Monthly Archives: October 2018

Monday Matters (October 29, 2018)


You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:43-45 
an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount
If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.
-Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Excerpts from a recent blogpost from Anne Lamott:
Every so often, I mention a book I’ve always thought about writing called  “All The People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective.”Half the people responding roar with laughter and say “I’d read that.” And half are sort of horrified by either the word “hate” or “Christian.’ …
You’re not supposed to hate, because hate is ugly and diminishes the soul of the hater. But if I were to be honest, I’d admit that I could still write the book, about some of our leaders and one really special ex-boyfriend. But I got the miracle. …
I believe against all odds, that if we stick together, take care of the poor and the very old, get thirsty people water, including our own worried self-obsessed selves, we can dramatically reduce our viral load. We can be love with skin on. We can be present in barbaric times, and at the same time be nourished by the gorgeous and inspiring things all around us. We can be free.

Loving enemies? Do I have to?

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

A parable, of sorts. I used to drive a lot in Manhattan when we lived there. It’s probably why I have grey hair and contend with high blood pressure. As I would make my way around town, I remember how frustrated I would be with pedestrians who took their sweet time crossing the avenues. I had important places to go. It was especially challenging if I had my clergy collar on, because I had to conceal my irritation. It’s not a good career move for clergy to roll down the window and cuss. But I confess that behind the wheel, some part of me began to regard pedestrians as obstacles to my forward movement, obstructionists, opponents.

But here’s the interesting thing. I might be driving, fuming about these pedestrians. I would then find a parking space and become a pedestrian myself. As I would cross the street, taking my sweet time because I had right of way, I came to resent drivers. There were too many cars in the city anyway. Why weren’t those dinosaurs using public transportation? Drivers, as a class of human beings, became the opposition as I walked city streets. Road rage became pedestrian rage. It was amazing how quickly the “other” could become the object of disdain. My inner capacity for animosity was stunningly nimble.

Recently I was reading Facebook with commentary on this election season. I came across a post that went something like this: This year, it is not democrat vs. republican. It’s not conservative vs. liberal. It is good vs. evil. Somewhere in the recesses of my unholy mind, savoring my extremely informed political opinions, I thought: You are so right. Until I looked again at who had posted this message. It was someone I knew to be on the absolute opposite of the political spectrum from me. I wondered if that person now regarded me as evil. I’m such a nice guy. How could that be possible?

In recent days, I’ve been praying Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. As a newshound, okay, a news addict, I’ve found my heart sucked into the rancor that seems to dominate discourse. I’ve come to recognize my absolute helplessness in the face of that energy. I’m going to need a new heart, I think, especially if the elections don’t go my way. Especially if I don’t get my way. I’m going to need a new spirit. And dare I say, I’m not alone in that need.

In recent days, I’ve been praying Psalm 37: Put your trust in the Lord and do good. Commit your way to the Lord. Be still before the Lord. Do not fret yourself. It leads only to evil. That psalm is a call to trust that God is in control, that I am not, that goodness will win. That love wins.

In recent days, I’ve been asking Jesus for help, as I consider the things Jesus taught. In his most annoying way, he said love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Turn the other cheek. If someone makes you walk a mile, walk two. He was so clear, which is why it’s so irritating. Truth be told, I’d rather cuss at pedestrians, or smack my umbrella on the hood of the car edging into the crosswalk.

This commandment to love doesn’t mean that we don’t care deeply about issues, about healing the brokenness of our world, about speaking and acting on behalf of those on the margins, about calling out barbaric behavior, about the work for justice and peace mandated by our baptism. It doesn’t keep us from weeping for our brothers and sisters at the Tree of Life Synagogue, or laboring to see that such crimes don’t happen again. It does mean that there should be no place for hate in our hearts.

