Monthly Archives: July 2022

Monday Matters (July 25, 2022)


O Dear Lord,
three things I pray:
to see you more clearly,
to love you more dearly
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

More thoughts on pride from C.S.Lewis:


Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.

When man comes into the presence of God he will find, whether he wishes it or not, that all those things which seemed to make him so different from the men of other times, or even from his earlier self, have fallen off. He is back where he always was, where every man always is.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility…Accord-ing to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”


Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
-Matthew 7:3-5

In 1970, Sesame Street recycled an old joke. Bert approaches Ernie who appears on screen with a banana in his ear. Bert says: You have a banana in your ear. Ernie doesn’t respond. Bert repeats: You have a banana in your ear. Nothing from Ernie. Bert finally gets Ernie’s attention, again tells him that he has a banana in his ear. Ernie says: I can’t hear you. I have a banana in my ear.

I wonder if Sesame Street writers had read today’s verse from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus presents his own funny image, one that might lend itself to cartoon. Someone with a log in their eye is trying to fine tune a speck in somebody else’s eye. The log-blinded person seems clueless about what is getting in the way of clear vision, kind of like that Muppet with a banana in his ear.

It’s a reminder of how many times in the gospels Jesus addresses blindness. His many healings of physical blindness provided a way of saying that folks can be blind in other ways as well, blind spiritually, blind in the ways we regard God and each other, blind to the needs of a broken world. That condition seems especially true for really religious folks, the good church-goers of Jesus’ day. Maybe even clergy.

Jesus speaks of hypocrites, which reminds me of what some people have said when I ask if they are part of a church. People will sometimes say that they don’t go to church because it’s just full of hypocrites. To which I can only respond: Guilty as charged. So what’s the answer? What are we to do?

An ancient prayer which became popular in the musical GODSPELL (see above) asked that among other things we would see more clearly. In today’s passage, it seems that if we wish to come to clarity, we need help to make that happen.

And we’ve got work to do on ourselves. The work on ourselves (with a metaphorical log blocking our own vision) can be a lot more extensive than the work we imagine other people need to do (a speck of dust blocking theirs).

I found myself wondering what the log-in-the-eye represents. What is the thing, the big thing, that keeps me from seeing clearly? If I had to boil it down to one thing, I guess it would be the sin of pride. C.S.Lewis wrote a lot about pride and how it blocks vision. He said: A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

He continues: There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit.

Lewis says that the opposite virtue is humility, which may suggest that the pathway of humility is the key to log removal. Tim Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, speaks of gospel-humility. Its essence is “not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

We come to this gospel-humility in a number of ways. Worship helps, a way of seeing that our lives unfold in the presence of a power greater than our own. Gratitude helps, a way of seeing that we are on the receiving end of grace, that goodness comes to us not because we’re so magnificent, but because God is. Service helps, a way of seeing that we are connected to each other. Prayer (especially confession) helps, a way of seeing that we don’t always get it right, but that help is available. All of those things help with log-removal. All so we can see more clearly. And love more dearly. And follow more nearly. Day by day.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (July 18, 2022)


Psalm 37:1-10

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Judgement Day

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. –
-Matthew 7:1,2

From a column that appeared on July 8 in the NY TIMES, a guest essay by Anne Lamott on the subject of prayer, as a reflection of her relationship with God:

I will have horrible thoughts about others, typically the Christian right or the Supreme Court, or someone who has seriously crossed me, whose hair I pray falls out or whose book fails. I say to God, as I do every Sunday in confession: “Look — I think we can both see what we have on our hands here. Help me not be such a pill.” It is miserable to be a hater. I pray to be more like Jesus with his crazy compassion and reckless love. Some days go better than others. I pray to remember that God loves Marjorie Taylor Greene exactly the same as God loves my grandson, because God loves, period. God does not have an app for Not Love. God sees beyond each person’s awfulness to each person’s needs. God loves them, as is. God is better at this than I am.

Anne Lamott has also noted that the difference between you and God is that God doesn’t think He’s you. All of which brings us to Jesus’ wisdom in today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Apparently knowing us quite well, he speaks about the ways we judge others. We obviously make many judgments on any given day. We have to make decisions. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about.

So what do you think he’s after in this passage? What does it say about us when we judge others? What does it say about those others whoever they may be, i.e., the people we judge? What does it say about what we think about God?

