Forward Today: Good Shepherd, Good News

In the new Forward Today, Scott asks: “What would it mean to recover an authentic understanding of Jesus as a Good Shepherd?”


Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s no wonder. The lectionary brings us the account from the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, and we sing or say Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
 
For many of the earliest Christians, this was the primary way to understand Jesus Christ and his ministry. One of the oldest known images of Christ, from around 240 CE, is of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It was a powerful image then, and it still resonates with us today.

 

 

Most readers of this email live in urban areas, or at least in towns. We are, mostly, not agrarian people. So it should not surprise us that we have lost some of the potency of the image of the Good Shepherd. We might think that calling Jesus the Good Shepherd means that he is nice, or that he cares for us. While he certainly does care for us, it has nothing to do with being nice.
 
Shepherds lived difficult lives. They had to endure inclement weather. They faced threats from animal predators and those who would steal sheep. Their profession was dirty. Being a shepherd was quite the opposite of glamorous. In other words, understanding Jesus’ ministry as shepherd-like must surely mean that we understand his love for us as costly, willing to embrace danger, humble, and generous.
 
So this Sunday, try not to think of sheep as cuddly stuffed animals and Jesus as a nice person. Think instead of the great love Jesus shows for us, willing to lay down his life to protect and care for us sheep. We have a Good Shepherd, and that is very Good News, indeed.
 
Why do you think early Christians focused on Jesus as Good Shepherd, and why do you think we tend to portray him in other ways? What would it mean to recover an authentic understanding of Jesus as a Good Shepherd? How would this help us live as people who have heard and who bear Good News?

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale item is Joy in Confession: Reclaiming Sacramental Reconciliation.

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Evangelism in Prison Ministry

The following post by Miriam McKenney appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Odyssey. You can find the whole issue here.

The inmates who write to us touch our hearts every day. We’re thankful that Forward Day by Day reaches our incarcerated brothers and sisters, so that they know that God deeply and eternally loves them. Your gifts spread that love throughout the United States and to countries around the world – we are thankful for you.

This story of evangelism started with a request from a woman in a Texas jail.

My name is Sharon and I am currently incarcerated in County Jail. I may be looking at some real time, like 2-10 years in prison. I am writing you today to see if you can send me the Pathways of Faith Coloring Book, and a Day by Day?? I would greatly appreciate it. I do not have any money to pay you. At one time I was very active in my church, seeing how my father was a Pentecostal preacher all my life. However I lost both my parents in 2015 and fell off into depression and here I sit due to my bad choices. I am on my way to recovery and building my relationship back with God. I thank you for anything you are able to send me.

We sent Sharon the materials, but she was moved to another facility, and may not have received them. This is not unusual in the prison system. Thankfully, Sharon didn’t give up. She reached out to us again from her new facility in Texas.

My name is Sharon and I am incarcerated in Texas. I am serving a fifteen-month sentence. While I am here I have entered the recovery program called Turning Points. I am also working on my relationship with God. See, my dad was a minister for the Assembly of God all my life. Well I have lost him and my mother both to a better life with God in 2015. So I am now doing this time alone – well with me and God. I am writing to ask if you could please send me a Pathways of Faith Coloring Book and a Saint Augustine Prayer Book? Anything you could send me to get closer to God and help me while I am doing the time would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God Bless.

We sent her the materials, and thought that was that. But a couple of weeks later, we received this letter from another woman in the same prison.

My name is Amber. I am incarcerated and I would love to send my child the Pathways of Faith Coloring Book. May you please send me a Pathways of Faith all ages coloring book. Please and God bless.

Her letter included nine additional women’s addresses. A day or two later, we received yet another letter:

Hello my name is Robin. Some of my cell mates received the faith based coloring book you have sent them. Me and my bunky are wanting to receive the same book. Thank you, God Bless.

She listed her address along with those of five other women. We’ve mailed 38 copies of Pathways of Faith to that Texas prison to date. We feel blessed to share something that will bring joy and light into the lives of these women and their families. Often, a mailing from us is the only touch an inmate has from outside prison. Your generosity allows us to say yes to every request like this we receive. Thank you so much for helping these incarcerated women and their families experience a relationship with God.

Can you donate today, so that we can continue to give the gift of prayer to those in need?