Simply stated, I’m not there yet. But I believe some day I’ll get there, with God’s help, by God’s grace. Maybe that’s what heaven is about.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (October 22, 2018)


More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions – either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly. But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.
According to my survey, a range of internal conflicts is driving Americans from God-talk. Some said these types of conversations create tension or arguments (28 percent); others feel put off by how religion has been politicized (17 percent); others still report not wanting to appear religious (7 percent), sound weird (6 percent) or seem extremist (5 percent). Whatever the reason, for most of us in this majority-Christian nation, our conversations almost never address the spirituality we claim is important.
Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of “Learning to Speak God From Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing – And How We Can Revive Them

Can we talk?

The rather directive parishioner showed up in my office to inform me that I was coming to her house for dinner. A woman of accomplishment in her profession, an active member of our church, she wanted me to help her solve this puzzle. She worked with dedicated, highly ethical people. They were kind, honest, generous folks. They cared about the pain of the world. And they seemed to have no interest in religious observance. She wondered about that. Why was she so committed to the life of the church and they were not at all committed?

This called for more exploration. So she planned to invite twelve of them to her fancy apartment for dinner to discuss. She would give them fair warning and tell them that there would be a topic of conversation over dinner. They would each be asked to fill in the blank: God in my life…

I was to be there just in case a cleric was needed. She bravely did the inviting, making clear her agenda for dinner conversation, not sure anyone would come. She got twelve affirmative responses. I was nervous. I think she was too, though she didn’t let on. As the dinner unfolded, me and a table full of strangers from varied religious backgrounds, I was amazed. We couldn’t shut them up. Everyone had a story. This one time soiree morphed into an ongoing group that met monthly for several years discussing religious topics. All they needed was someone to give them a chance to speak about spiritual matters.

Our work with congregations asks people about their beliefs, their spiritual practices, the ways they serve in the world. As we speak about these things, we find that often the language of faith is loaded for people who have migrated to the Episcopal Church from other Christian communities. Some as come as refugees. Some seek asylum, as often those folks have been wounded by their traditions of origin. Often the way we speak about faith pushes buttons. I often hear people say: “That’s not my language.”

A wise mentor helped me navigate this. Here’s what he would say to folks when they distanced themselves from particular religious language: “If that’s not your language, what is your language?” He offered a gracious invitation to find words that rang true. It could often be a slow start, but once we got going, it opened up new conversations, life-giving conversations.

Today’s reflections were triggered by a column that recently appeared in the NYTimes, copies of which were sent my way by several people I respect. A small portion of the article is included above. The columnist helped me find the language to say that it’s hard for people to find their language, especially when it comes to things about God.

So having said all this, let me ask: Where in your life are you able to fill in the blank: God in your life….? Where can you talk about that with others?

If you have no such venue, maybe you can be brave and create one. Because the longer I do this work, the more I believe that every one of us has a spiritual story. Each one of us is on a spiritual journey that matters to God so it better matter to us. Everybody has a God-shaped space inside. Our hearts are restless until that space is filled. This week, talk among yourselves about the contours of that space, what it feels like. And talk with someone about where that space is being filled.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (October 15, 2018)


Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
-Teresa of Avila
Matthew 5:13-16  
(A reading chosen for St. Teresa’s feast day)
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Discipleship Matters

I’m excited about this day, as I head for a conference we’ve been planning for almost a year. It will be held at Christ Church in Charlotte, a lively and faithful congregation. The conference is called Discipleship Matters. We’re gathering folks to explore what we talk about each Monday in these emails. What does it mean to be a disciple these days? How can we do that with authenticity and generosity of spirit? How can we do that when it’s difficult or perplexing?

We can answer those questions by learning from folks who seem to have figured out something about discipleship. As the Holy Spirit would have it, today is also the day in which the church remembers the life and ministry and witness of Teresa of Avila, saint of the 16th century. Her quotable quotes reach across the generations with wit and wisdom that has nourished me along the way.

