Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thomas Merton and Conversion of Manners

Fr. Dale Matson
12-30-2010
The three vows of the Benedictine Monks are obedience, stability, and conversion of manners. Poverty and chastity are included in conversion of manners. Having read many of Thomas Merton’s books, I have an admiration for him. He was spiritually brilliant and insightful. I am blessed to have known him through his books and have known a couple of other men who influenced me through their lives. Although they did not shine with his brightness and were not as articulate, they lived the life he discussed in his writings and remain an inspiration for me. I will discuss them further in a short while.

Why does one become a monastic? It is accepting the call of Christ to follow Him. The vows of the monastics are an attempt to live out the beatitudes listed by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore we can conclude that we come to the monastery to seek Christ—desiring that we may find Him and know Him, and thus come to live in Him and by Him.” (Thomas Merton, Basic Principles of Monastic Spirituality, 1996, Templegate Publishers, p.21).

“By conversion of manners we definitely consecrate our whole life to the service of God as monks, men who have turned their backs on the world, who have substituted the humility, chastity, poverty, renunciation of the cloister for the ambitions, comforts, pleasures, riches and self-satisfaction of the world.” (Ibid, p.86).

The two other men I knew were not monks or oblates by intention but they were monks in their unspoken permanent vow of conversion of manners. Merton stated, “The vow of conversatio morum is a vow to live in the Spirit”. It is aimed at spiritual virginity which is purity of heart. The point here is that the goal of monastic living is not seeking personal perfection. It is as Merton noted. “Christ is the center of monastic living. He is the source and the end. He is the way of the monk as well as his goal.”(Ibid, p.9).

There is no reason to think that the intentionality of monastic living is a less distracted search for the face of God than a life where one is married, raising a family, serving in a parish church, living a disciplined and virtuous life, working in a vocation that provides meaning and seeing sacredness in ordinary existence. These two men were what I would call deacon monks. They took the church into the streets and into the workplace. They were Christ for their families. They were contemplatives who were also active. They were courageous leaders of others and helped form Christ in the novices. Their hearts were pure and their speech was unguarded. It didn’t have to be guarded because they loved the people they spoke to. They only saw the good in others because their own hearts were pure. They brought out the best in others and gave them a hand up. They were innocent as doves and surprised at the moral failures in others. They were quick to forgive and easily brought to laughter. And why is this? It is because they had at a critical junction in their lives decided that Christ was the pearl of great price. He would be their head and they would live a life worthy of His unmerited grace to them. They were in holy orders and unaware of it. Their conversion of manners took place outside the walls of a monastery. Amen

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recovering the Image of God

Fr. Dale Matson
12-29-2010
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27, NASB).

St. Athanasius stated “God became man so that man might become God”. Luther repeated this in his Christmas sermon in 1514. I think an important understanding of this is that to the extent to which we participate in the Divine nature and as Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19), the image of God is restored in us and we become fully human. Obviously, Only Christ was fully human. None of us, even the saints become fully human on this earth. What does it mean to be fully human? I believe it is taking on the qualities of God like the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

How much of our condition before the fall is recovered as we are Sanctified/Deified? We don’t become “As God”, we share God’s qualities. Being fully human is a loss of self-consciousness and egocentricity but it is not the loss of person-hood. It is not the annihilation of personality. We become incarnational as The Holy Spirit dwells in us. It is having in us the mind that was in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 2:16) In the words of Alexander Maclaren,[The notion of the indwelling Christ] “It is not to be weakened into any notion of participation in His likeness, sympathy with His character, submission to His influence, following His example, listening to His instruction, or the like. A dead Plato may so influence his followers, but that is not how a living Christ influences His disciples. What is meant is no mere influence derived, but separable, from Him, however blessed and gracious that influence might be, but it is the Presence of His own Self, exercising influences which are inseparable from his Presence, and only to be realized when He dwells in us.” I would add that it is also not cases of what people commonly refer to today as, “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD).

I believe the church has focused heavily today on what it considers to be the equipping of the Saints for service (Ephesians 4:12) but has neglected “...the fullness of Christ in Verse 13. The church could be convicted of child labor law infractions. Preaching today should resound with the basics of the person and work of Christ. What does it mean for Christians to be in Christ and what does it mean for Christ to be in them? This is restorative and transformative. This is not just Christ as Savior and Lord. It is Christ in you, the hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27). It is an awareness of the restoration of the image of God through the presence of Christ in all Christians. Amen

Monday, December 27, 2010

To Remain On In The Flesh

Fr. Dale Matson
12-27-10
Late in Paul’s ministry, he wrote the following words to the Philippians during his probable first imprisonment in Rome. At that point he had only a few more years to labor for the sake of the Gospel.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).

I am at a point in my life of understanding what St. Paul was saying. Increasingly I am on God’s clock and no longer on my own. Through Christ I have accomplished every goal that I have ever dreamed possible. God has blessed me with too many gifts to enumerate. There is no longer any bargaining with God about delaying Christ’s return. Bargaining is something that young persons could identify with. They have so much to accomplish; so much ahead in their lives. They have houses to build, children to raise, careers to cultivate. They are not ready to join with me when I say with John, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20, NASB).

I am coming to a better understanding of the limits of my own strength as I age and the last years of my ministry is a similar kind of captivity to Paul. My health is no longer robust and my strength is diminished. Some injuries are chronic and pain is ever present. My confidence is diminished along with my senses. It is no longer about pleasure but about diminishing pain.

These are not the ruminations of a depressed person but an honest appraisal of my health and strength. The insults of life are cumulative and their weight increases with age. Christ does come as a thief in the night. It is He who binds the strong man that He may steal his goods. My goods have been unwarranted pride, self-reliance and a self-centered agenda. Paul’s captivity letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) do not reflect his life situation at all. In prison Paul discovered true freedom, joy, contentment and riches in Christ.

Paul’s answer to the dilemma to depart or stay was to stay because he knew that he was on Christ’s clock, not his own. For those of you who are imprisoned by aging, infirmity or loneliness, I would encourage you to ask God what He would do with you in the time He has remaining on your clock.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, KJV).

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Too Busy

Fr. Dale Matson
12-20-10
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”(Matt. 11:28, NASB).

I have heard the statement, “I’m too busy” quite often over the years. Frequently people will greet me with, “Are you keeping busy”? My response is, “I’m not into busy”. In fact, God has commanded that we rest at least one day a week. The time God allots us is a resource and like any other resource we are obligated to be good stewards. In the church time is sacred.

I believe it is possible to be both spontaneous and disciplined. For example a musician is allowed a cadenza within a musical piece or a figure skater has a free program following compulsory requirements. In both examples however there is a matter of self-discipline. Without discipline neither individuals would have achieved mastery, no matter how gifted. It is a matter of prioritization of time.

So, why are individuals so busy? Why is life so often a matter of putting out a fire over here and heading to the next fire over there? There are a number of factors. “Busy” has a false prestige to it. Most people would rather be Martha’s. It is a way of avoiding being intentional and attentive like Mary. It is also a means of avoidance and an alibi for poor or non-performance. Busy is a way to deal with anxiety and loneliness. People are good at filling their lives with distractor tasks. Multitasking is just a new name for busy.

I am not saying that time is somehow more holy in a monastery then on main street because it isn’t. It is merely a matter of taking the time to listen to God the Holy Spirit speak to us in all things. It is including God in all of our activities in a continual silent dialogue. A life lived intentionally for Christ is prayer without ceasing. A busy life that does not include God is a clanging cymbal and a noisy gong.

In today’s world there is great pressure to live a busy life. Even taking a restorative nap is seen as a venial sin. Busy is not important; it is undisciplined. Busy is a lame excuse for interrupted conversation. Busy is mindless and anhedonic activity. Busy is form with no content. Busy is a vacant expression lacking ears to hear.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt. 11:29, KJV).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rain In Due Season



Fr. Dale Matson
12-18-10
“Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:4, KJV).

There is a certain irony in the fact that the seasonal rainfall for the Central Valley of California is a meager eleven inches yet the Central Valley has the largest agricultural production in the United States. Some of the irrigation water is provided by deep wells but the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the East provides the explanation for how such an arid region can be so productive. Sierra Nevada is Spanish for Snowy Range. The mountain snowpack is reclaimed moisture that has traveled east passing the Valley by and returns Westward back toward the Valley as streams and rivers created by melting snow. The U.S. record for snowpack is at Tamarack CA of 37.5 feet. This melting snow is fed back gradually and is captured and stored in reservoirs that help regulate the flow westward toward the Pacific Ocean. These reservoirs provide recreation and electricity for millions of Californians in addition to water for drinking, agricultural products shipped around the world and habitat for wildlife.

The mountains provide natural containment of water reserves in the form of snow. When I hear the seasonal rain on my roof, I rejoice knowing that the Sierras are gleaning much of the remaining moisture from the passing storm and will give it back throughout the rest of the year. Much of California vegetation is green in winter and brown from mid spring until late fall. The spring reminds me of Exodus. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink." (Exodus 17:6). In spring, the water literally flows from the granite cracks and the earth.

The rivers that flow out of the Sierras are spaced such that the entire Central Valley is supplied with drinking and irrigation water. The combination of mountains and the rivers they give birth to, provide some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of the earth. Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon Parks are located in the Sierras and the rivers provide majestic waterfalls.

This is really a song of praise to God who is the Architect of this landscape. No engineer, artist, or farmer or could have even imagined such an intricate interplay of water, rock, snow and people. No one can describe this early beauty.

“The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand;” (Deuteronomy 28:12a).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Law

Fr. Dale Matson
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws on their heart, and upon their mind also will I write them; then saith He.” (Heb. 10:16).

Boundaries/rules provide freedom. The most freeing thing God did for the Jews in the Old Testament was not providing for their escape from Egypt but providing them with the Law. The Law gave people rules to live by and a life with meaning and purpose.

As I wrote this statement for my Advent III Homily, it was as if a veil was lifted from my eyes. It became clear to me that the Law is so much more than I had understood it to be. The distinction between Law and Gospel that I imposed on Scripture was a template provided by years of experience in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. This template created a contrast between Law and Gospel and whether Luther or Calvin, the purpose of the Law was in marked contrast to the Gospel. For Luther, the Law was seen as a Curb, a Mirror and a Guide. (Formula of Concord, 6th Article). Roughly put, the Law was a means God used to control men.

Why then is the Law spoken of by the writers of the Old Testament with the same adoration we hold the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why does our Lord say, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”(Matthew 5:17-18).

As we honor the Law, We are given life. As we honor God as commanded by the Law, we are given purpose. As we honor the Law toward our neighbors, our stony hearts are turned to flesh. As we honor the Law in keeping it, our priorities are established. As St. Paul points out in Galatians, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (3:24).

The Psalmist mentions the Law twenty five times in the 119th Psalm alone.
I shall delight in Your commandments, Which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes. Remember the word to Your servant, In which You have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction,that Your word has revived me. The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from Your law. I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O LORD, And comfort myself. Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, which forsake Your law. Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. O LORD, I remember Your name in the night,And keep Your law. This has become mine, that I observe Your precepts.
(Psalm 119: 47:56).

It is not the Law contrasted with the Gospel. It was God’s good pleasure to provide us with the Law that we could read and understand and love in the light of the Gospel. Amen

Monday, December 13, 2010

Freud and the Denial of Guilt

If one takes the ten commandments of Moses or the great commandment of Christ as a summation of all of the rules, what is it that enforces compliance? Why do we usually do the right thing? Most would say it is our conscience that is our personal policeman and judge. The conscience is the internal judge that uses guilt to punish individuals that do not live according to their own internal rules. Jesus would compare someone who does not live according to his own rules to a house divided against itself and a house divided against itself cannot stand. In reality, guilt is a painful blessing if it causes us to repent; if it causes us to say, “I am sorry for what I said, for what I’ve done. Please forgive me.”
Freud argued that neurotic individuals were really victims of social rules that were oppressive and unrealistic. These rules were internalized and created a conscience that was too strict and severe. The wish to express what Freud considered to be natural human desires was met with a scolding conscience. People hid these wishes from their conscience by pushing them down into their unconscious mind. Later the person developed mental and physical problems. It was the goal of psychoanalysis to get people to remember what they had intentionally forgotten. Intentional forgetting is called denial or repression. Neurotics were encouraged by their therapists to release the undesirable thoughts from the captivity of the unconscious mind much as Moses led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. Like Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God, denial and repression are examples of a person hiding from his own conscience. The analyst or counselor is there to say to the individual, “It’s ok to have those thoughts. You are a good person. You are just being too hard on yourself. You are suffering from false guilt. You are punishing yourself unnecessarily.” The reality is that boundaries/rules provide freedom. The most freeing thing God did for the Jews in the Old Testament was not providing for their escape from Egypt but providing them with the Law. The Law gave them rules to live by and a life with meaning and purpose.
Here is where the priest should be taking a different path than other counselors. When it comes to the reality of sin, the Priest must not be “referring out”. The psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker as a secular priest may claim that the individual suffers from false guilt but what about real guilt? They are enabling the individual to deny the reality of their guilt. They are providing a fig leaf and it doesn’t work any better for those they counsel than it did for Adam and Eve. Unfortunately un-confessed sin and denied guilt eventually can give rise to physical problems (why is there such a rise in autoimmune disorders?) and accidents. In many cases self-destructive behavior is self-punishment. Here is the reality of what I am saying. We all have rules inside of us and as Christians we must live a life consistent with these rules. If we don’t, we will experience guilt and guilt is psychological distress. Unrelieved psychological distress leads to physical and mental illness. Sin and its consequence guilt remain a reality in our time for Christians and non-Christians alike. Recent research indicates that one in five Americans is mentally ill. href=" http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1331636/1-5-Americans-mentally-ill-joblessness-takes-toll.html."> This is proof positive that a more permissive society with relaxed standards of morality does not lead to less neurosis. Freud was wrong.
It is not the job of a Priest to lower the conscience threshold in order to get rid of the conflict. We are here to diagnose the problem which is sin and prescribe the treatment which is repentance and confession and offer the prognosis which is absolution and forgiveness. What is needed is restoration to fellowship with God, our brothers and sisters and ourselves through repentance confession and absolution. Unfortunately many clergy today have bought into the idea that people are basically good. If we are not in Christ, we are not “OK”. Brothers and sisters, we are not born basically good. In Anglican and Orthodox Churches Baptism has included Exorcism; whether infant or adult. In the Roman Church we have the following: “During the Sacrament of Baptism, the Priest says two prayers of Exorcism”.
On those occasions where we experience real guilt there is only one healthy response. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Guilt is a symptom of sin, with sin as the underlying illness. For us, there is the weekly confession of sin and there is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We hear the following from the BCP, “When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of true contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces absolution.” (p.446)
It has frequently been said that the couch of the psychoanalyst has replaced the confessional of the priest. The psychoanalyst has not replaced the priest because the psychoanalyst will not acknowledge the sin and guilt and cannot offer forgiveness on behalf of God. I know this from both personal and professional experience. I have more comfort, consolation and healing to offer as a Priest who is a representative of Christ than as a Psychologist.
If you are troubled with guilt and anxiety because of unacknowledged sin, there is a course of action that is the only remedy. This remedy is not found on the couch of the psychoanalyst. It is found in the church. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16). Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Testimony Fr. Dale Matson


My Testimony
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19, NLT).
I was given a Halley’s Bible Handbook for High School Graduation at the Baptist Church I had attended since childhood. It was also a graduation of sorts from church also for the next twenty years. It was the usual time of life for questioning things in general and it was a time when “God is dead” was the mantra of the professors at my University. The decade of the 60’s was horrible in general and worse for young men in particular. While some relish reminiscing, I think about the instability of life following the previous quiescent decade. Leaders such as President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in what seemed like an outbreak of unending anarchy. I was drafted into the Army out of the University my senior year because my grade point average did not meet the criteria for the local draft board. During my two years of service I went from someone with a drinking problem to someone with a serious drinking problem. I remember taking money from a donation canister in a store to buy alcohol. What had I become?
For the next sixteen years I was engaged in the process of killing myself on the installment plan. Addiction to alcohol and cigarettes was only part of a self-defeating and self-destructive lifestyle. I had a rage inside me coupled with a fear that paralyzed personal growth and hurt those around me. I desperately sought peace and found alcohol to be a dependable source. It was a however a deal with the devil. Mornings became more and more difficult. I had panic attacks so severe, I would have to pull off the road in the tractor trailer hauling heavy equipment and sit until the fear passed.
I planned my life around alcohol and always made sure there was enough around to get the job done. While I never drank at work, I had a string of jobs over the years where I fouled my own nest over time. I was a husband and a father but emotionally unavailable to my wife and sons except in a harsh and punitive sense. I believe at this time of my life, I was capable of any act and fortunately God didn’t allow opportunities to present themselves.
God in His grace can even reach into the heart of the active unrepentant addict. I signed up for a sixteen week adult bible study with my wife as an act of appeasement, at the local Lutheran Church. After the first night I remember banging my fist on the steering wheel and saying that I wasn’t going back. During that sixteen weeks, God the Holy Spirit courted me and won me back. I had given my life to Christ as an eight year old in Sunday school. The crucial question for me was the same one Christ posed to Peter. “Who do you say that I am?” To see Christ as God opened the door for my return. I began attending bible class between services and enjoyed the experience immensely. Jim B. the president of the congregation became my spiritual mentor. He answered my many questions and became a father to me. He has passed on now but his biological son became a pastor and his adoptive son became a priest. It is part of a fitting eulogy for a godly man. He is only the first of many good men and women God placed by my side.
God’s will is not initially heavy but the cumulative effect is a rod of iron. I gradually became aware following my baptism that there was no turning back. I remember the thought that came to me before I walked down the aisle for my baptism. “You are throwing your life away for this Jesus”. The statement was true but the life I was throwing away wasn’t worth living. I was now another ambassador of God’s Kingdom and as an ambassador; it was not fitting for me to be a drunk or a smoker. At one point in my life, I had such severe indigestion from drinking that I put baking soda in my wine to avoid the acid stomach. I actually believed the lie that I would die if I quit drinking. I prayed about this and was delivered from the need to drink. I was trustworthy again. I had to pray for two more years to get the desire to quit smoking and when I quit on January 10th 1983, I never smoked again. I believe there can be conversion from addiction also.
There can be an enormous release of pent up power in a recovering individual. I will state unequivocally, that God chose me as He chose so many others to demonstrate His power. I am an ordinary man with a limited amount of physical and intellectual aptitude. For the next ten years God began to release His creative and life giving power in my life. I went back to school and finished my Ph.D. at Marquette University in Educational Psychology. On my first day of classes at Marquette (a Jesuit University) I looked up to see a crucifix on the wall. It seemed so right to me. I was an average student in High School and an honor student in graduate school. I also became a licensed Psychologist and School Psychologist. During this time I also designed and built a home and ran my first marathon. Running became my replacement behavior for smoking. At one point my weight, blood pressure and cholesterol were in the extreme range and in need of medical intervention. Running and a change of diet solved another aspect of a self-destructive life. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).
There was also unexpected collateral damage. My marriage of more than 20 years was falling apart. We fought more than ever. We were two decent people who now only seemed to bring out the worst in each other. The rancor was difficult for our sons. We agreed that I would take a tenure track teaching position in California at a Mennonite Brethren University and the family would join me the following year after my oldest son had graduated from High School. It did not come to pass and we agreed to a Pro Se divorce. My university spent nearly a year investigating the circumstances. It was a difficult and lonely time. The same week in December of 1993 our divorce was finalized and the university agreed to allow me to stay on. Once again, God provided a saintly mentor Dr. Bob W., who I worked with for over eight years. His passing is mourned by hundreds of former students that he both taught and shepherded.
After seventeen years of teaching and being a school psychologist, I was no longer able to convince myself that was what God had intended as my final career. As a program director, I was able to both teach and counsel the students in the counseling and school psychology programs. Part of our evaluation was our participation in our church and I could see that increasing year by year with a declining passion for teaching and the academic life.
In the meantime, I walked into church one Sunday thinking that I would never meet a woman there who could be my wife. God’s humor is manifested at times like this. As I was sitting down in the pew, I looked across the aisle to my right and in front of me. There was a woman sitting there that was the most handsome woman I have ever seen. She had the most beautiful gray hair and a youthful face that betrayed the gray hair. Sharon was visiting with a friend who was a parishioner there. I said to myself, “I will meet this woman no matter what it takes”. I had coffee with her at a small local grill on Monday and knew within the next week that we would be married. She also had been divorced about three years. Between us we have four sons. We were married at the foot of Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite in 1996.
While I was still teaching at the university, I began taking classes in Anglican Studies at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary on the campus of Fresno Pacific University where I taught. I loved the theology and history of Anglicanism and began to sense that God was calling me to holy orders. Unfortunately for me the members of the Commission on Ministry decided after meeting with me that I needed more time to discern my call. This was a polite way of saying that my ego had metastasized and needed a two year course of rejection therapy. I was more humble at my next retreat and had retired as emeritus from Fresno Pacific University.
There remained questions about whether I was being called to the Deaconate or the Priesthood and following a year working as a vocational Deacon, I met with Bishop Schofield to say that I really thought God was calling me to the Priesthood. His response was, “What took you so long”? After a year of additional training and experience, I was ordained a Priest on the Feast Day of St. Gregory the Great, March 12th 2010. It is where God wanted me to be all along but it took me until age 65 to be prepared for this calling.
God has called me above all to comfort others with the comfort that I have been comforted with. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our entire affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). I know others who have been prodigals but they have had enormous gifts. What makes my testimony unique is that I am ordinary. If God can accomplish this with me then a similar life dedicated and submitted to God can also demonstrate the Glory of God. “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellence of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). My personal prayer for those who read this and are choosing death, would have hope that Christ could, like Lazarus also raise them from death to life. Amen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This morning I’d like to tell you a story of two wealthy men whose lives came together in an extraordinary way.

Nicky and Philip were both wealthy men though they came into their means differently.

Nicky was one of those who all of us dream about. He was born into a very wealthy family and never knew want. But unlike the kind of “rich kids” we read about or hear about in “the Lives of the Rich and Famous,” Nicky was taught from an early age that one is to be generous to others, especially those in need. Nicky’s family had great wealth and yet he was not spoiled by that wealth. Unfortunately at an early age, his mother and father tragically died leaving all of their wealth to him.

Instead of squandering his wealth, Nicky decided to travel oversees to seek his education at one of the most prestigious universities of his day. And (I’ll let you in on a secret) that since this was a time before air travel, his travel was by ship. On one of his voyages he is said to have saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship's rigging in a storm. When he arrived home (at semester break) Nicky and the other sailors decided to go to church together to give thanks to God – for you see along with a heart for the needy, Nicky’s parents were also Christians and passed their faith along to him as well. When Nicky entered the church he found that the priest had recently died – and the people (after hearing of Nicky’s heroism) decided that HE should be their new pastor! And so humbly, Nicky took the job. . .

Please read the rest of the story at And Now For Something Completely Different

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wilderness

Wilderness

Fr. Dale Matson

11-28-10

"I will make a Ezek 16:60; chapter 20:37; chapter 37:26covenant of peace with them and Job 5:22, 23; Is 11:6-9eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may Jer 33:16; Ezek 28:26; chapter 34:27, 28live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.” (Ezekiel 34:25).

While I live in a large city, Fresno California, I am also blessed to be within one hour of both Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. I believe it is no accident that God is frequently depicted as being in the mountains or the wilderness. Although many of you may have gone on a spiritual retreat, probably fewer of you have actually spent time alone in the wilderness. It can be a singular experience to hear only the sound of your own breathing and the sound of your own eardrums. The wilderness can be stunningly beautiful and also brutally and tragically unforgiving if you are there unprepared. Be properly prepared for the mountains make their own weather.

The wilderness in Scripture is referred to often. It can be a location where God’s people are tested and learn obedience. “How often they Ps 95:8, 9; chapter 106:43; chapter 107:11; Heb 3:16rebelled against Him in the wilderness and Ps 95:10; Is 63:10; Eph 4:30grieved Him in the Ps 106:14desert!” (Psalm 78:40).

The wilderness can also be a judgment from God “I will Ezek 32:4-6abandon you to the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers; you will fall on the open field; you will not be brought together or Jer 8:2; chapter 25:33gathered I have given you for Jer 7:33; chapter 34:20; Ezek 39:4food to the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the sky.” (Ezekiel 29:12).

The wilderness is also a state of barrenness we are brought to, where we once again yearn for God. “O God, Ps 118:28You are my God; I shall seek You [1] earnestly; My soul Ps 42:2; chapter 84:2; Matt 5:6thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a Ps 143:6dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1).

The wilderness is a place for a fresh start. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness [1] Acts 13:24preaching a baptism of repentance for the Luke 1:77forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4).

The wilderness is also an intentional destination where there is an expectation of encountering God. “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12pray.” (Luke 5:16).

The wilderness is even a place where we can discover grace. “Thus says the LORD, “The people who survived the sword Num 14:20found grace in the wilderness--Israel, when it went to Ex 33:14; Num 10:33; Deut 1:33; Josh 1:13find its rest." (Jeremiah 31:2).

Whatever reason that may appeal to you, consider the possibility of time spent alone in the wilderness. It’s not just a destination. Amen




Friday, November 26, 2010

Compassion Fatigue


Compassion Fatigue
Fr. Dale Matson
11-26-2010
"But if you had known what this means, ' I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matt. 12:7, NASB).
In context, Jesus is teaching that honoring the spirit of the Law is more important than the letter of the Law. Later St. Paul would say, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Gal. 5:18).
Since compassion is a characteristic of God, what is it that God has and imparts to us? Compassion (from Latin: "co-suffering") is a virtue —one in which there is emotional capacity of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion.
Years ago I was returning from a failed job interview and had stopped at a gas station somewhere between Lacrosse and Milwaukee. As I was filling my tank, a young woman pulled up in a jalopy of a car on the other side of the pump. She had two small children in the car with her. I still remember the plastic sheeting covering a rear window which was broken out. When she got out of the car, I could see that she was heading to the attendant with only a dollar in her hand. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. Although I didn’t have a lot of spare cash myself, I had enough to offer her a five dollar bill toward her gas. Her smile was her silent “Thanks”. I believe this was a compassion imparted by God. While I have had similar experiences since then, I don’t believe any have had the same impact on me.
While God is partial to the poor and the needy, “He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:13), He is also sovereign in his compassion. And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." (Exodus 33:1).
Our Lord Jesus was a man of compassion but sometimes delayed helping (Lazarus) and only did what he saw His father doing. “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).
In this 24/7 world of need we find ourselves a part of, it is necessary that we don’t turn the grace of compassion into a law of service. We are finite and the needs of our world are infinite. Our compassion for others is given by God to us and directed by God for us. It is Him whom we serve. If our prime directive is to love, worship and serve God then it is to Him we must listen. He will direct our paths in serving Him. Jesus also allowed others to minister to him as demonstrated by the woman breaking the spices over his head. "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.” (Matt. 26:6-10).
Those in the church who experience compassion fatigue and burnout have allowed others to determine their service priorities when it should be God who does this. I am continually reminded of a portion of the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace, “……to know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom…” (BCP, p.99). Jesus himself is our model for not allowing others to determine our service. I am writing this to those on the edge of dropping out; those who are exhausted and weary from doing good.
" Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Guilt

