Monthly Archives: October 2021

Monday Matters (October 25, 2021)

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-Wendell Berry


The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.
-Mahatma Gandhi


When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
-Jimi Hendrix


Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.
-Milan Kundera


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
-Matthew 5:9

I’ve read the beatitudes many times. In this time around, one of the things I’ve noticed (which you all probably have seen forever) is how each beatitude makes a different claim. Each holds a different promise. Some who are blessed will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Some will inherit the earth. Some will be comforted. Some will be filled. Some will receive mercy. Some will see God.

In today’s verse, we note that peacemakers will be called children of God. Think with me about what that means. Aren’t we all God’s children? It occurred to me that maybe what it means in this context is that peacemakers will bear a family resemblance to God. As God is a peacemaker, so those who make peace in our world will be called, seen as, identified as God’s children.

St. Paul spoke about God being our peacemaker, mostly through the ministry of Jesus. The letter to the Ephesians offers a reflection on the mystery of the church where people who had been distant from each other are brought together. In that letter, whether written by Paul or one of his students, we read that God working through Christ is our peace: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:13,14) Jesus, as he prepared to leave his disciples, said “Peace I leave with you.” (John 14:27) It was admittedly an other-worldly kind of peace (not as the world gives). So what does that other-worldly peace look like, that might create a sense of resemblance to God?

Peacemakers are those who do that work. And it can be work. Consider it first on a global scale. Yitzhak Rabin, whose work for peace ultimately made him an assassin’s target, spoke about peacemaking this way: “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” I suspect both sides of that peace agreement felt they were dealing with unsavory enemies. But they signed an agreement.

A bit closer to home, partisan divides in our nation make it important that we figure out how to live with people we disagree with, without resorting to violence. As Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.” At the same time, the refrain “No peace without justice” means that peacemaking is not a matter of papering over differences or ignoring disparity. As Desmond Tutu has taught us, truth and reconciliation go hand in hand.

In our churches, in our liturgy, we act out peacemaking in the eucharist. We exchange the peace. It can become rote, even an occasion for exchanges of pleasantries, where people compliment each other on a good haircut or a strong fashion statement, or marvel or grieve over last nights’ sport scores. But that liturgical moment has huge importance, as it says that the work of peacemaking must always go on in the church, where injury often takes place, and where there is always a path toward reconciliation. The work of peacemaking must happen before we are fed spiritually with the bread and wine.

We have opportunity to be peacemakers in our homes, in our closest relationships, where peace is often the most difficult to achieve. Someone once told me that the Bible is really just a story of sibling rivalry. From the days of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, David’s rebellious sons, Jesus’ brothers, scripture tells us that peace in our homes may take work.

Maybe it all begins with doing the work that will bring peace in our hearts. That begins with carving out quiet time, like Milan Kundera with his dog. That comes with a deepening trust in God’s care and provision, gratitude for the love from which we can never be separated, love that calls us to freedom from anxiety, inviting us to give thanks in all things.

In our lives, there are all kinds of opportunities to be peacemakers. Is there some way you can take on that holy work this week? Is there some way you can pray (in word and action) for peace in our world, in our churches, in our homes, in our hearts? Apparently, it’s what children of God do.

-Jay Sidebotham

Please join us November 4th at 7pm Eastern

RenewalWorks: Connect with Jerusalem Greer and Jay Sidebotham
to discuss My Way of Love for Small Groups

Join our RenewalWorks: Connect email list to receive more details and the Zoom link

Monday Matters (October 18, 2021)

Purity of heart is to will one thing.
-Soren Kierkegaard


Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.
-Psalm 51:10


The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire.
-Psalm 12.6


I do not think “purity” means perfection, nor is it an unreachable goal. When Jesus calls us to purity of heart, he’s calling us to an inner journey toward an ever-widening heart of love and compassion for all others, all creation, and the Creator. Purity of heart or inner purity is a process, a way of life, not a static goal. He calls us to a soft heart that beats, not a cold heart of stone. When understood this way, this Beatitude becomes an exciting invitation to an inner journey of love, compassion, nonviolence, and peace.
-John Dear

Purity of heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
-Matthew 5:8

The beatitude before us today, with its promise that the pure in heart will see God, reminds me of a favorite, rather strange short story entitled Revelation by Flannery O’Connor. Written towards the end of her too short life, the story features good Southern Christians, one woman in particular named Ruby Turpin. Ruby’s religion is unattractively mixed up with her own sense of superiority, her racism, her self-righteousness. (Have you ever heard of such a thing?)

The story ends as Mrs. Turpin has a vision of a procession, people crossing a bridge of light from Earth to Heaven. The people who ascend first are the ones Mrs. Turpin regarded as white and black trash, freaks and lunatics at the bottom on Ruby Turpin’s hierarchy. They ascend as “joyous, disorderly Christian soldiers.” The last in line include those like herself and her husband, though as they march upward “she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”

I was interested to learn that Flannery O’Connor, toward the end of her life, signed some letters as Mrs. Turpin, perhaps indicating that she detected some degree of self-righteous superiority in herself.

