If we apply that to a relationship with God, it means we spend time with God, which among other things means prayer, listening as much as talking. It means we learn about the other person, which means among other things that we learn the stories of scripture, stories of mercy. It means we give thanks for that person, never forgetting grace we’ve experienced. Eucharist (which means thanksgiving) is an amazing way to do that. And it means taking on the qualities that we love in that person. As we come to know grace, then we come to show grace.

Then hop on the Harley.

-Jay Sidebotham

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

– I Corinthians 13


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 (January 22, 2018)


Church geek alert: Today finds us half way through a special week in the church calendar. It’s called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It runs from January 18 through January 25 and is bracketed by two feast days.

January 18 is called the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. It is dedicated to the first ever-recorded example of public opinion polling. Jesus asks his disciples: What’s the buzz? Who do people say that I am? The disciples give a variety of rather detached, risk-free answers. Then Jesus zooms in with laser-like focus, posing one of the most important questions in the New Testament: But who do you say that I am? Peter, always the first to speak, says that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s his confession, a turning point for Peter, and for the church.

January 25 is called the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, when the apostle was knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus with a vision of Jesus who asks Paul: Why are you persecuting me? Paul responds with his own question, another important question in the New Testament: Who are you Lord? It’s the moment of his conversion, a turning point for St. Paul, and for the church.

Why does any of this matter?

What’s interesting to me as I read the New Testament is that I’m guessing there was no bromance between Peter and Paul. Each with strong ego, they had several run-ins. They saw ministry from different perspectives. They agreed that their work would not be done side by side. But they each made remarkable contributions to the growth of the church, to the spread of the news about Jesus. We’re indebted to them, beneficiaries of their ministries.

Their stories indicate that the church is not a place where we will always agree. In the church, we may bump up against people who are different, people we may not like all that much. From the first days of the church, there has been conflict. It’s been true since. Which is why this week matters.

The week says to me, first of all, that we are to pray for unity. We are to recognize that when it happens in our world, it comes as gift. Our inclination is to focus on self. We need help if we are to experience unity, not only in the church, but in families, offices and, Lord knows, in our politics. Where do you need that grace this morning?

It says to me that we pray this week as Christians, as a group of people trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. We need some help with that too. Neitzsche once said: Jesus’ disciples will need to look more saved if I am to believe in their savior. Those of us whose journey unfolds in the Christian tradition (there are some readers whose journeys unfold in other traditions) commit to that pathway of grace, compassion and service exhibited by Jesus, a pathway haltingly traveled by his followers. How might we follow his example today?

It says to me that we are praying for unity, not uniformity, homogeneity, agreement, or even orthodoxy. Too often Christian communities of all kind, progressive and conservative, add conditions to the gospel of grace. (Something that made St Paul angry, and that’s not a pretty sight). The most persistent image for the church in the New Testament is the body of Christ, an image of unity comprised of diverse parts. We get another image in the architecture of the National Cathedral. It is really called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The two stories highlighted this morning are depicted on the front exterior, but notably as far away from each other as possible. How can you see yourself as part of the body of Christ, unity out of diversity?

Pray this week for unity, in the church, for sure, but also in any place where human relationships are broken, dividing walls are built, where disregard is trumping confidence in the dignity of every human being. Let your prayer be offered not only with your lips but in your life. Somehow.

-Jay Sidebotham

From Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent Georgia Revival Sermon:

Jesus said love your neighbor. You don’t have to like everybody. Like is a personal preference. Love is a commitment. That’s the way of love we get from Jesus.
(See his whole sermon here on Facebook beginning at 30:00 min)

The story of the Confession of St. Peter

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

-Matthew 16

The story of the Conversion of St. Paul

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me.

-Galatians 1:11-24


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 (January 15, 2018)


An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

For many reasons, it is meet and right this morning to recall the words from Dr. King included below, part of a letter written from a Birmingham jail. The past week of 24/7 news has left me wondering whether Dr. King was right, whether the way we now live is the way God’s universe is really made. Was Dr. King dreaming?

