Monthly Archives: February 2019

Monday Matters (February 25, 2019)


Be still and know that I am God.

-Psalm 46:10

Six days a week we seek to dominate the world. On the seventh day we try to dominate the self. The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere…It is a day that ennobles the soul and makes the body wise.

Six evenings a week we pray: “Guide our going out and our coming in.” On the Sabbath evening we pray instead: “Embrace us with a tent of thy peace.” 

All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience: our awareness of God’s presence in the world.

From THE SABBATH by Abraham Heschel

People now have a painful need to be helped to be still. A church that is too noisy, too caught up in its own busyness, to answer this need is failing deeply.

Insights from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

God whose strength bears us up as on mighty wings: We rejoice in remembering your athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, to whom you gave courage and resolution in contest and in captivity; and we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us and persevere in patient witness, until we wear that crown of victory won for us by Jesus our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer in thanksgiving for the life and witness of Eric Liddell


One Friday night, walking home from the subway to my apartment, passing a row of brownstones, a man stopped me and asked if I could come in to his apartment to help him. No one had ever asked that before. I agreed, with slight sense that maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Down a long, dark hallway I walked, through a door opened to reveal a family ready to sit down at the table. I realized they were Orthodox Jews. They needed me to turn on the lights in the apartment. They took Sabbath so seriously that they wouldn’t do that bit of work themselves. I was moved by the way they took the commandment to heart: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I wondered why I took that observance so lightly.

When I was in seminary, wondering whether that course of study would lead to ordination or not, I sought the counsel of a rector of a big church. I asked him how he managed his life, what he thought was important. It’s been a few decades, but I remember his advice. He said he was rigorous about taking a day off. He did that so that on a weekly basis, he would remember who he was. He would remember that he was not his work. It was a spiritual practice focused on identity, not only who he was but also who God is. In retrospect, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried harder to take his advice throughout my ministry.

In our church, we just finished a series in which we looked at the seven practices described in The Way of Love. (The Way of Love is suggested by our Presiding Bishop as a series of practices that move us toward a Jesus-centered life.) The last in this series is the practice of rest, a practice taking its cue from the first chapters of the Bible. After six days of creative work, the Lord God rested, hallowing that seventh day, instituting the religious observance of Sabbath. If the Lord God took that time, I wondered if I shouldn’t be more intentional about holy time management.

I’m old enough to remember ways in which the culture helped with all that. On the Sundays of my childhood, nobody went to work. No travel soccer. No trips to stores or movie theaters. No technology allowing for work 24/7. For younger folks, that culture may be unimaginable. I have no illusion that we would or could or should go back to that time. But if we sense any value in weekly fallow time, we now need to be more creative about making that happen.

It can come in small doses. Perhaps daily times when we simply unplug. It can come in 24 hour periods, as is the design of the creator. It can come in a commitment to retreats. Impending Lent can be a good time to experiment with these kinds of practices, a good time to ask: What’s a way to practice rest?

The prayer above is offered in thanks for the life, ministry and witness of Eric Liddell, celebrated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He is remembered each year in the church on February 25. Find and watch the movie if you’ve never seen it. He was a gifted athlete who refused to compete on Sunday mornings. Who knows what he would do today? He stands as a reminder that we can still strive to observe Sabbath. In that same column, find quotes from Abraham Heschel’s book THE SABBATH. A mentor directed my attention to it, and it provides a powerful vision of the ways in which our observance of a practice of rest reflects our identity, and God’s. It might be great Lenten reading for you.

The times in which we live, the busy lives we lead can get in the way of our spiritual growth. God knew this from the beginning of creation. That’s why we’re invited, encouraged, challenged to practice rest. Give it a go this week.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 18, 2019)


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
-Philippians 2:3
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
-Exodus 3:11
Jesus called them (the disciples) to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-Matthew 20:25-28
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
-Acts 20:18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
-John 10:11
(Solomon prayed,) “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.
-II Chronicles 1:10-12

Presidents’ Day: The Leader’s Heart

Today’s holiday honoring presidents triggers a variety of thoughts about leadership. In the work we do with RenewalWorks, one of our strongest findings is that much depends on the leader’s heart.