Creating Your Rule of Life: Q & A with Charles LaFond

The following interview with Charles LaFond is from the Spring 2018 issue of Odyssey, and was conducted by Miriam McKenney. You can find the whole issue here.

Charles LaFond believes that a Rule of Life is so important, everyone should write one. An ancient method for building soul memory, a Rule of Life offers reminders to ourselves of the person we hope to be. “It’s like a series of Post-it Notes stuck by my breakfast each day,” he observes. “Tuesday: Today, remember what you believe about rest. Wednesday: Today, remember what you believe about friendship. Thursday: Today, remember what you believe about money. A Rule of Life really works.”

Charles’s passion to share the powerful results a Rule of Life can bring led him to write Note to Self: Creating Your Guide to a More Spiritual Life. “I believe we each have a mini-monk or mini-nun, or some of both, inside us clamoring for this kind of structure and practice.” Read on to learn more about Charles, how he came to create his own Rule of Life, and why he’s so passionate about you living a better life through using your own personal Rule.

Why do people need a Rule of Life? How could writing one help me?

Hiking in the forest is a great love of mine and of my black lab Kai. It is so easy to wander off a path when hiking. Where I hike there are stapled ribbons on trees to mark the path. Let’s say I am on the blue trail; passing many other trails – red, yellow, white. My trail, the blue trail, curves ahead but I keep walking straight, neglecting to turn. Only by looking up and noticing the ribbons marking the trail are now red am I able to see that I am on the wrong path.

A Rule of Life is like those ribbons on the hiking trail – reminders of my pathway, the one that leads to where I want to go. Many people use New Year’s resolutions to establish a priority. They work for a while, but often they fade like smoke from a burned out fire. It would be like having trail markers on every tree for the first half mile and then forgetting to make the trail beyond that, without the markers along and at the end of the trail, the early ones are not much use in the long picture of the hike. The hiker is sure for a while, and then lost.

A Rule of Life is an ancient practice used by groups of people – Christians, Jews, people of all religions and of none – to codify their longings for their life and then to remind them daily of the markers on the pathway of their life so that they stay on their path and do not wander off onto other paths with other markers for other people.

My Rule of Life helps me by serving as a catalyst for me to think about my life. What thirty or so things, if I get them right most of the time, would set me on a path to a good life? Once I have that list, then what do I think about each one? What is my own vision that states my longing for a good life around that subject? Once these one-page chapters are written, how might I read one a day so as to remind myself every thirty days of these important longings I have for my life?

What made you decide to write a Rule of Life?

A light bulb went off in my head as a teenager touring the great British cathedrals. They were often founded and built as monasteries. I was always given a map of the cathedral complex when the docent took my money for my self-guided tour. And there, so often, on the map, was a “chapter house” or “chapter room.” When I visited that part of the cathedral complex I wondered why this round room existed. Why is it round? Why is it there when it is only used so occasionally? Why is it so rigorously and beautifully decorated? I learned that the monks and nuns wrote a Rule together and then each day they would go into a room, sit in a circle, and read, out loud, one chapter from this Rule as a way to remind them of what their hopes were for their life as a community and their work as a religious.

Over the course of thirty years I wondered: what if every one of us could write a Rule and read a daily chapter, or page, to help us maintain a road map when there are so many mismarked and dangerous roads out there in life? So, I wrote my Rule and then lived by it. I spent three years in a monastery, and decided to write this book to encourage others in imagining, writing and living by a Rule themselves.

When did you begin writing about a Rule of Life?

I began working with Rules and leading retreats on them in my seminary years, fifteen years ago. As I taught more classes and led more retreats on the subject, I began to outline the chapters of a book. Leading a diocesan retreat for clergy on the subject really enthused me and so I began to write in great earnest and finished the book in winter of 2017.

What was your favorite part of writing this book?

I loved the simple process of writing. I imagined one person – her name was Mikalia. I wrote the book as if I was writing her a letter in answer to the question she asked one day at a retreat: “Charles, how would I write a Rule of life?” I loved her question, so I wrote the book for her and for people like her.

Where did you go for inspiration?

As John Philip Newell says so beautifully in the foreword of the book, we get our inspiration from our time with God. We take all the hurts and wounds, questions and answers, ponderings and wonderings to God in our prayer time the way a person wears clothes into an event or the way a child brings a parent a treasure chest full of a frog and a string and a pebble. God then sits with us listening as we sit with God listening. Most days, the result is the indwelling of Spirit and the inner expansion and awareness of God.