I recently participated in a group in my town, different folks from different walks of life gathered to think about how we address challenges facing our community, a reflection of wider challenges facing our nation. The fine facilitator tried to bring focus to our discussions. He led us in creation of a list of the issues our group could address. We knew we couldn’t do everything. Maybe we could not even do much. But we believed we could do something.

We quickly came up with a list of issues to address: poverty, discrimination, incarceration, education, income inequality, housing, homelessness, health care, child care, elder care. I bet you could come up with a very long list in very short order.

There were many voices, so I didn’t add to the list, but on the drive home, this issue came to mind. How might it be possible for us to see that in our communities, we are connected? How can we build a culture in which we share and bear responsibility for each other, built on the conviction that we are meant to be in community, that we are meant for communion?

Maybe there was a time when that sense was prevalent. Maybe not. Forgive me if I’m repeating this story about Mayor LaGuardia, as told by Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. In the middle of the Great Depression, the mayor turned up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. An old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. Her daughter’s husband had left. Her daughter was sick. Her grandchildren were hungry. The shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia said to the woman: “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”

As the mayor pronounced sentence, he was reaching into his pocket. He tossed a bill into his hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit. Furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” $47.50 was turned over to the woman. Fifty cents (a big hit in those days) was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

All I know is that almost 50 years after Martin Luther King lost his life, gave his life, our country seems to lack that sense that we are in this together, that whatever affects one affects all. Our culture is gripped by division, leaders making things worse, as we are plagued by discourse undermining the dream of a single garment of destiny.

Jesus prayed on the night before he died for his disciples that we all may be one. I’m praying he is praying for us now.

-Jay Sidebotham

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jesus prayed: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
-John 17

From the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help.


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 (January 8, 2018)


I recently heard New Year’s resolutions described as a to-do list for the first week of January. I’m wondering on this Monday morning, one week into 2018, how you are doing on your own resolutions?

A wise friend pointed me to an op-ed piece The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, by David DeSteno, N.Y. Times, 12.29). The article talked about resolutions, how and why and whether they make a difference. The statistics aren’t great. By January 8, 25% of resolutions have “fallen by the wayside.” By end of year, less than 10% have been fully kept.

I’ve always regarded New Year’s resolutions with some suspicion. Same for Lenten disciplines, or commitments to change my life upon milestone birthdays (the ones with zeroes on the end). A resolution can become one big, looming ought, another piece of evidence (as if needed) that I fall short. They become obligations. They are more about rules, and less about grace.

Spiritually speaking, they can become what one preacher called ‘teeth-gritting Christianity.” I will be a better person. I will be a more loving person. It’s my duty. It’s what good people do. It’s what clergy do. The problem with making resolutions is two-fold for me. First, it’s apparently not all that effective. Second, it’s not very graceful.

So I found this op-ed piece illuminating. It wasn’t written by a preacher. It was written by a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. A great deal of the article has to do with self-control. That caught my eye, because in the work we do charting spiritual growth with RenewalWorks, we note that one of the important virtues for folks in the spiritual continuum is self-control. St. Paul lists it as one of the fruits of the spirit. Too often in my own experience, and as this columnist notes, self-control is a matter of rational analysis and will power. It becomes a kind of law. Too often I fall short. I miss the mark, which is how a friend, a rabbi has described sin.

Dr. Denota argues that authentic self-control comes not from force of will, but from social emotions like gratitude and compassion. In his studies, he has found these emotions incline people toward patience and perseverance, qualities needed to fulfill resolutions. “When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.” Theologians (and others) might refer to that as hope, or maybe faith, or maybe love, or maybe all three.

The article goes on to say that the key to self-control is putting something else ahead of our own immediate desires and interests, responding not to the cost-benefit analysis of being generous, but rather responding with these social emotions, i.e., gratitude and compassion. That sounds to me a lot like Jesus.

