Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (August 10, 2020)

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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 17:20-23
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
-Ephesians 4:1-6
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:27-28

Respect

From the Baptismal Covenant: Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

Every human being? Really?

When I was 17, I traveled to India on a student exchange program, where I encountered a depth and breadth of poverty I had not witnessed before as a sheltered, suburban kid. That was a few years ago, but one indelible memory lingers, a moment as I passed through a crowded train station. A boy about my age was lying face down on a dolly with four wheels, pulling his way along the platform at breakneck speed, asking for money. His misshapen legs were nothing but bones, clearly unable to support his body. I wondered about his journey. I found myself thinking about our connection, our brotherhood. Why were his circumstances so different from mine? As you can tell, I still think about that.

Years later, I accompanied my daughter as she began work at a school in Tanzania. It was a five hour drive from the airport to the school, a trip through desolate terrain. As we bumped along a rugged two-lane road in the desert, I saw a herd of sheep led by a young boy, maybe ten years old. He was out in the middle of nowhere. No village, no parent in sight. Why wasn’t he in school? Did God have his eye on this young man as much as God had his eye on my own son?

Last Thursday, an editorial appeared in the N.Y.Times written by Elizabeth Bruenig, discussing ways that the American Catholic church is responding to the current crisis in race relations. The column quoted Gloria Purvis, who hosts a popular Catholic radio show. Her show recently featured episodes devoted to saints who resisted racism, and the reality of systemic racism itself. Her comments set off a wave of recrimination from indignant listeners. Those attacks caused her to say: Racism makes a liar of God. It says not everyone is made in his image. What a horrible lie from the pit of hell.

Nkose Johnson died of AIDS at age 12 in South Africa. Before he died, he spoke to an AIDS conference of thousands, sharing the wisdom of John Wesley who said: Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are. The experience of this young boy was chronicled in a book by journalist Jim Wooten. The title of the book: We Are All The Same.

I’m not sure why all these images came to me this past week. I’m not entirely clear on the message behind them.  But we are experiencing so much division in our world. Tribalism of the worst sort. The church at its best hears words of scripture that we are in this together. We are all the same, if for no other reason than the one articulated by St. Paul: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The gospel invites us to another way, reflected in biblical passages above.

Our Prayer Book speaks of the bonds of our common humanity. In the baptismal covenant, we not only promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We also claim to see Christ in all persons, reflecting Gloria Purvis’ creed that says everyone is made in God’s image. Everyone. We are all the same. Or as Dr. King said, we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” and “tied together in the single garment of destiny.”

Think about the expansiveness of that vision this week. In your mind, and in your practice, how do you see the dignity born by every human being? Is it hard to believe? Is there anyone outside of that window? Is it someone in your family, your church, your workplace? Is it someone with a different religious or political point of view? Is it someone who looks different than you? How might you grow just a bit this week in respecting the dignity of every human being? Every one.

I guess what I want to share this morning is that it’s a growth edge for me. Maybe it is for you, too.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.  Register here

Monday Matters (August 3, 2020)

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A reading from St. Paul’s 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 toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

May the seeds of peace be scattered, birthing trees whose shade gives us rest.
-from the song “All is not lost” by The Brilliance

Do no harm

Years ago, in the first years of my ministry, I attended an orientation session for Sunday school teachers, led by a wise mentor. He spoke with the teachers as they began a year of classes, and offered this simple instruction, borrowed from another healing profession. He told the teachers: “Do no harm.”

I carried that wisdom with me throughout ministry. It’s been important over the years as I have come to hear too many stories of folks wounded by organized religion (or disorganized religion in the case of the Episcopal Church). Maybe you are one of them. If so, I pray you will know healing and blessing.

As a representative of organized religion (i.e., clergy), I am haunted by this verse in the psalms: Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me. (Psalm 69:7) I confess that I’ve done that.

“Do no harm.” In subsequent years, I would apply that wisdom with teenagers when we participated in work trips. Small groups of teenagers would be sent to do home repairs. Very few had construction experience. Many had short attention spans. Some were more interested in, how shall I say, social life. There was no way I was qualified to serve as foreman. So as we would begin our work, I prayed with fear and trembling for the safety of our young people. I prayed for the well-being of the residents. I implored the teenagers, as we were given opportunity to enter these residents’ lives, to work on their homes: “Do no harm.”

Over the years, that didn’t seem quite enough. I added a related bit of guidance. I offered a simple challenge for our efforts: “Let’s leave the place better than we found it.” It was reassuring to me when I heard that same instruction from a wise guide, Cookie Cantwell, who does amazing work with young people at our church. Again and again, as she gathers, leads and inspires our youth, she teaches them that they don’t have to do anything super-human. They simply have to take a step toward something better. They are called to make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

That challenge applies to our own journeys of faith, in our homes and churches, in our culture. As we have celebrated the life, ministry and witness of John Lewis, I came across words he addressed to a group of young people: “We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.” Leave it a little better than we found it. John Lewis did that. In the face of daunting challenges, this wisdom provides accessible steps forward. You don’t have to do everything. But you can do something. Progress not perfection.

It’s wisdom expressed by St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians, an excerpt printed above. Paul reflected on his own spiritual journey. There were things about his past that he regretted, ways he had done damage. He had fallen short. But giving up the hope of a better past, he instead strained forward to what lies ahead, keeping his eyes on the prize. For us, it’s the same, keeping our eyes on the prize, language from the New Testament that animated the movement for civil rights in this nation. It can help us take the next steps in our own journey.

I don’t know if you’re feeling this way, but as I think about our broken world, about the considerable coincidental crises we face, crises of health, economics and race relations, the enormity of these challenges seems daunting. That’s precisely the moment to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us this week to maybe just that one thing, perhaps a very small thing, that we can do to make things better, more healthy, more holy, more whole.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.  Register here

Monday Matters (July 27, 2020)

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Philippians 2:5-11
 
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 
 
Chapter 53: The Rule of St. Benedict
 
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims. Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, but prayer must always precede a kiss of peace because of the delusions of the devil. All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. The superior may break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it is a day of special fast which cannot be broken. The brothers, however, observe the usual fast. The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple (Ps. 47 [48}:10). Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect. 

Welcome

Back in the day, I did a fair amount of traveling for RenewalWorks, often meeting in churches in towns I’d never visited before. I loved the adventure, the exploration, the learning. With the help of Google, I’d find my way, but I was always glad to see signs that confirmed I was on the right track. The signs read: The Episcopal Church welcomes you. I could spot them a mile away. I’m grateful for them. Good branding. As far as it goes.

In recent days, I’ve had occasion to think about what it means to be welcoming. Our church is putting together a parish profile. I’m reminded that every profile I ever read describes the church as welcoming. My experience of church visits can suggest otherwise. The folks who craft those profiles are usually folks at the core of those communities, folks who feel the welcome, which is wonderful. I contrast that with the young woman I met on the steps of a church in a big city. She looked up at the imposing façade and asked: Am I allowed to go in there?

Last week, Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement, smart guy, faithful disciple, creative Christian, wrote a reflection after nine years as leader of that ministry. He’s done an amazing job, and we are all grateful to him for his leadership. His reflection included comments about the state of the wider church. He explored the quality of our welcome.  He wrote: “We need a new slogan. ‘The Episcopal Church welcomes you,’ sets up a dynamic of a club to which new members of many kinds will be admitted, rather than a mission-focused, outward facing movement in which we seek to make disciples of all nations. It isn’t enough to be nice to people who show up in our churches. We need to get out there and invite people to know the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. We need an active urgent slogan – because we need to be urgently active in the world.”

I’ve played around with supplemental slogans over the years, as I’ve sensed what Scott more ably articulated. Our slogan has been plenty nice. It’s key. But it may not go far enough. Our church in Chicago embraced the following vision: If you come here, you will grow. That helps get at the transforming quality we seek in church, the challenge of the gospel we need in our culture these days. But I’m not sure it says enough about how we connect with the world, or how in the language of RenewalWorks, how we pastor the wider community.

I was thinking about this in morning reflection time last week, as I read from the final chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The passages represent his summing up comments, his so-what factor for this church in a culture not unlike our own. Among other things, he offers this instruction, which might not be a bad slogan: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” (Romans 15)

I like this, because it is rooted not in our own benevolence but in belief about God’s action in Christ, the ways we have been welcomed. It is rooted in a doctrine of grace, of love from which we can never be separated. Think about ways that you in your spiritual journey have been welcomed by Christ. How would you describe that experience? (Maybe you want to journal a bit about that this week.)

Think about how Christ welcomed those he met. By going outside his comfort zone, emptying himself as the letter to the Philippians describes it (included above). By crossing religious, ethnic, social, gender boundaries of his day. By meeting with people he shouldn’t have met with. By offering them a path to transformation, a new way of life. By finding what God was up to in the neighborhood, among Samaritans and other foreigners, criminals, outcasts, scary people possessed by demons, lepers, pariahs, Pharisees, tax collectors, soldiers, rebels, rich people, poor people, and marvel of marvels, good, religiously observant people. Each one of us fits in there somewhere. Each one of us has had grace extended to us. A sign that we really know that grace will be our ability to show that grace to others.

And once we’ve reflected on how we have been welcomed, perhaps we can explore ways to welcome others in that spirit. What would that look like?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for those signs of welcome on street corners. Maybe they just need to say more, something like “The Episcopal Church welcomes you as Christ has welcomed all of us.”

                                           -Jay Sidebotham
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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.

Monday Matters (July 20, 2020)

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From Psalm 30, an example of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation:
7 While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
8 Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.
9 I cried to you, O Lord: I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?”
11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.”
12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
 
A prayer for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, observed later this week:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 
2 Corinthians 5:17,18
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.
 
From Psalm 98
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

 

Summer reading

This summer, I’ve been part of a group studying a book entitled The Spirituality of the Psalms, by Dr. Walter Brueggemann. It’s a great find, a succinct offering (74 pages…we like that) that describes the psalms in their great variety. Dr. Brueggemann identifies psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of new orientation.

Psalms of orientation celebrate the goodness that surrounds us. They are often filled with praise and gratitude, a key part of the spiritual life. But they can sometimes spill over into self-congratulation and complacency. Isn’t God lucky to have me on the team?

Psalms of dis-orientation seem especially appropriate now, as we contend with coincident crises any one of which would normally send us reeling. They suggest times to discover our need of God, our absolute dependence. They can also be times when we feel overwhelmed by forsakenness and despair.

Psalms of new orientation emerge from that disorientation. They call us to sing a new song, to find a new way of being, perhaps move to the new normal for which we all pine. They do not describe a return to the good old days. Instead they speak of new creation.

We can note these varied voices not only in the Psalms, but in other stories in the Bible as well. We see it as communal experience, in the exodus of the children of Israel, the Babylonian exile, the persecution of the early church, as communities of faith ride a roller coaster and come to a new place. It’s the story of individual characters like Joseph, who went from favored son to slave to prisoner to prince of Egypt, a progression which according to the book of Genesis represented the salvation of Israel in a time of global famine.

It’s the story of Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate this week. She was grateful for the ways Jesus delivered her from spirits that  bedeviled her, becoming one of Jesus’s most faithful disciples and ardent supporters. Then she came to the disorientation that took her to the foot of the cross when other disciples fled. In that disorientation, she made her grief-stricken way to the tomb, where she met the risen Lord and became the first witness of Easter faith. Perhaps that’s why one of the readings for her feast day speaks of new creation (See the passage above). In Christ, God makes things new.

We see the progression not only in the psalms, not only in the Bible, but in our own lives. Take a look in your own spiritual rear-view mirror this morning and see if you can identify periods of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation in your own biography. See if you can identify those stages unfolding in a communal sense.

I’ll go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that right now we can best be described as living in unprecedented disorientation. We face unsettling threats to our most fundamental concerns: our health, our financial resources, and our relations with each other in a world where too many people are disregarded and marginalized. It’s true of our families, our churches, our nation, our world.

In the thick of all that, we’ve got to hold on to the possibility, the prospect, the hope of new orientation, new creation. I’m pretty sure we’re not going back to the old normal, the old orientation. I’m not sure I want to. But God is faithful. Something new will be created, and we can be part of that new creation. What will you do this week, even in massive disorientation, to be part of that new creation? Let me know your thoughts. I’m all ears.

-Jay Sidebotham

            

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (July 13, 2020)

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Just about every time I say the Confession, I stop at the lines that admit that I have not loved God with whole heart or loved neighbor as self. There’s not a day in my life when that is not true. Some days, I can get discouraged that I don’t make more progress on this front. Other days, I’m relieved that I don’t need to be perfect. I can look at this as something to work on, something to strive for, something to pray about, something of a growth opportunity.
 
This weekly column comes as part of the RenewalWorks ministry, an effort to focus on spiritual growth opportunities, to make those opportunities the priority in our congregations. As that work has unfolded over the past 7 years, we’ve often been asked what we mean by spiritual growth. How would you answer that?
 
Our working answer: spiritual growth is about love, about growing in love of God and neighbor, following Jesus’ instruction that this kind of love is the path to his abundant, endless life. We believe we grow in love by deepening the relationship  with God and neighbor, engaging in spiritual practices that help us know God better, being of service to those around us, spending time in God’s presence, in conversation with God and neighbor. It seems to me those are ways that love grows.
 
So this morning, as preacher preaches to himself, I wanted to share some thoughts about love from sources wiser, deeper, holier, lovelier. Carry these thoughts with you this week, and see if you can discover the ways that loves wins. 

Love wins.

Love wins. But don’t take my word for it. Hear from these folks this Monday morning.

Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

St. Paul (Romans 8)

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Augustine

To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

William Sloane Coffin

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (from his homily at the royal wedding)

The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, and I quote: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way. There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.”

Presiding Bishop Curry has also famously noted:

If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote this prayer

O God, who can turn our worries into wings of joys and our sorrows into songs of thanks, let not our hearts be so troubled by the tragedies of this life’s moment that we lose sight of the eternal life in your kingdom…Strengthen our resolve to replace hatred with love, tension with trust, and selfishness with caring and community. Heal, O God, all our children so that those who hate and those who are hated, those who hurt and those who are hurt, may grow up in an America and in a world of peace, opportunity, and justice. Amen

Rob Bell

Love wins.

Bubba Wallace, Nascar Driver

Never let anybody tell you [you] can’t do something! God put us all here for a reason. Find that reason and be proud of it and work your tails off every day towards it! All the haters are doing is elevating your voice and platform to much greater heights! Last thing, always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come as naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS. Love wins.

Jesus (John 13:35)

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.                  

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters

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What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole – of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”
-from David Brooks’ column in the NYTimes last Friday. A good read.
 
Selections from readings chosen for the observance of Independence Day
 
The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing.
-Deuteronomy 10:17,18
 
The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
-Psalm 145:15-17
 
All of these died in faith without having received the promises…but as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
-Hebrews 11:13,14
 
Jesus said…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
-Matthew 5:43

We’re in this together

 

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.                        

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The story is told of Mayor Laguardia (airport namesake…not necessarily an honor, but that’s another column). He showed up at a night-time courtroom in 1935. An older woman was on trial for stealing a loaf of bread. The Mayor had taken the place of the judge, as mayors were permitted to do. The woman explained that she stole the food because her unemployed daughter (a single mother) and children were hungry, presumably victims of the Great Depression. The woman admitted her guilt. The Mayor sentenced her to a $10 fine or 10 days in prison. The woman noted that if she had $10 she wouldn’t have stolen bread. She agreed to be imprisoned, but wondered who would care for her family. The Mayor pulled out $10 and paid the fine. Then he addressed the whole group gathered in the courtroom. He said that he was charging everyone in the room 50 cents for living in a city where an old woman has to steal bread to feed her family. They collected almost $500 and gave it to the woman.

These days, I’m feeling like someone in that courtroom. That may be why I love this story, so much so that I’ve probably included it in this column before. Scanning the internet, some doubt its veracity. I’ll simply say that if it’s not true it ought to be. If nothing else, it’s a parable shedding light on what systemic challenges are all about.

This story came to mind as I thought about the community in which I now reside. A wonderful place. In the middle of the night last week, without fanfare, protest, or violence, several Confederate memorials were taken down by the city. They weren’t destroyed. It’s yet to be decided where they’ll be placed (A museum? A cemetery?), but for me, it showed wisdom, courage and initiative from our civic leaders. In the very same week, three policemen in our city made national news, caught on tape making vile, racist comments about violent intentions toward local African-Americans. I’ve been thinking of how, as citizen of this fine town, I’m part of both these developments.

We’ve just celebrated Independence Day. We give thanks for exceptional freedoms many have enjoyed over the years. The day is one of few secular/national holidays (Labor Day and Thanksgiving are the others) that have made it into the church calendar, with readings and prayers to inform our celebration. It is a holy day, set apart to recognize that our common life is both gift and responsibility. It’s interesting to me that the word “independence” does not appear in the Bible but the word “freedom” is all over the place. And that freedom has a purpose. It is meant for service, for life in community. St. Augustine spoke about this responsibility by talking about the God in whose service is perfect freedom.

In the news, there’s debate about whether challenges we face are systemic or just the result of individual, rogue actors. It’s convenient to attribute the brokenness to a few bad apples. It’s more challenging to ask: What’s my part?

Our baptismal covenant calls us each to strive for justice and peace. That’s a call to connect with our community, to recognize our participation or complicity or indifference to systems that are not just, to seize opportunity to change those systems. We see injustice in those systems: our courts, workplaces, families, schools, neighborhoods, churches.

We are called to work for a world marked by respect for the dignity of every human being. We are the body of Christ, connected to all God’s children. Maybe this week, we’ll find opportunity to grow in that, to pastor the community, to see what God is up to in the neighborhood, to share good news in word and action, even if it’s just a small step. Maybe.

                                           -Jay Sidebotham
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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect

What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, July 9, 8pm EDT

We welcome the Rt. Rev. Rob Hirschfeld (Bishop of New Hampshire) and Ms. Tina Pickering, Canon for Congregations in New Hampshire to be our presenters.

Join us via Zoom video conference

Monday Matters (June 22, 2020)

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To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
-Katharine Graham
 
I will try not to panic, to keep my standard of living modest and to work steadily, even shyly, in the spirit of those medieval carvers who so fondly sculpted the undersides of choir seats.
-John Updike
 
Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
-Henri Nouwen
 
There can be no joy in living without joy in work.
-Thomas Aquinas
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
-Psalm 43:3,4
 
I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
             -Jeremiah 23:4
 
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts;
-Psalm 69:6

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Later this week, I’ll observe the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. How did that happen? It’s been an interesting journey, some smooth sailing, some doldrums, some choppy waters, lots of fun rides with the wind of the Holy Spirit at my back. I’ve met so many great people. I’ve had many wonderful teachers. Some of them have even been clergy!

Any anniversary like this prompts a look in the rear-view mirror (mixed metaphor alert!). And in this season of corona-cloister, I’ve been going through old files, stuff I hadn’t looked at in a while.

I came across a letter, written in response to my request for advice. As a new priest, less than one year in, I asked a few people for counsel. I was looking for guidance and I wrote a priest I’d heard a lot about and had had the privilege of meeting one time. At that time, the Rev. Carol Anderson was early in her long-tenured ministry as rector of All Saints Beverly Hills, where she went on to serve for more than 20 years. Many people told me she knew stuff, so I asked if she would share wisdom. She wrote a letter which until recently was in one of many boxes that had moved with me from town to town with being opened.

She was a mentor then. She’s a mentor now. She’s filled that role for so many in our church. I won’t copy the whole letter but she had three bits of advice. In honor of this anniversary, I thought I’d share them. They don’t just apply to clueless clergy like me. They’re good guidelines for anyone trying to figure out what on earth it means to be a person of faith, a disciple, a learner these days.

Her first bit of advice she described as theological (or biblical or doctrinal). She advised me to make every effort to stay grounded in the basic gospel, and as simply as possible. She said it was a matter of knowing Christ, preaching Christ, trusting Christ and his kingdom. She notes that people are spiritually starving because they have not been introduced to a relationship with Christ.

So let me ask: How would you take that advice? If someone asked you for a brief articulation of the gospel, how would you answer? What’s the core for you? What’s the good news? What distracts you, deters you from embracing that core? How have you been introduced to a relationship with Christ? What does that even mean to you? What does it mean to us these days, to connect with Christ the healer in our time of pandemic, to connect with Christ who fed multitudes in our time of economic stress, to connect with Christ who welcomed the outsider in our time of glaring racial injustice?

Second, she advised spending time both being with God and listening to what God wants to do in my life. She confessed that often she was spinning her wheels. She cites Jeremiah 23 as helpful. It talks about shepherds who lead faithfully and those who don’t.

So let me ask: How would take that advice? Does your calendar, your daily or weekly routine, allow time for this kind of connection with the Holy One? How can you work that into your routine?

Finally, she said she needed to accept the charism of leadership and authority that comes with her office, priest and rector. It’s not a matter of being authoritarian but a matter of having authority, grounded in an understanding that we are all instruments of God’s word and life. She included in that profile: being a visionary.

So let me ask: How would you take that advice? What are the gifts you’ve been given, the calling you’ve received? Can you live into that vocation, whatever it may be, a vocation in your family, in your workplace, in your church, in our broken nation?

It’s been a great run. So far. It’s been privilege to do this work. As far as I can tell, it ain’t over. I’m excited about what the next chapter might be, and in the same way that I tried to digest Carol’s advice 30 years ago, I take it to heart right now. I hope it’s of use to you this Monday morning. Let me say as I’ve said before: Thank you, Carol.                                                                   

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (June 15, 2020)

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Choice comments from Evelyn Underhill:
 
If God were small enough to be understood, God would not be big enough to be worshipped.
 
As the genuine religious impulse becomes dominant, adoration more and more takes charge. “I come to seek God because I need Him,” may be an adequate formula for prayer. “I come to adore His splendor and fling myself and all that I have at His feet,” is the only possible formula for worship. 
 
For a lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday
 
The spiritual life of individuals has to be extended both vertically to God and horizontally to other souls; and the more it grows in both directions, the less merely individual and therefore more truly personal it will become. 
 
Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again.
 
On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.
 
The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man’s life; and until he has realized it he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers.

Feast of Evelyn Underhill

Back in the day, I used to do a lot of traveling to meet with congregations and clergy groups. It’s been a big part of my work and I miss it. When I make these trips, I have a few questions I ask. One has to do with spiritual growth. I invite folks to take a look in their own spiritual rear-view mirror and remember a time in life marked by spiritual growth. With that time in mind, I then ask them to think about what was happening in that time, why the growth happened, what were that catalysts. What would you say?

The results I want to report are anecdotal. Hear them with that in mind, but invariably the most common answer I get is that growth came through some kind of crisis or challenge, hardship or suffering. In that crucible, folks got a clearer idea of what mattered, about how resources of faith could help them through tough times.

Our nation now faces three major crises at the same time. Any one of them could have thrown us for a collective loop, crises of health, economics, race relations and justice. So I’m thinking, this may be a time for real spiritual growth. I actually see some of that happening. The hunger for community deepens. Prayer life is enriched. Stories of scripture (many having to do with crisis) speak with more meaning. People of faith take action for equity. Reliance on the power of the Holy One becomes a necessity, as people recognize a need for God. In many ways, the season draws us back to the center, to the basics, to the heart of the matter.

Today is the feast day of Evelyn Underhill, who lived in England (and France) in the first half of the 20th century. She probably got most attention during the 1930’s, a time of striking economic and political challenges. As an aside, it was also during the 1930’s that Forward Movement started, in response to economic and spiritual depression, a movement focused on spiritual growth.

But back to Evelyn. A mystic, she was a person who seemed to know not only about God. She seemed to know God. That connection has drawn people of faith to her ever since. I talk about her a lot because early in my work with RenewalWorks, a colleague shared a letter Ms. Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1930’s, with her observations of the challenges facing the Church of England in her day. Her pointed comments are aimed squarely at the clergy. In my humble opinion, she could have written it last week to all of us, clergy or not.

In that letter, she said that we look to the church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness and prayer. We look to clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. To put it mildly, she confessed disappointment with what was being offered. She said: “In public worship they often fail to evoke the spirit of adoration because they do not possess it themselves. Hence the dreary character of many church services and the result in the increasing alienation of the laity from institutional forms.” Ouch. She goes on to remind the Archbishop (why did he need reminding?) that God is the interesting thing about religion, and that people are hungry for God. In her mind, care for the interior spirit is the first duty of every priest. (Substitute: every person of faith).

You can read the whole letter yourself–it would be worth your while. Here’s a link to it. In a time of crisis, she saw opportunity for spiritual growth, and it had everything to do with a return to basics. I don’t know about you, but sheltering in place has helped me realize with greater clarity what is important and what is not. I sense these crises are prompting such realizations for our churches. May we never forget that God is the interesting thing about religion, and that people are hungry for God. So hungry.

What would Evelyn Underhill have to say about your spiritual life, and mine? How can the crises with which we all contend prompt our own spiritual growth? What are you learning? How are you growing? What lessons might unfold this week?                                                                              

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (June 8, 2020)

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On this day the Lord has acted. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

-Psalm 118:24 

Glory Days

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
I’m gonna drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it,
But I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of…

Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days.

-Bruce

 

The heart may freeze or it can burn.
The pain will ease if I can learn.

There is no future.
There is no past.
I live each moment as my last.

There’s only us.
There’s only this.
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road.
No other way.
No day but today.

-From the musical Rent

 

What is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish…this also is vanity.

-Ecclesiastes 2:17-19

Puzzling

It’s come to this. I’m doing jigsaw puzzles. I’ve never been that interested. I didn’t get the point. But sheltering in place has brought change. I’ve been presented with challenging puzzles, lots of pieces looking exactly the same. And I’m hooked. I just have to find one more piece. Just one more. One reason I’ve never done these puzzles is that you spend all this time and end up with some beautiful picture and then you rip it up and put it back in the box. Done.

Reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which we’ve been reading on a daily basis lately. The key word: vanity. You work hard all life and then it’s done and who knows what happens to the work you did. Some jerk follows who undoes it, does it a different way, doesn’t get what you’ve done, doesn’t care. If I was in charge of the final edit, I’m not sure I would have included Ecclesiastes in the Bible. But thanks be to God, no one appointed me editor. There it is and here we are, taking in its sometimes puzzling message, which actually may have a word for us this morning.

I grew up the child of an ad-guy, okay a mad man (as in Madison Avenue). My memories were that my father and colleagues were enviably fun and successful, witty and attractive, not to mention well-compensated. Glory days. As decades have passed, as my father has passed, many of those colleagues have ended their lives in isolation, often debilitated, sometimes broke in all kinds of ways that humans break, festive life an ancient memory. Maybe you know similar stories. As I visit nursing homes, I always want to know the stories of men and women who live there. Too often those stories are forgotten. They can’t remember. They can no longer speak of them. The stuff of Ecclesiastes.

When I’m leading worship, the blessing I often offer at the end begins: “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.” Many people use and love this blessing. It touches people unlike others. I think it’s because we all know that life is indeed short. Just blink. The prayer invites us to use the time we’ve been given for good. The advent of Covid and the tragic death of George Floyd sharpen our attention with pain and urgency. The times in which we live pose this stewardship question: What do we do with the gift of the time we’ve been given? This day?

Let me tell you about Neva, who came to our 7:30 service every Sunday. She was in her nineties. Nothing could get in the way of attendance. I believe if an earthquake was followed by a blizzard by a blackout by a tornado by a bomb scare by a pandemic, she would still be in church. On the few occasions she wasn’t there, I’d phone her. There aren’t many parishioners I could do that with in a culture where regular church attendance no longer means weekly. Every Sunday, as she left the church, she would remind me: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Thanks be to God, in the symphony of scripture, in the choir of biblical voices some of which are dissonant, Ecclesiastes is not the only message. A message of hope in God’s future is at the core of scripture, for sure. But let’s just listen this morning to Ecclesiastes and ask: What will we do with the gift of this day?

Start by giving thanks for the gift of today, the present. Then maybe ask how to be of service in this day, a day marked by health crisis, economic challenge, racial injustice. Ask how to love God and neighbor more deeply. How to live into values held dear just that one day. Maybe at the end of that day, check-in and see if you were able to live into those values. In our own lives, in our families, in our churches, in our denomination, in our nation, we can give thanks for good things in the past. But we need not focus on former glory days, but on what God asks of us now. As St. Paul said, now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation.

Okay, back to the puzzle.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (June 1, 2020)

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Psalm 113
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
 
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
 
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
 
* * *
 
God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.
-Jurgen Moltmann
 
Sometimes you have to go outside and yell your prayers.
-The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, on participating in a march this weekend
 
 
* * * 
 

Here’s another way to think of what goes into a psalm of lament:

  • Protest: Tell God what is wrong.
  • Petition: Tell God what you want God to do about it.
  • Praise: An expression of trust in God today, based in His character and His action in the past, even if you can’t yet see…

Lament

How to remember and honor all those who have died from this virus? 100,000+ names on a wall? Where would you build something so big? 100,000+ stones forming an altar of remembrance? A skyscraper? 100,000+ names read annually? It would take a long time. 100,000+ trees planted to be a forest of new life? I like this idea.

Wiser folks have called for this day to be a day of mourning and lament. On this day, June 1 in 1865, another national day of mourning and lament was declared. The specific focus was response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. That one act of violence reflected a deeper brokenness in millions of racist acts. The designated day responded to the wounded character of a divided nation, the great loss of life brought with that struggle.

165 years later, religious and political leaders set aside today as another national day of mourning and lament. It was offered as a response to the milestone reached last week: 100,000 brothers and sisters who died of the coronavirus. Along with that deep wound, we’ve been reminded of the great racial divide, brought to our attention by video filmed in Minnesota.

It makes us think about the long tradition of lament, a spiritual practice which I’m sure precedes the psalms, some of them perhaps 3,000 years old. But the psalms (the only book of the Bible found in its entirety in the Book of Common Prayer) guide us in this ancient spiritual practice. Lord knows, we need it now.

Consider with me this Monday what it means to lament. There is individual lament, something we can all recognize because suffering is the promise life always keeps, as one of my mentors says. There is communal lament, perhaps the focus for today. Taking psalms as a guide , a prayer of lament consists of four parts, which I offer for your consideration and reflection on this holy day.

Lament begins by addressing God, on some level recognizing a higher power and purpose. Lament, no matter how angry or sad, confused or disheartened, involves a statement of faith, the amazing grace that we often take for granted. When we call, God is listening. So where do you see God in these moments? Can you believe God is listening?

Then claiming God’s attention, a prayer of lament articulates a complaint, a grievance, which says a lot about prayer. It says God can handle our anger or grief, our confusion and despair, our pain. I suspect that our feelings are not a surprise to the Holy One. We need not hold back. The Bible tells us so. Read the psalms. Read the book of Job. Hear the words of Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you forsaken me? What would be the complaint, the concern, the pain you bring to your prayers this week? Put it into words today, silently or aloud. And as you ask that question, note that sometimes lament is simply our reflection in a mirror. It includes confession, a complaint of complicity, recognition of our part in the problem, through sins of commission or omission, through our actions or our inaction, through our misguided passions and our stultifying indifference. As Pogo said: We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. What if anything is your part and mine? Confess that this day.

A prayer of lament involves a request: What do we ask God to do in the midst of this all? What would we hope for? How would you articulate a prayer in these days of pandemic, simultaneously marked by the wound of racism and injustice? How might God use you in fulfilling that request?

Finally, a prayer of lament hangs on to hope, even if it makes little sense. As Jurgen Moltmann said: To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.” Jim Wallis said: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change. With all that in mind, I’m wondering where you can find a glimmer of hope, in your individual and communal prayers of lament? What kind of better world can you imagine?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact: Rev. Jay Sidebotham jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement www.renewalworks.org

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org