Here’s one of my favorite stories. Teresa would go from town to town in her ministry. On one of her journeys, the wheel fell off the cart in which she was riding. She was thrown from the cart and landed in a mud puddle by the side of the road, at which point she shook her fist at heaven, and said in unfiltered prayer: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”

I might nominate her as matron saint of cartoonists, as she prayed: “God save us from gloomy saints.”

She models the power of honesty in prayer, when so often we feel like we have to be polite in addressing the Almighty, as if God can’t handle the truth. One of my favorites: “O God I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you, but I want to want to love you.”

She spoke of prayer as nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. That’s a wondrous way to describe discipleship.

At one particularly challenging passage in the life of our family, when uncertainty and anxiety were strong, we posted one of her prayers by our door: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” Teresa ministered to us across the centuries.

And she presented a great vision for discipleship, one that elevates expectations, offers challenge, and suggests the great privilege that Christ uses us as his presence in the world. The vision is printed above, and it invites us to think about discipleship as a way of doing Christ’s work in the world, work that needs to be done.

I invite you to join the conversation taking place in Charlotte over the next few days, wherever you may be, by thinking about why discipleship matters (join us online if you can’t be here in person). Why does it matter to you? Please pray for this conference. Pray that we might get new insights into what it means to be a disciple. And take the feast day of St. Teresa as an opportunity to let her teach about discipleship, as you pray with her wit and wisdom, her honesty and hope.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (October 8, 2018)


 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
-John 12:21

The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside our Church: The
-Mary Oliver

Something has happened to the bread and the wine
They have been blessed. What now?
The body leans forward to receive the gift from the priest’s hand,
Then the chalice
They are something else now from what they were before this began.
I want to see Jesus
Maybe in the clouds or on the shore,
Just walking
Beautiful man and clearly someone else besides.
On the hard days I ask myself if ever will.
Also there are times my body whispers to me
That I have.

One more church sign that was just sent to me yesterday:

America, the donkey and the elephant won’t help. We must turn back to the lamb.

More on Church Signs

Amid the changes and chances of life, I’m grateful for this example of constancy in my journey. It is the ongoing ministry of friends who send me photos of church signs, spotted in travels around the country. It’s a ministry to be encouraged. It’s a ministry open to all. It began as sort of a hobby, when I saw a church sign posted on a trailer, with movable letters like those on movie marquees, bearing this Easter message: The Lord is risen. No Bingo.

Last week, another seasonal greeting came to me by way of an observant friend. The sign read: Fall for Jesus. He never leaves. Earlier this year, I received a collection of photos of church signs that included this timely message: Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted. Another read: Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.

On a recent drive through eastern North Carolina, directed to back roads through small towns because interstates were flooded, I drove by a church sign which read: Jesus is alive. Come into our church to meet him. On the road, I had time to think about that sign, and the ways I would rephrase it. I wasn’t sold on the message.

The fact is: Jesus may or may not be met in church. He may or may not be encountered among really religious people. In fact, in olden days and in current times, the most religious people may provide the greatest obstacle to faith.

The fact is: Jesus cannot be contained in religious space. He spent relatively small amount of time in the temple. When he was there, he had a tendency to rearrange the furniture. That didn’t go over well.

The fact is: Jesus was more likely to be met on the road, out in the desert, at weddings and parties, at a pub, at places he wasn’t supposed to be, with people he shouldn’t be talking to.

Tempted as I was, I didn’t tamper with that church sign. I have too much spiritual work to do on my own life and my own community before I start trying to fix some other church. But that sign, for all its goofy, errant theology, made me think about where it is I would go to meet Jesus.

He is met in scripture. He is met in the bread and wine of the eucharist. He is met in preaching, though I do have a friend who was told as a new rector that she mentioned the name Jesus too often in her sermons. She was told that Episcopalians don’t do that. (Try telling that to Michael Curry!)