The author concludes by inviting readers to cultivate these emotions: “Reflect on what you’re grateful to have been given. Allow your mind to step into the shoes of those in need and feel for them. Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals.” Perhaps that’s a plan for the coming year. It’s not too late to embrace these as resolutions for 2018.

So a week into a new year, if the good professor is right, 25% of your resolutions may have slipped away. Not to worry. Tap into that social emotion of compassion and have compassion on yourself. Continue your way through this new year with expressions of gratitude and a compassionate perspective, key elements to the patient perseverance needed to fulfill resolutions.

-Jay Sidebotham

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?    -Micah 6

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.    -II Corinthians 5

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.    -T.S.Eliot

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.    – G.K. Chesterton


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 (January 1, 2018)


Who moved my drishti?

Time for a review of last year. Among my last year’s resolutions: to show up at yoga classes more often, for a variety of reasons. One good reason: to learn from my wife, the yoga instructor, and to know more about her work. She’s a good teacher, on many levels. Another goal: to work on my own sense of balance, in a variety of ways. In its most literal sense, this goal involves gravity defying/denying stances, made all the more challenging by the graceful ease of folks on neighboring mats.

Some days I have found that my balance is just fine. Other days, not so much. Just like life. But one of the things I learned is that it’s important to have a focal point, which in Sanskrit is called a drishti.

I learned this one day when I was practicing, doing a gravity experiment, focused on a water bottle that was placed by my neighbor’s mat. And then he moved it. And then I fell over. Gravity experiment concluded. Since then, I’ve learned to try to focus on something immovable. Steady. Trustworthy. (Not a bad life lesson, related to the wisdom of the desert fathers: Do not give your heart to that which can not satisfy your heart.)

As I look forward to 2018, I resolve to learn more about balance, in all the ways that balance presents itself as a challenge. A lot of that has to do with focus. In the words of the civil rights movement, it’s about keeping eyes on the prize. In the changes and chances of life (a phrase swiped from the Prayer Book), in our ADD culture where much seems out of balance, is there a path marked by constancy?

A lack of focus can be a seasonal disorder. (Liturgical purists will note we are still in the Christmas season, and many of you may not be reading this at 9am on New Year’s Day, since you just went to sleep.) Viewed objectively, the demands of the holidays can seem ludicrous. How did such a beautiful feast day, begun in humble simplicity, get so crazily complicated? Is that why Jesus came into the world? How do we maintain balance, with focus on the reason for the season?

Yuletide seasonal disorder can carry over into the rest of the year. In my work with clergy, especially folks who’ve been in the church a while, I too often find they have lost touch with their first love, with why they got into ordained ministry in the first place. Demands of bulletins and buildings, concerns about pledging units and parishioner critique can knock them off balance and take away the power of the initial call, which is after all a matter of the heart. When did they lose their drishti? Who moved it?

That can be true for all who serve in the church, those who may feel that the call to life in a faith community now feels like a wrong number. There’s a marked increase in the number of “nones” and “dones’ in our culture, those whose religious affiliation is listed as none, or whose experience with the church causes them to be done. There are many explanations for that, but somebody, something moved their drishti.

On this the first day of the year, it’s a good time to ask: where’s the focus? Can we maintain balance by setting an intention for the year ahead? If that seems daunting, how about an intention for just the next few days, perhaps leading up to the observance of Epiphany, on January 6. Do we see a star, even if far off? Can that star set a stable course as it points to the word made flesh, full of grace and truth.

Let that grace be our drishti. Set an intention, a resolution this week. Focus on grace, on the love shared and celebrated in the (ongoing) Christmas season, expressed in Christina Rossetti’s poem below. It is love that comes with simplicity and generosity, free of condition. It is love freely given, love to be freely shared, not just at this time of year, but all year long.

-Jay Sidebotham

Since it’s still the Christmas season, a favorite Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti:Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

St. Paul’s Drishti,
from his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.


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.