Purity of heart suggests sincerity. I had been once told that the root of the word “sincerity” has to do with burning away wax so metal can be made pure. Apparently, that is probably not true, which is too bad, because it ought to be. It would have served my purposes to say that purity of heart, a.k.a., sincerity, is about burning away those (perhaps impure) aspects of our life, those parts of our heart that draw us from the love of God, that obscure our vision of God.

The fact is, purity of heart, at least as I look at my own heart, is mostly aspirational. I’m guessing none of us achieve it fully in this life. One of my wise predecessors in ministry, Alan Gates, now Bishop of Massachusetts, repeatedly told his congregation that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Martin Luther said that we are saints and sinners at the same time. So we might as well start by admitting that purity of heart remains a growth opportunity. And then move on to take steps toward that purity, or at least, arrive somewhere in the neighborhood of purity of heart. How might that happen?

Once we’ve admitted that we need to have even our virtues burned away, that our pride about our virtues can be an impediment, we are free to realize that purity of heart has to do with love. It has to do with where we give our heart. Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The desert father, Abba Poemem said: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” So check in. Take your own inventory. Where are you giving your heart? Are you giving your heart to satisfying things?

Then develop practices that might deepen your love of God, love of neighbor, love of your world, love of self. The more that can happen, the closer we come to purity of heart. Growing that love, in all its aspects, has to do with practice. It’s about a relationship with God, and like any relationship, it comes with dedication of time and energy. In the Christian spiritual journey, that’s a matter of gathering for worship, commitment to service, rhythms of silence and prayer and study, especially study of the scripture through which the Spirit speaks, discernment about what we watch and what we won’t watch, what we listen to and what we won’t listen to, what we believe and what we refuse to believe. In all of these areas, we take steps toward purity of heart.

As we take those steps, ever purer hearts recognize dependence on God to lead us in the journey. That movement doesn’t happen because of our own wisdom or resources or fortitude or virtue. (Remember Mrs. Turpin.) It is a gift, a grace. Can we accept that gift this week, in some way, great or small? When that happens, we might just get glimpses of God. How cool is that?

-Jay Sidebotham

Please join us November 4th at 7pm Eastern

RenewalWorks: Connect with Jerusalem Greer and Jay Sidebotham
to discuss My Way of Love for Small Groups

Join our RenewalWorks: Connect email list to receive more details and the Zoom link

Monday Matters (October 11, 2021)

Matthew 18:23-34
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Lord have mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
-Matthew 5:7

When Shakespeare wrote that the quality of mercy is not strained, it’s apparent he never got stuck in traffic. When I’m driving, and find myself in the wrong lane, I seek the mercy of other drivers to let me in. It is sometimes forthcoming, sometimes not. I’m grateful when I receive mercy. Yet when I’m in the correct lane, and some clueless bozo tries to squeeze into my lane, I only grudgingly let them in, usually with some thoughts about their ineptitude as a driver.

So today we talk about receiving and offering mercy, strained or not. There’s probably no better way to explain this beatitude then to share the parable Jesus told about a man who received mercy and then failed to show mercy to someone else. (That story is included above.) It suggests a dynamic implicit in the Lord’s prayer, which is basically that our asking for forgiveness is somehow related to our willingness to offer forgiveness. Our demonstration of mercy is connected to our receiving mercy.

So how might we grow in our capacity to be merciful, when often that goes against our instincts? As far as I’m concerned, showing mercy can at times take some work. It can call for intention. As I thought about that kind of intention, a few thoughts came to mind, triggered by Jesus’ parable, thoughts about what it takes to be merciful.

First, remember a time when you have been shown mercy. What did that feel like? Was it something you felt you deserved, or did it simply come to you as an act of grace, showered down on us to continue to channel Shakespeare? If it came to you as grace, as gift, how did that feel? Was it a joy or were you like Javert in Les Miserables who couldn’t bear that he was in a position where he was dependent on someone showing him mercy. He took it as an indication of weakness. He literally could not live with this view of the universe.

Second, if you find yourself being asked to show mercy to someone who has somehow done you wrong, take a deep breath and put yourself in the place of that person, the one asking for mercy. What is going on with them? What causes them to act as they did? Maybe that involves a conversation about the offending act. Maybe that calls for nothing more or less than prayer for that person. That can often be a way to get to mercy.

Third, consider whether the offense that calls you to show mercy is something that you actually need to work on in yourself. Maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this, but sometimes when I get worked up about something somebody has done, when something really irritates me about another person, I find after a bit of reflection, or perhaps some feedback from folks I trust, that I’m guilty of the very thing that makes me want to withhold mercy. Funny how that works. Sort of funny.