In several churches I know, there’s a plaque on the pulpit for just the preacher to see. It reads: We would see Jesus, a citation from the gospel of John noted above . It’s a great aspiration for a sermon for sure. But it’s also a great aspiration for our lives outside of church. What would it mean to focus on that goal this week?

You may well meet Jesus in church. It has been known to happen. But it’s just one of many places for that kind of encounter. In our baptism, we say we will seek Christ in all persons. The implication is that everyone provides an opportunity for that to occur. Matthew 25 tells us that much to our surprise, we can meet Jesus in ministry to the hungry, the imprisoned, those who lack clothing, those who lack health. Too often those people never make it into our churches.

Be ready to meet Jesus this week, wherever that might happen. He shows up in a lot of places.

-Jay Sidebotham

Today is the LAST DAY to register for the  Discipleship Matters Conference


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

Monday Matters (October 1, 2018)


 Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.           -I Peter 3:15

From the Book of Common Prayer:
What is the mission of the Church?
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
How does the Church pursue its mission?
The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel and promotes justice, peace and love.
Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
Ephesians 2:19-22
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
A prayer for the church:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that
wonderful and sacred mystery, by the working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation: Let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new; and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The wisdom of the whys

At the beginning of his book entitled Shaped by the Bible, Will Willimon (at the time chaplain at Duke University) recounts a conversation with a neighbor, a mathematician who approached with a problem she couldn’t figure out. It had to do with church. While the professor said she wasn’t opposed to church, she said her preacher had urged members of the congregation to invite people to church. The professor wanted to know: Why would I invite someone to be part of this?

She went on to note that the church may be caring, but so is the Rotary Club. She added that the Rotary Club met at a more convenient time, and the folks were often nicer. She offered that the Durham Bulls, local baseball team, had done more to bring black and white people together than any church had ever thought about. “Saturday evening at the Durham Bulls is more racially inclusive than a Sunday in any church in town.” So she asked why? Why invite someone to be part of church?

The questions posed to Will Willimon came to mind last week as I facilitated a clergy conference where we talked about the joys and challenges of our work in the times in which we live. One priest named Debbie noted that she had been working with leaders of a small church who were looking for a new priest. Debbie asked the leaders about their hopes and dreams. The answer that came back: We want to grow. Debbie asked: Why do you want to grow?

The folks responded: So that the church will be here for the next generation. Debbie asked: Why is it important that the church be here for the next generation?

The folk responded with comments about the need for pledging units, the sense of friendship among congregants, the beauty of the worship space which should be preserved. Debbie asked: Is there something about the ministry and mission of this church in this location that you think is important? I paraphrase: Why does this place matter? Church members weren’t sure.

She then asked them to tell her what difference their relationship with Jesus and their worship of God in that place was making in their lives and in the lives of their family. They didn’t have a ready answer.

I’ve been thinking of her comments, linked with the neighbor’s comments to Will Willimon. Why would I invite someone to be part of this thing we call church? What difference is it making in my life? What difference is it making in the lives of congregants? What difference is it making in the world?

Answers abound, in great variety. As we work here on the coast to clean up after the storm, I see churches taking the lead in remarkable ways. All year long, I find people are meeting Jesus with his loving, liberating, life-giving power, bringing healing and grace and forgiveness in a world where those are in short supply. We all need a place to know grace. Our world needs a place that shows grace.

All of which is to say: There are good and holy answers to the whys. But there are also some answers that are not compelling. Too often our institutions default to those.

Above, I’ve included notes from scripture and our Prayer Book that provide wisdom of the whys. Take time this week to think about how you might answer questions raised this morning. I’ll do the same thing. If you want to share answers, I’ll compile them in a future Monday message. Every now and then, it’s good to ask why.

-Jay Sidebotham

I want to express my gratitude to the Rev. Debbie Apoldo, Church of the Advent, Spartanburg, SC, for helping me think about the whys.

This is the final week to register for the  Discipleship Matters Conference


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