Take them in order. First, what does our propensity for judgment say about us? Have you ever heard someone say: Who am I to judge? It’s a little like someone saying: Bless your heart. There’s always more behind the statement. Who am I to judge, but let me tell you why I think that person is off track. Let me tell you why God should be upset with that person. There’s a gracious dose of hubris implicit in judging. It suggests we see ourselves doing God’s job for God. Here’s the problem: We don’t know as much as God knows. We don’t love as much as God loves.

Then what does it say about how we regard others? What does it mean if we find ourselves passing judgment on others? It can only mean that we think on some deeper level that we are better than those people, a particular temptation for religious folks. It can’t help but bring division. Jesus suggests that the spirit that inclines us to judge others will come back to bite us. The judgment we give will be the judgment we receive. If that’s the field we choose to play on, we will undoubtedly get smacked with judgment ourselves.

Truth be told, it seems that judging other people probably does little to change other people. Have you ever really “won” a political argument or made headway on social media? All that that kind of judgment does is damage community. Once we get into the mode of judging, it can be hard to know where to stop. Pretty soon, we’ve ended up judging everyone around us.

I recognize in myself a potent judgmental streak. I think about where that comes from. I can get really judgmental about the people and communities and ways of thinking that made me judgmental. Talk about a loop! As Anne Lamott prays: Help me not be such a pill.

Finally, what does our judgment say about how we regard God? It implies that God is not up to the task, that God can’t be trusted to be the ultimate judge, that maybe we know better than God does. It implies that we think that the unconditional forgiveness at the heart of the gospel is not really all that unconditional, that it depends on our own judgments, that we become final arbiter in some way.

So what do we do? We recognize we’re all in this together, that every one of us could be judged, that every one of us needs mercy. We each and all need to be given a break. On a regular basis, it helps to give thanks that mercy has come our way. It can be work, it can involve discipline to do that, but it’s worth the trip, even though it’s much more delicious to judge. But as noted, while I’m actually quite judgmental, I have a sense that if I could stop or curtail judgment, I would enjoy life more. I would enjoy relationships more. I would experience greater freedom. I’d be less of a pill.

Psalm 37 has been a help to me in moments when I feel inclined to judge. Portions of that psalm appear above. When I get on my high horse, it helps to turn it over to God, remembering the psalmist’s call, the warning to refrain from fretting about others. It leads only to evil.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (July 11, 2022)

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation
-St. Paul, II Corinthians 6.2


In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.
-Henry David Thoreau


Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures. And we must mind today.
-Sophocles, Antigone


Every instant of our lives is essentially irreplaceable: you must know this in order to concentrate on life.
-Andre Gide


We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.


Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.
-Blaise Pascal, Pensees


How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
-Annie Dillard

On this day the Lord has acted. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
-Psalm 118:24


Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-Matthew 6: 34

In a time in which change swirls around us, as institutions and norms we once thought immovable begin to shift, it’s comforting to know one thing that remains constant: 8am worship in Episcopal churches. From week to week, decade to decade, in some places generation to generation, same folks, same pews, same words.

I had my own taste of such immutability at my church in Chicago. An elderly parishioner attended our 8am service every week. Every week. If she wasn’t there, I knew she was ill and I would call her. Each and every Sunday, this 90 year old woman would greet me at the door after the service with these words: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” I think she wanted to make sure I got the message. While it may have the scent of Hallmark card, I took it to heart, as reflective of the wisdom in today’s verse from the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s the wisdom of the recovery movement that encourages people to live a day at a time. It’s the wisdom of the practice of yoga, in which one steps on a mat and suspends reflection on the past or plans for the future, an exercise in being present.

It is not easy to live each day at a time. We find ourselves caught between the what-ifs of our past, and the what-ifs of our future. It takes faith to focus on what is set before us in the present, to see the ways we can be faithful in each and every moment. My brain (a.k.a., my monkey mind) is often hijacked by regrets over the past or anxiety about the future. That keeps me from attending to what is right in front of me. It takes faith to give thanks for the gift of each day, to see each day, even stormy days, as loaded with possibility, as a stage set for God’s work in me and among us, as the very next immediate concrete way to follow Jesus.