The bottom line: we all need to have mercy shown us. So if we want to know mercy, we need to show mercy. While I believe that is true, I also find it kind of annoying. Which is where the work comes in. If you do nothing else to try to live into this beatitude, think about the wideness of God’s mercy, wider than the sea. Celebrate the love of God broader than the measure of our minds. Ask God to help in that process, which may well be why in the liturgy we repeat, again and again: Lord have mercy.

-Jay Sidebotham

Please join us November 4th at 7pm Eastern

RenewalWorks: Connect with Jerusalem Greer and Jay Sidebotham
to discuss My Way of Love for Small Groups

Join our RenewalWorks: Connect email list to receive more details and the Zoom link

Monday Matters (October 4, 2021)

The righteous wisdom of St. Francis on his feast day:

We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.


If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.


No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.


While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where these is hatred, let me sow love.

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
-Matthew 5:6

In the blessing printed above (the beatitude before us this morning), Jesus builds on his first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit. As we discussed a few weeks ago, here’s another way to think about what it means to be poor in spirit: Blessed are those who know their need of God. It’s a blessing on those who are in touch with the God-shaped space inside each one of us.

So how will that space be filled? Today we hear that it has to do with righteousness, a word that calls for some unpacking. I’m wondering what associations you have with that word.

It’s easy to think of righteousness in moralistic terms. A righteous person does all the right things, toes the line, checks every box, a spiritual over-achiever, on the spiritual dean’s list. Ever met one of those? Not always the most attractive types. It’s easy for a righteous person to morph into a self-righteous person, like the guy in Jesus’ parable who looks at the tax collector and says: Thank God I’m not like that person. It’s also easy to think of righteousness as a matter of being right, which in religious circles often means that somebody else must be wrong, a prideful frame of mind that can be so toxic.

I have been helped along the way by the way St. Paul uses the word “righteous.” He saw it as a matter of relationship, about being rightly related to God, to others and to the world. The Greek word (transliterated as dikaiosune) can also be translated as justified. As an art director, I always connected that with justified type, which is a way of saying that type on a page has been set in right relationship. It has been aligned.

Jesus announces blessing on those who seek that kind of alignment, who hunger and thirst for those kind of relationships. Presumably, they realize they haven’t achieved it yet. Jesus came to help us with that process of alignment, or perhaps more accurately, with that realignment. At the church where I’m serving, as we have contemplated emergence from COVID, we have adopted wisdom from the Milwaukee Airport. At that airport, after you go through TSA, with socks and belts and watches and wallets and bags all over the place, there’s an area set aside by a big sign that reads: Recombobulation Area. In oh so many ways, we could use that kind of space right now. Maybe the beatitude should read: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for recombobulation.

And thanks be to God, on this particular day, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we have an amazing model of someone who did that. He has been called the most admired and least imitated of all the saints. He speaks to us of righteousness, in the sense of being rightly related to God, to creation, to others, to himself.

He lived in loving relationship with all of creation, brother son and sister moon, negotiating and calming menacing wolves, preaching to the birds. (That’s why on his day, we have blessing of the animals. One year I blessed a big iguana who arrived at church in a snugli, having traveled to church with his owner on the subway.) Francis lived in loving relationship with others, taking on a life of poverty in order to serve those his society deemed as least, living out the sense of the Greek word for righteousness translated as justice. He lived in loving relationship with God, as he hungered and thirsted to be a channel of God’s peace. Not his own peace, but God’s peace. He lived in loving relationship with the church, as he answered Jesus’ call from the cross: Rebuild my church. And as a saint remembered over the centuries for unbridled joy, it seems to me that he arrived at right relationship with himself.

Thank God for his life and ministry and witness. Let’s see this week if we can not only express our admiration for him, but also find ways to imitate him. Let your creative imagination go to work: How can you be an instrument, a channel of God’s peace this week? Do you hunger and thirst for that kind of life?

-Jay Sidebotham

Episcopal Church announces ‘My Way of Love for Small Groups’ resource for spiritual growth

Responding to a hunger for deeper discipleship among Episcopal congregations, creators of the My Way of Love initiative announce an upcoming new spiritual journey guide, video and other materials designed for small groups.

“My Way of Love for Small Groups” expands on the individualized spiritual journey laid out in My Way of Love and offers step-by-step guidance, scriptures, prayers, and reflections for nine weekly group gatherings. The resources will be available in early October; a sample can be found at this link online.

“Participating in ‘My Way of Love for Small Groups’ is a great community builder and especially appropriate for smaller congregations,” writes Jay Sidebotham, founder of RenewalWorks, in the guide’s introduction. “We believe you’ll find it to be a great process for a vestry study, undergirding confirmation classes, informing a teaching series in youth group, or as part of a standard Bible study or prayer group.”

Read the full news release

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog