Forward Today: Love So Amazing

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on the great line from Isaac Watts, and how we can all reflect on it this Lenten season.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today, as I was praying morning prayer, I was struck by this line from Romans: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (5:8). It’s so simple, really, but yet so extraordinary.
 
Even though we’ve all messed up pretty badly, God still loves us enough to effect our salvation. Jesus Christ was willing to live among us and, ultimately, to die for us. The cross proves that our God is not a distant, remote God. God is willing to live in solidarity with us, to enter every human pain. And, of course, Jesus was raised from the dead, showing us that God’s love is stronger even than death.
 
Paolo Veneziano [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This Lenten season, I invite you to join me in reflecting on all this. Let us not ignore our sins and failings. Let us give thanks for God’s great love for us. And let us prepare ourselves to celebrate God’s victory over evil and death on Easter Sunday.
 
So simple. So extraordinary. “When I survey the wondrous cross,” Isaac Watts’ beloved hymn, ends with this: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Guest post: Greeting Pachuco

We received the following letter a few weeks ago from Rev. Jim Nelson, a priest in Texas. As we reflect on themes of hospitality in our Lenten Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert series, we wanted to share Jim’s story here. 

I’m an Episcopal priest in “The Valley,” as this part of Texas is called. We’re way down south on the border with Mexico, in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. Reynosa is just across the river from us, and is our sister city. Though “Winter-Texans” love it here, and flock in droves to enjoy our mild winters, the rest of the state of Texas sees us only as the necessary part to travel through to get to the beaches of South Padre Island. We live in an in-between place—not Mexico but  not the United States exactly, either. We’re simply The Valley.

Because of our location and climate, the Rio Grande Valley is home to many people living between the layers of society. I meet a lot of them at my church, Saint John’s.  I first met Pachuco (not his real name) one evening here at the parish, while I was checking the grounds and locking up for the night.  Saint John’s has a beautiful garden in the center of the parish grounds, and as I was coming around one of the hedge-lined walkways, I suddenly came face to face Pachuco. He had a bandana around his forehead, the clothes he was wearing were about 10 sizes too big, he was sporting an array neck tattoos, complete with a Fumanchu-style mustache and soul patch just under his bottom lip.

His first words to me were, “I’m not here to hurt ya, Boss.”  From that statement, I figured it was likely he might have indeed hurt people before. When he called me, “Boss,” I was pretty sure he had probably also served time in prison. I ended up finding out I was right on both counts. He looked like an aging gang-banger from East LA, which is really just a part of who he is.

Pachuco wanted money for a place to stay (the first of many such requests), and after talking with him some more I invited him  back the next day to see if we could come up with some solutions for him. He did return,  and I gave him a small check from my clergy discretionary account. He had the proper ID to cash a check, so I sent him to the bank that’s right next door to us. About five minutes later, the bank called to ask if I had written a check to this man—I could hear the incredulity in their voice.

That was the start of what is still an on-going relationship between this guerro (white guy) and a displaced gang-banger.

Over the course of five years, I’ve had countless talks with Pachuco. He counts me as a dear friend, even though I seldom tell him what he wants to hear. He could change —find “amendment of life,” if he truly wanted that.  Of course, we all could. I’ve also made friends with another ex-gangbanger who teaches college. I invited him and Pachuco out to lunch with me, in order that the professor might inspire Pachuco to change. 

I’ve prayed with and for Pachuco countless times. I’ve purchased clothes for him that might be a little more professional-seeming in interviews, so Pachuco could look more like the other viable applicants, and actually get a job.  He’s come to church at Saint John’s  a few times. I love Pachuco, and he frustrates me like none of my other regular visitors who come seeking assistance and prayer. The police regularly pick him up for criminal trespassing. I know he is capable of doing differently, but he always justifies not shedding the vestiges of his old life.  Even his clothes have captured him, serving an identity that doesn’t particularly serve his best interests, or who he really is as a beloved child of God.  

I realize that how I feel with Pachuco is how God must feel with humanity—with you and with me.

I care about Pachuco. God cares more about all of us. I see the potential in Pachuco for a contented and joyful life—and I want that for him. God sees that in me and in you, too. And just like us, Pachuco fearfully clings to his old identity—as though that truly is who he is. So do we. Pachuco claims to want more, even though he won’t do the one thing that will allow him to cross over into a better life.  He’s afraid of losing himself and the identity he’s clung to all of these years. He holds back. So do we. 

Jim Nelson is the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, TX.

ICYMI: Week of 3/19

Welcome back to the latest In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

How is your Lenten practice going? Have you found time for prayer and reflection? Perhaps the best “new” prayer resource to try is the one readily available in any pew: The Book of Common Prayer. In this week’s Forward Today, Scott wrote about this remarkable resource, noting that “the prayers that we use week in and week out are like beloved friends, but there are also some gems lurking in the lesser-trod parts of our prayer book.”

And on Facebook, we invited folks to share their favorite prayers. We got some great answers, including:

  • “Prayer for the morning on p. 461. I pray this one with nursing home residents.”
  • “The one that endorses doing nothing gallantly!”
  • “The entire 1928 BCP.”
  • “I so like this simple BCP prayer at day’s end: O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”

 
We hope you’ll say hi on Facebook—and like Forward Movement if you haven’t already—and share your favorites!

For more on what the Book of Common Prayer has to offer, we also highly recommend Inwardly Digest, Derek Olsen’s terrific new book on how to use the BCP as “a map to a deeper relationship to God.”

On the subject of daily prayer and practice: We always love to hear how readers have used Forward Day by Day over the years. And this week we heard a really cool story: Duke Ellington was a Forward Day by Day reader! He even marked up his copies in ways that connected to the music he was working on. Here’s one from 1969:

How cool is that? You can read more about Ellington’s Day by Day practice here (p 347–350).

A certain famed March tournament saw some a big upset this week. We speak of course of Lent Madness, in which Franz Jägerstätter edged Joan of Arc to advance. Perhaps the extra umlaut powered him to victory.

Is your bracket already busted? Can Franz make it to the Elate Eight? If you haven’t joined in the Madness fun, do stop by and cast your votes—and check out the informative and entertaining saintly bios contributed by LM’s celebrity blogging squad.

Wishing you a peaceful week—and bracket success!

Forward Today: The Riches of Common Prayer

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott looks at a treasure trove of prayer hiding in plain sight in a pew near you, and wonderful for Lent: the BCP.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I’ve been writing a book on Episcopal beliefs and practices lately, and so I’ve been poking around the Book of Common Prayer quite a bit. Whenever I have occasion for a project like this that takes me deeper into the prayer book, I always walk away grateful for our tradition of common prayer. The prayers that we use week in and week out are like beloved friends, but there are also some gems lurking in the lesser-trod parts of our prayer book.

 

 
Consider, for example, “A Litany of Thanksgiving for a Church” (BCP 578) or the seasonal prayers in the Order for Evening (BCP 111) or any number of other places. There are precious gems waiting for us to find and examine them.
 
If you have a moment this Lenten season, I invite you to dig out a prayer book and flip through its pages. Visit old friends and find new ones. Learn a bit more about how our life of prayer is organized. Savoring common prayer does not prevent us from talking with God in our own words. In fact, it might give us new language for our conversations with God.
 
This week, I close with another favorite prayer, “For Quiet Confidence” (BCP 832).
 
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

ICYMI: Week of 3/12/17

Welcome back to the latest In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

Lent Madness got going in earnest this week—how’s your bracket looking? In their weekly video, Scott and Tim shared snapshots from some brackets around the globe. We enjoyed this picture from Marin Catholic in Kentfield, CA.

And here’s a post on how we play in the Forward Movement office.

Last Wednesday was #InternationalWomensDay, and we saw some excellent posts from across the Episcoplan/Anglican social media community (and across the world). A particular favorite was this photo of Trinity Wall Street staff with the new ‘Fearless Girl’ statue across from the famous Wall St bull.

Daily meditation and prayer are for many a solo practice, but it can be immensely rewarding when we realize we’re part of a larger prayer community. We saw two examples of that this week. Our Question of the Week asked:

A few of the many answers we received:

  • “First thing with my coffee. Sets up the day for a better chance at being, well, better…”
  • “Early before anyone is up around 4:45 am, then again later in the evening.”
  • “Around 6:00 AM. Peace on porch.”
  • “I try to do before work and before bed, but the times vary because my schedule varies.”
  • “Lunch time. If the morning was bad, it helps me turn the day around.”

 
It’s pretty cool to think that when you’re reading the daily Forward Day by Day meditation, or whatever you use in your practice, there’s a community of many others reflecting on those same words at the same time.

Speaking of community, we also read a great blog post on ECF’s Vital Practices from Linda Buskirk, a regular contributor to Forward Day by Day’s daily comments forum. Linda writes:

Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond … We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.

We’re so glad this forum has become such an important place for so many Day by Day readers. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s here. And of course, you can also connect with Day by Day readers on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a great week!

Lent Madness at Forward Movement

In Cincinnati, the weather can’t make up its mind between rain and shine. Plants peep shyly out of the thawing earth. Birds return with their happy chirps, foraging for worms in the wet dirt.

It’s beginning to feel like… Lent Madness!—the most holy competition of them all.

Last year I predicted Sojourner Truth—influential abolitionist—would win the coveted Golden Halo. Lent Madness voters had a different idea, however, and she lost to a worthy competitor: Dietrich Bonhoeffer—pastor and anti-Nazi activist.

Here at Forward Movement, Lent Madness brings a friendly competition between co-workers. After filling out our brackets (some meticulously, while others play a wild card), we submit both our brackets and $5. Whether purposefully or not, a particular co-worker has become chief-of-brackets (aka Bracket Boss or Scorecard Supreme). She keeps track of our points during the Lent Madness season and sends us rankings every few weeks.

At the end of the Lent Madness season, the employee with the most points receives our collective donations and gives the money to the charity of their choice. Last year, the winner donated the money to the Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP), an organization dear to her because she had adopted her own dog from the group. Past donation recipients have included a food pantry, a church, and a reading camp. If I win this year (fingers crossed), I’d like to see the donation go to a local women’s shelter.

In the end, everyone’s a winner, even if we don’t all get Golden Halos. Lent Madness builds camaraderie, teaches us about the saints, and we get to contribute to a worthy cause.

Who are you rooting for this Lent Madness?


Alyssa Finke is Marketing Coordinator at Forward Movement.

Forward Today: Christ, Be Present With Us

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on a letter he recently received, from an inmate on death row—and shares a powerful prayer.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

This week I received a letter that I won’t forget any time soon. As you may know, we at Forward Movement donate resources to prisons and prisoners. Sometimes it is a chaplain who contacts us, and sometimes it is an inmate. This unforgettable letter was from a man who is now on death row. He was writing to thank us for Forward Day by Day, which he said had given him lots of comfort over the last few years. He also shared that the date of his execution has been set for April, and he was asking for prayers.

 


Photo by Flickr user VSmithUK / Creative Commons

I can’t imagine what his life is like right now. What is it like to know the exact date of your death? As I was trying to decide what I might say in response, I happened to come across a prayer card. The prayer, which comes from Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, seemed just right for him, and, I think, for all of us.
 
Be Thou, O Lord, a light unto mine eyes, music to my ears, sweetness to my taste, and a full contentment to my heart. Be thou my sunshine in the day, my food at the table, my repose in the night, my clothing in nakedness, and my succor in all necessities. Amen.
 
Jesus is everything for us and for all who follow him. I pray that not only those who are near death, but all who are in the midst of life, will find strength and courage from Christ’s presence in our lives. In this Lenten season, we remember that Jesus was tempted in the desert, knew every human pain, and suffered the sting of death. God loves us so much that Jesus Christ dwelled with us in great humility. And, in the end, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, showing us that God’s love is stronger than death.
 
May we all be inspired to live fearlessly and compassionately, confident in Christ’s presence. And I beg your prayers for all who face death, whatever the reason or circumstance.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

ICYMI: Week of 3/5

Welcome back to the latest In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

We began our Lenten journey this week—but before we did, we asked:

We saw some tasty responses to this one. A few favorite answers:

  • “Definitely pancakes, and ham, and lemon curd, and real maple syrup at Epiphany’s annual Pancake Supper….I’ve been working at it for the past 35 years!”
  • “I gorge on whatever my fast will be in any given year. Tomorrow I will be feasting on “appetizers”–mozzarella sticks, onion rings, potato skins.”
  • “Paczki! Detroit is all about paczki.”
  • “Homemade potato salad and fried chicken on the parade route.”
  • “A truly decadent desert: Charlotte Malakoff a la Russe, for instance.”
  • And this photo response from Trinity Episcopal Church’s dinner in West Pittston, PA:

We hope you had a fun feast on Tuesday.

What’s your family’s Ash Wednesday tradition? Do you receive ashes to go? We saw some cool pictures—from around the world—on the #ashestogo hashtag.

A favorite, from our friend Fr. Albert Cutie:

Do you take your kids to church on Ash Wednesday? What sorts of questions have they asked about the service, or the ashes? Nurya Love Parish wrote a terrific post on the subject for Grow Christians this week. We heard from a lot of readers on our Twitter feed who said they absolutely take their kids. Some responses:

  • “I took mine! The little one had to go outside for parts, but my oldest (6) asked questions like why we cover the cross. Good conversations!”
  • “Why on earth would you cheat children out of Ash Wednesday??”
  • “Pro-tip: When kids are little, make sure they know the ashes are from palms. Not bodies! (True story.)”

 
On “Ash Thursday” this week, Lent Madness started. You can listen to Scott and Tim discuss this season on the excellent Priest Pulse podcast, and cast your votes at lentmadness.org.

And at Forward Movement, we began A Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert. We’ll be sharing daily prayers and readings as images on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and you can download weekly bulletin inserts (and browse many other resources, including videos) at forwardmovement.org/seasonofprayer. The project focuses particularly on themes of exile, hospitality and migration. We’ll close with today’s image:

Have a great week.

Forward Today: This Lent, Renew a Right Spirit

As we begin Lent, in this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott writes about Ash Wednesday, noting that this reminder of our mortality may “at first seem grim,” but also reminds us we should savor our gift of life.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I hope every Christian will find their way to a church today. Today, we receive a great gift. We are reminded of our mortality, which at first might seem grim. But in this invitation is also a reminder that our time in this earthly pilgrimage is precious, and we should savor our time and use it wisely. We have only a little time to know God’s love and to share that love with our neighbors.

Photo by Flickr user John Ragai / Creative Commons

After we receive the somber mark of ashes, the congregation kneels as Psalm 51 is sung or said. Near the end, we find these words.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
               and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence *
   and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of your saving help again *
               and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
 
I love these prayerful words, because they remind me that my renewal comes not through my own doing but through God’s doing. Praying this way teaches me that my task is to open my heart and my life to God’s presence. Praying these words reminds me that the Holy Spirit will lead me, and guide me, if I am listening and willing.
 
Let us this day commit to savoring the gift of life our Father has given us. Let us commit to following Jesus, even and especially when the path is rocky or uncertain. Let us commit to renewing our hears by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
 
How will you renew and recommit this Lenten season?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Resources for Your Lenten Journey

Lent has begun, but it’s not too late to make good use of this holy journey toward Easter. The Book of Common Prayer, in the invitation to a holy Lent, suggests some ways to observe Lent, “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

You can do all these things with a prayer book and a Bible, and if you don’t have copies of both, we encourage you to get them! But if you’re looking for some resources to take with you on the journey, Forward Movement offers some digital resources–no need to head out to the bookstore or wait for something to ship.

We offer several different little books of daily meditations for your Lenten time. New this year, Ashes and the Phoenix brings together daily meditations, powerful poetry by Len Freeman, and Jason Sierra’s inspiring woodcut art on your Kindle, Nook, or iBook device. If you are looking for a resource focused on mission outreach and social justice, check out Meeting Jesus on the Margins (Kindle, Nook, or iBook), featuring meditations from Becca Stevens, Richelle Thompson, and Hugo Olaiz, among other excellent writers.

At this time in our national life, when there has been much conversation about refugees, even as the number of displaced persons continues to rise around the globe, we invite you to engage this season in A Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert. Each day will offer a prayer or scripture reading focused on themes of hospitality, migration, and refugee welcome.

You can download free Season of Prayer resources in English or Spanish, or follow along on social media on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

If you want to focus on self-examination and prayer, you might find the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book especially helpful. If you want to think about repentance and reconciliation, Living Reconciliation is just right.

For fun and inspiration, there’s always Lent Madness, in which you can learn how God works through ordinary women and men in extraordinary ways. Throughout Lent, you’ll vote for your favorite saints until one saint wins the coveted Golden Halo.

We offer a number of resources to help you read and meditate on God’s holy word. Of course, there’s Forward Day by Day, which you can get via email subscription, ebook, podcast, Facebook, Twitter, or app, in addition to print options. If you’ve never sat down and read the Bible before, you’ll receive a stunning gift as you read The Path: A Journey Through the Bible, which takes you on a magnificent journey from Genesis to Revelation, with helpful signposts along the way. Read to take on the challenge of reading every page of the Bible? Then you want the The Bible Challenge.

Last, but not least, you can read and study every word in the Bible that is spoken by a woman with Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. In addition to women’s voices, you’ll learn their back stories and discover reflection questions.

Whatever you do, please find a way to savor this great gift of forty days to return to God, and recommit to following Jesus.