Politics (mostly) aside, the theme of leadership caused me to remember a wonderful group in my former parish, led by wise members of the community. The group met monthly, under the title of Faith@Work. They facilitated conversations about the intersection between Sunday and the rest of the week, discussions led by leaders from various fields, speakers from our parish and our denomination. The group’s leaders also made it a point to learn from those outside the Episco-bubble. I told you they were wise.

One of the guest speakers who made an impression on me was Harry Kraemer who wrote a book entitled From Values to Action, a book describing principles of leadership. He was head of a really big company in Chicago. A devoted Roman Catholic, he worked hard to bring his values to his work. He spoke about a daily practice which I envy. It included morning reflection on how he might live into his values for the coming day, and an evening review of how successful he had been in putting those values into action. I admired his rule of life. I’m pretty good at the morning thing, but I tend to nod off when I try evening reflection.

In his book, he identified four essential principles of leadership which he shared with our group. I’m guessing that Monday readers are leaders in one way or another, leaders in households, schools, churches, places of business. So see if these four principles speak to you.

Self-reflection: The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are and what matters most. For me, a big part of this has to do with mindfulness, awareness, which often comes with intentional quiet time. Where in your life do you find this quiet time?

Balance and perspective: The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints to give a holistic understanding. For me, this principle is reflected in the baptismal covenant which asks us to seek Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. Where might you take a wider view in your own life? What perspectives are you not including? What unexpected person might be your teacher?

True self-confidence: Enabling you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and focusing on continuing improvement. For me, this principle has everything to do with an embrace of grace, the confidence that comes from the belief that we don’t have to prove our worth, our value. In God’s economy, that has already been established. How can you celebrate that spirit of acceptance in your own life today?

Genuine humility: The ability never to forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization and to treat everyone respectfully. For me, this goes back to the baptismal promise which calls us to respect the dignity of every human being, those across the dining room table, those in the next cubicle, those next to us in the pew, those who happen to watch a different cable channel. What kind of challenge does that represent for you this week

On this President’s Day, I suspect we all have thoughts about how these principles might go to work in our nation in the interesting times in which we live. Say a prayer for all those in positions of power on this holiday.

While we may or may not be able to affect any of that, we can take a few moments on this day off to see how Mr. Kraemer’s principles might be woven into our own lives, in whatever way we may lead. That would be cause for celebration. Even worthy of a day off.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 11, 2019)


Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, Thou hast given me: I surrender it all to Thee to be disposed of according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.
-St. Ignatius of Loyola

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
-Abraham Lincoln
At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.
 -Maya Angelou
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
-A prayer of self-dedication, from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 832)

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.

Ephesians 3:16-18


“When I realized there was nothing I could do, and when the black cloud reached me I would either live or die, I turned and faced it, summoned every ounce of life within me, and hurled it heavenward, praying, “Take me.” It was both an incredibly terrifying moment and an incredibly liberating moment. I felt that everything that happened after that in terms of being swept up into the incredible witness of people of faith at St. Paul’s, flowed from that moment of total surrender. Thanks be to God.”

I share this witness from Dr. Courtney Cowart, a leader in our church and a friend. Her witness builds on my post last week, as I spoke about how the peace that passes understanding reaches to the most extraordinary moments. I’ve added Courtney’s story to the great cloud of witnesses, her recollection of September 11, 2001, when she gathered church leaders to tape a video about the spiritual journey, a video interrupted by planes slamming into skyscrapers. First told to stay put, then told to run, she spoke of her encounter with the divine in a moment. She let that awful, awesome experience lead her into a healing ministry in lower Manhattan at St. Paul’s Chapel for months to come. After that, with the hard-earned wisdom of that New York experience, she spent years in New Orleans,  helping the rebuilding process after Katrina. She is a saint in our times.