What is your writing process like?

I write best in the morning. I rise, after carefully working to get 8 hours of sleep, at 5:00 am. I sit in meditation, then walk, and then write before going to work raising money for people experiencing homelessness. I try to average about 1,000 words per day.

Where do you typically write?

I move between three locations. I write at my desk, an old secretary owned by many members of my family from many years back. It has a case of my favorite books and they provide inspiration to me…Dickens, E. M. Forster, Trollope, Merton and others. I also work at a desk with a larger screen and in my reading chair. I write letters on a 19th century lap-desk that I tremendously enjoy for the ritual of pen, ink and paper.

Odyssey: Scripture Engagement

The following article by Scott Gunn is from the Spring 2018 issue of Odyssey. You can find the whole issue here.

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

God takes scripture seriously. After giving the heart of the Law (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”), God tells the people of Israel to keep the words in their hearts. But that’s not all. God wants the people of Israel not just to know the scriptures, but to teach them to their children. If we understand ourselves as the heirs of Israel, then we too should place ourselves in this story. We are meant to know the scriptures and to talk about them at home and to teach them to our children. We might not literally fix the scriptures on our foreheads, and most of us don’t have gates. But there is no mistaking the intent of the command: we are meant to display and honor the scriptures publicly.

As I’ve traveled across the Episcopal Church, I’ve noticed a very welcome trend: more and more congregations are diving into the scriptures, inviting people to encounter the Bible and its glorious story of God’s great love for us. The importance of scripture engagement as a catalyst for spiritual growth cannot be overstated. We have data from RenewalWorks which tell us that scripture engagement is a catalyst that works for people at all stages of spiritual growth. Reading God’s word forms us as followers of Jesus.

We Episcopalians have a bad habit, I’ve observed, of keeping our distance from the Bible. We talk about it, rather than finding our place in its narrative. I’ve heard more sermons than I can count which discount the stories of the Bible or explain them away rather than entering into them with awe and wonder. To be clear: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage in critical reading or gain historical knowledge. But in the church, our primary encounter with the scriptures should be proclamation and learning. To coin a phrase, we should hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures.

And though we claim to be the “church where you don’t have to check your brain at the door” or the “AP class of Christianity” (don’t get me started), we are a church of people who, by and large, have not opened our scriptures to learn what they might teach us. Again, RenewalWorks data bear out the fact that most of us simply haven’t read the scriptures.

Here’s the good news. In my experience — and from what I’ve heard, I’m not alone — it’s easy to invite people into the scriptures so that we might have a rich encounter together. Lots of folks are eager to read the Bible, but are intimidated by it or feel that they lack the knowledge to read the scriptures. We have, ironically, gone back to a moment before the Reformation(s), when the scriptures were limited to professionals. So let’s fix that. Let’s give the Bible back to the whole church.

I’m pretty passionate about this, because I know what a difference it made in my life when I read the scriptures with a congregation. I’ve seen and heard story after story of transformation. As I travel, I’ll tell anyone who will listen to be how important it is to get people reading the Bible. It’s important, and getting it done is a bit of work, but it’s not complicated. And, wow, it brings a joy that passes understanding.

Why should we read the scriptures? Not just because God commands it — though that is a compelling reason in itself — but because the scriptures will open and change our hearts as we encounter the wondrous story of God’s great love for us. To get a congregation reading the scriptures will surely lead to transformation of individual lives and of the church itself. To learn the language of scripture is to find new ways to praise and to thank God, and that helps us live out our purpose, to glorify God. Not long ago, I was visiting a church that has experienced some growth. I asked a few of the members why they thought their church was growing. “Our priest got us reading the Bible, and that gave us the language to talk about our faith, to invite others to join us as followers of Jesus.” Engaging with the scriptures changes us, changes our church, and just might change the world.

This article originally appeared on Scott’s blog, sevenwholedays.org.

Forward Movement releases Walk in Love

Forward Movement invites seekers and longtime members alike to explore together the Episcopal Church in its new book, Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices.

Early reviews praise the book for its accessible, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking discussion of the Christian life and the basic beliefs of our faith. The Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania, calls the book “the most comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to Episcopal faith and practice available.”

Co-authored by the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn and the Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe, Walk in Love offers a guide to understanding how prayer shapes our beliefs and our lives—and how our beliefs lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

The book is accompanied by a free curriculum, Practicing Our Faith. This curriculum can be used for an inquirer’s class, confirmation class, or general adult education. A children’s curriculum is to be published soon.

By summer, Forward Movement will also publish Anden en amor: Creencias y prácticas de la Iglesia Episcopal, a translation of Walk in Love, as well as a Spanish translation of the curriculum. The curricula in English and Spanish were supported by a grant from the Constable Fund of the Episcopal Church. They join two other year-long curricula, Celebrating the Saints and Exploring the Bible.

Shobe says, “It was a joy to write this book, sharing our passion for encouraging rich spiritual practices and deep engagement with prayer book liturgy.” Shobe and Gunn served together as parish priests in Rhode Island. Gunn is now executive director at Forward Movement, while Shobe serves as associate for children and families at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

Walk in Love invites readers on a journey, with The Book of Common Prayer as a map,” says Richelle Thompson, editor for the book and deputy director and managing editor for Forward Movement. “After nearly twenty years as part of the Episcopal Church, I still learned a great deal from this book about how our Episcopal beliefs and practices support one another and lead us down paths of discovery and spiritual growth.”

Walk in Love is available in print from Forward Movement directly, from online sellers such as Amazon, and from local bookstores. The digital e-book is also available on Kindle, Nook and iTunes.

Forward Today: The daybreak of joy

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing that “resurrection joy and King’s dream are two sides of the same beautiful coin.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Our church recognizes him as a holy martyr of the faith, and this is the day the church keeps as his commemoration. Doctor King, pray for us. We need your intercession now, as ever.
 
One of my favorite works of King is his imagined “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on 4 November 1956. In the letter, King imagines what the Apostle Paul might have said to American Christians. Its message is disturbingly current today. In the letter, “Paul” warns of the dangers of capitalism. The letter chastises the church for its complicity in oppression. And then there is this:
 
I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress… How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.
 
Do you find this as true, and as convicting, as I do?


We as a nation – and as a world – have much for which to repent, but surely our lack of a moral compass is chief among our sins. If we were more morally advanced, we would find racism, classism, and all forms of discrimination and devaluation to be waning. The church has, sadly, forfeited its place as a moral voice in society. (Popular Christianity’s embrace of culture-war wedge issues doesn’t count, because there’s nothing moral about those attacks.)
 
We are an Easter people. We ought to embrace an Easter morality. In the New Creation of Jesus Christ, love is stronger than hate, mercy is stronger than might, hope is stronger than fear, and life is stronger than death. If we manage to live as Easter people, I think we will find that we are very much honoring the legacy, vision, and hope of Martin Luther King, Jr. Resurrection joy and King’s dream are two sides of the same beautiful coin.
 
Let us repent where we are wrong. Let us embrace what is right. And let us, like those women at the Easter tomb, share the glad news of new life in Jesus Christ.
 
I close with the end of King’s imagined letter from Paul. “And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale item is the Social Justice Bible Challenge.

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Forward Today: The most important days

In this Holy Week edition of Forward Today, Scott suggests you try attending every service of the Three Holy Days this year, writing, “It is a big time commitment, for sure. But there is no better way to spend time with Jesus, to see him differently.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Holy Week is the most important week of the year for Christians. For this week, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we enter into the mystery and awe of the Three Holy Days. We will mystically journey to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is mystically made real for us. It is a kind of pilgrimage, without leaving our physical communities.
 
My experience as a parish priest is that some people liked to skip one or more of the services of the Three Holy Days. Some people don’t like the idea of foot washing. Others prefer not to attend the solemn, and sorrowful, Good Friday service. I’ve run into people who think the Great Vigil of Easter is “too long” so they don’t come.
 

 

When I was a parish priest, I used to make this promise. And I still stand by it. If you come to all three services of the Three Holy Days, it will change your life. You will leave the Great Vigil of Easter with a deeper faith and a renewed purpose. Try it. And then let me know if it worked for you, especially if you’ve never gone through all three services.
 
It is a big time commitment, for sure. But there is no better way to spend time with Jesus, to see him differently. For you will meet him in friendship, in tender care, in betrayal, in sorrow, in agony, in death, and in resurrection. And in all this, you will have new insights into God’s great love for you.
 
Blessings to you as we approach with awe the most important days.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale item is Derek Olsen’s Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life.

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

A partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development

Forward Movement is pleased to announce a new partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, an international relief and development agency and a compassionate response to human suffering on behalf of The Episcopal Church. Their work to heal a hurting world is guided by the principles of compassion, dignity and generosity.

 

This new partnership is beginning in early April 2018, with Forward Movement serving as the fulfillment partner for all Episcopal Relief & Development materials and resources, such as Lenten devotionals, brochures, Hope Chests, bookmarks, and more.

These materials are now available through Forward Movement’s online store, at www.forwardmovement.org/episcopalrelief.

 

Forward Today: Evangelism Matters, Jesus Matters

In this week’s Forward Today, Scott writes from the Evangelism Matters conference–you can follow the conversation from Cleveland this week at evangelismmatters.org, and via the hashtag #em2018.


Dear friends in Christ,

As I write this, I am sitting in a room full of evangelists, people who are called and equipped to share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. And, yes, this is an Episcopal gathering. 

Here at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, OH, the Evangelism Matters conference will begin. Over 400 people will gather to worship, to learn, and to share Good News. For the second time, I am delighted to partner with the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers on the Evangelism Matters conference; Forward Movement and the Episcopal Church’s Evangelism Initiatives Team have worked together, and the conference has been planned by a brilliant, hard-working, and faithful planning team.
 

 

It’s a new era in our church. Organizations are working together. Jesus matters more than the silos that have sometimes held us captive. Jesus matters to us so much that we are seeking and serving him in people and in our world. Jesus matters enough to us that we are courageously sharing Good News of what he has done for us. Jesus matters. 

If you are here in Cleveland Heights, I’d love to meet you. And please thank the staff from the Episcopal Church and Forward Movement. And profusely thank the planning team. 

If you aren’t here in Cleveland Heights, you can follow the conference on social media with hashtag #em2018. Much of the conference will be live-streamed, so keep an eye on social media or the Evangelism Matters website. Be proud of your church. And give thanks for all that Jesus has done for us, and all the ways that we can change the world in his name.> 

How can you share Good News today?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale item is a groundbreaking book named best Bible study of 2015 by Illumination Book Awards: Lindsay Hardin Freeman’s Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Just $16.50, today only!

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Forward Today: I am a Christian

In this week’s Forward Today, Scott reflects on Perpetua, and the powerful inspiration of her testimony.


Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church remembers Perpetua and her Companions. Perpetua was a catechumen, not yet baptized, when she was summoned to appear before the Roman authorities. She refused to make a sacrifice in honor of the emperor. At a public hearing, she said, “I am a Christian.” She was sentenced to death, to be martyred in an arena by wild animals. She faced death bravely, urging those around her to remain steadfast in faith.
 
It might be tempting for us to read a story like this and think of it as little more than a fanciful legend. But it is more than that. For one thing, the blood of those martyrs, along with the blood of countless others, had the opposite effect from what the empire’s authorities wanted. From their witness, the church was made stronger. People were inspired by the way Christians faced death, clinging to their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ until the end.
 

 

In our world, today, there are Christians under threat. But it’s not just in places where martyrdom is a risk that our faith is at risk. Most Episcopalians are reasonably well off. We certainly do not face persecution for our faith. But there is another danger. It’s easy to make sacrifices to false gods. Do we worship the accumulation of wealth? Do we choose to remain silent while others suffer injustice? Do we treat our churches are social clubs rather than outposts of God’s kingdom? Do we honor power and might over love and sacrifice?
 
I know that I often fail to live the demanding life that Jesus Christ asks of me. I neglect opportunities to share my faith. I fail to give generously to those in need. I enjoy the comforts of the institutional church, which sometimes looks too much like the empire. Today, I am inspired and indicted by Perpetua’s simple and incredibly brave testimony. “I am a Christian.”
 
May we all stand ready to testify to our faith, whether it’s at our last day or in the quotidian choices we make too casually. Let us all say, when the time comes, “I am a Christian.”

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale item is a great one for Good Book Club fans: A Journey through Acts: The 50 Day Bible Challenge. Just $11.25, today only!

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