When I find it challenging, I think back on an ecumenical service I would lead on a regular basis at a nursing home. Some people could make their way to the chapel without assistance. Others arrived in wheelchairs. A few reclined on gurneys, unable to move their bodies. Some were alert and attentive to my insightful homilies. Others snored. While the liturgy was sort of generically protestant to accommodate the crowd, we always ended with this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

If those folks could pray for the day, taking it as it comes, a day at a time, I was inspired to do the same. I’m especially taken by the phrase that calls us to face each day gallantly. Monday, July 11. You are given this day. How will you live into it most fully, most faithfully, most joyfully, most courageously? How will you do so gallantly?

I close with wisdom from Annie Dillard. She reflects on writing, but what she has to say applies to the daily writing of the story of our lives:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Have a blessed day.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (July 4, 2022)


Selections from the readings chosen by the church for the observance of Independence Day:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.
-Deuteronomy 10:18


The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works.
-Psalm 145:8,9


All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
-Hebrews 11:16


Jesus said, “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

Happy Fourth of July

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
-Matthew 6: 31-33

As we observe Independence Day, a celebration of our nation, we coincidentally arrive at the point in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus asks us to think about the kingdom we seek. His teaching implies that there might be several kingdoms calling to us at once, grabbing hold of us, pulling us in different directions. Ever feel that way?

Apparently aware of these forces, Jesus tells his disciples to put first things. Keep the main thing the main thing. Seek first the kingdom. So I’m wondering for starters how the image of the kingdom of God strikes you. Is it something from another time and place? Does it help to speak about the Rule or Sovereignty or Reign of God? In my mind, we’re talking about a sphere of influence. That place where God’s graceful intention for all of creation is fulfilled. It’s the fulfillment of that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s why the gospels seem to regard the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God as interchangeable.

I found myself thinking about the kingdoms calling to me these days. Where am I giving my heart? What sphere of influence holds sway over me? The empire of our work and vocation, our family relationships and commitments, our sense of achievement and worth? On this holiday, there is certainly the kingdom represented by our national identification, love expressed in patriotism. That can be a beautiful thing, a cause for celebration and gratitude on a day like today. There’s much to be thankful for this day.

But I’m still processing the images of insurrectionists carrying Christian images into the Capitol on January 6, self-proclaimed patriots leading prayers and toting Bibles as the Capitol was stormed. Russell Moore, president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that when he saw a “Jesus Saves” sign displayed near a gallows built by rioters, “I was enraged to a degree that I haven’t been enraged in memory. This is not only dangerous and unpatriotic but also blasphemous, presenting a picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ that isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ and is instead its exact reverse.”

Years ago, Upton Sinclair said: When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Recent developments in our civic life make me realize the perilous persistence of the conflation of nationalism and American Christianity. It underscores the importance of saying Jesus is Lord instead of saying Caesar is Lord (Caesar or his modern counterparts).

And what kind of Lord is Jesus? He is that Lord who came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45). He came to tear down dividing walls not build them (Ephesians 2:14). He came to stretch out arms of love so that in him there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28).

With that in mind, how do we as people of faith keep first things first, especially on this holiday. Start, as always, with prayer. Independence Day is a liturgical feast, as we pray that God will bless America, as we give thanks for so many blessings. We also ask, in the words of a national hymn, that God will mend our every flaw. There’s ample room for that kind of healing work.

And then we consider the various kingdoms that lay claim on us, and seek to have them align with the Kingdom of God. By holy coincidence, readings chosen by our church for Independence Day (excerpts in the column on the left) give wonderful insight into what the Kingdom of God might look like here on earth. When partisanship heightens our emotions, we hear Jesus speak of a kingdom marked by love of enemies. When we may be led to believe that our kingdom needs to be defined by who is not in it, we hear from the Hebrew Scriptures that we are to welcome the stranger. When we feel disconnected from others, we hear a call to compassion. We read from the letter to the Hebrews about the great characters of the Old Testament. They longed for a better country. All of those are ways to seek God’s kingdom first. Jesus promises that if we do that, the rest will fall in place.

Perhaps the hope for our nation in troubled times is to seek first the kingdom of God. Let us pray in word and action for that. Maybe it’s the hope for each one of us as individuals as well. Take this week to think about what it means for you to put first things first.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.