In the witness with which I began, Courtney used the word “surrender,” which when you break it down means “rendering over” or maybe “turning over” or maybe even “letting go.” As a good Episcopalian, and for good reason, I have ambivalence about the term “surrender.” In my own goofy spiritual history, surrendering to God or Christ or the Holy Spirit seemed to suggest diminished self, a denial of original blessing, a weak view of human dignity, a heretical assertion that when God said creation was very good, God didn’t really mean it. There’s a big old tradition that says sinners simply need to raise the white flag. We’re no good. Just give up.

I remember a time when I was puzzling with some Episcopalians about this idea of surrendering our lives to God or Christ. These Episcopalians were not buying it. I could relate to ways they felt ill at ease. There’s a lot in the Christian tradition that stresses, maybe even glories in our status as miserable offenders.

That afternoon conversation gave way to some quiet time in my office, when by the working of the Holy Spirit, I was reading some Thomas Merton. I found a passage in which he wrote that we were called to surrender to the creative power of God’s grace in our lives. I printed out this prayer and posted it prominently in my office.

I found myself thinking that if Thomas Merton could speak of surrender, maybe I should pay attention. I found myself wondering what it would mean to surrender in such a way, to let go of my own agenda (easier said than done when you take a gander at my to-do list). What would it mean to render over, to give over my own illusion of control and mastery, and trust in God’s guidance, providence, creativity, grace?

Jesus said that if we lose our lives we will find them. Meanwhile, we grasp and hoard, gripping tightly. We practice teeth-gritting religion. May God give us grace this week to surrender to God’s creative power of grace in our lives. 

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 4, 2019)


How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said, who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?
Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Ephesians 3:16-18

Two Questions

When I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise.

Psalm 56:3,4

Over this past weekend, it was my privilege to gather with a group of clergy and lay leaders to talk about spiritual growth. On Friday night, our gathering began with a couple questions posed by the host. We were each asked to name a time when we were scared and to name a time marked by joy. As we went around the circle of about 30 people, everyone had a story. Everyone knew moments marked by fear.

One person told about the time when as a teenager, he was wedged in an elevator shaft at his workplace, as malfunctioning machinery almost crushed his body. He was delivered, and eventually healed from great injury. But in the moments when that outcome was not at all certain, in those moments when he thought his young life was over, he remembered saying to a holy presence: This is it. I am no more. I am yours. He said he was not talking to himself but to an enveloping light presence, a calming effect, the real peace that passes understanding.

A colleague tells of a parishioner on the fated flight that landed in the Hudson River, geese debilitating the engine of the plane. As he was told to prepare to crash, as he considered he might be living the last few moments of his time on earth, he told of a peace that passes understanding. He attributed that peace to the practice of the spiritual life experienced in his church. He knew a holy presence as the plane descended.

Friday night, everyone had a story of fear. That’s in the Bible. So many times in the Bible we hear the words: Fear not. Celestial messengers approach Mary, Joseph, shepherds and it sounds like those folks were all tempted to run for cover. I get it. But I also get the consistent message, conveyed through biblical characters and through more contemporary characters, that we have not been left alone. There is something to this peace which passes understanding.

Which is not unrelated to the second question as we went around the circle on Friday night. When have you experienced joy? For many folks, the joy was related to the fear. A toddler that wandered away from child care was found. A gravely ill person recovered. Everyone had a story about an experience of joy, which were often stories of deliverance, of healing, or said another way, stories of salvation. They were not only stories of salvation. They were stories of relationship. No one told a story about getting a good grade, or getting a promotion, or getting a nice car. But among the 30 folks there, stories of births of children or grandchildren, stories of weddings, stories of love emerged. And if our Presiding Bishop is right, if these are stories about love, then they are stories about God, present with us in joy and fear.

Take a moment to think about when you’ve been scared, and about when joy has come your way. Maybe you’ll have opportunity to share those stories with someone, around the dinner table, over coffee, at church. How did you navigate those times? Where was God in the mix? And as you reflect on those stories, how might that help you make it through this first week in February?

Wishing for you the peace that passes understanding, blessings in your day from Jay Sidebotham

As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

Jay Sidebotham

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