Guilt
11-24-10
Fr. Dale Matson
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws on their heart, and upon their mind also will I write them; then saith he.” (Heb. 10:16).
Whether we say that our boundaries are hard wired or acquired through socialization, boundaries exist in adults in the form of an autonomous morality [the rules of conduct are internal](Kohlberg). In the case of the sociopath, the rules governing behavior never become internalized and must be externally imposed and enforced.
If one takes the ten commandments of Moses or the great commandment of Christ as a summation thereof, as the basic moral package, what is it that enforces compliance? Most would say it is the conscience of the individual. The conscience is the internal judge that uses guilt to punish individuals that do not live according to their own internal rules.
Freud argued that neurotic individuals were really the product of social rules that were oppressive and unrealistic. The cost to society of civilizing its children is neurosis. The irony of course is that the saints are able to live to a moral standard above that required by society. The highest percentage of healthy individuals, who make lasting contributions to society, are people who are living at Kohlberg’s stage six (highest) stage of moral development.
The reality is that boundaries/rules provide freedom. For example, we would not dare drive a car down the street if we didn’t have expectations that those who share the road would stop at red lights. Terrorists are a terrible threat because they seem to have no rules but what about the relaxation of moral behavior and even the call for the legalization of drug use, no-fault divorce and the killing of the unborn? If it is legal why do people feel guilty and should they feel that way?
Here is where the psychologist takes a different path than the priest. The psychologist as a secular scientist practitioner may claim that the individual suffers from false guilt. In reality they are not raising consciousness at all. They are enabling the individual to deny the reality of their guilt. Unfortunately denied guilt eventually can give rise to somatic maladies (why is there such a rise in autoimmune disorders?) and accidents.
The priest does not deny guilt. This is not to say that there are not occasions of false guilt. Satan is called the accuser. We can even suffer from an oversensitive conscience. “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20).
But on those occasions where we experience real guilt there is only one healthy response. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Guilt is a symptom of sin, with sin as the underlying illness. For those in the liturgical churches, there is the "Sacrament of Reconciliation". “When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of true contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces absolution.” (Book of Common Prayer, p.446).
Sin and its consequence guilt remain a reality in our time. Recent research indicates that one in five individuals is mentally ill.(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1331636/1-5-Americans-mentally-ill-joblessness-takes-toll.html) The psychoanalyst has not replaced the priest because he will not acknowledge the sin and guilt and cannot offer forgiveness on behalf of God. If you are troubled with guilt, there is a course of action that is the only remedy for guilt. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Identificational Repentance and the Massacre of Glencoe

Identificational Repentance and the Massacre of Glencoe
11-23-10
Fr. Dale Matson
"Identificational Repentance" is a term referring to a type of prayer which identifies with and confesses before God the corporate sins of one's nation, people, church, or family (John Dawson, Healing America's Wounds, p. 15, Ventura: Regal, 1994).
I was the preacher this past Sunday for both a celebration of Christ the King and The Kirkin of the Tartans, an annual celebration. My mother’s family name is Campbell and anyone familiar with the history of Scotland is aware of the Glencoe Massacre. I included this in the homily and offered an apology to the MacDonald Clan. In my research of this I had not seen any evidence of contrition on the part of my historical brethren the Campbell’s. This singular act may have been the worst act of treachery in the history of Scotland and remains a stain on the Campbell family and all of Scotland. As I read the account of the massacre during the service, I was filled with remorse and sorrow for the heinous act and breach of trust. I was overcome with tears while I asked for forgiveness from the MacDonald’s and God.
The next day one of our parishioners sent me an email about the service and the concept of Identificational Repentance. While this idea has been around for some time, I had never heard of the term before this. There are some Scriptural passages that illustrate the concept. “Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God.” (Dan. 9:20) and ”let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned.” (Neh. 1:6).
Why should there be Identificational repentance? “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:5).
In the Book of Occasional Services for the eighth station of the Way of the Cross, we say the following, “Teach your Church, O Lord, to mourn the sins of which it is guilty, and to repent and forsake them; that, by your pardoning grace, the results of our iniquities may not be visited upon our children and our children's children; through Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.” (1994, p.66).
In the mystical body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we offer prayers of intercession in our prayers of the people for our deceased brethren. “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear [especially__________], beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service.” (BCP HE I P. 330).
It seems reasonable that since we are called to be intercessors in the here and now for events past, present and future that we should ask for God’s forgiveness for those things past where we are not personally responsible but responsible as a member of a church, clan, gang, nation or people. God laid this on my heart. If God has laid something like this on your heart, I believe it is something to consider.
"If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Amen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Translating the Appellate Decision in the San Joaquin Case

From the Anglican Curmudgeon -

As briefly reported in this previous post, the Fifth District Court of Appeal today reversed the grant of summary adjudication by the Fresno trial court in favor of the Episcopal Church (USA) and Bishop Jerry Lamb. It held that the trial court should not have adjudicated the issue of who was the proper Bishop of San Joaquin, with entitlement to the assets of the departed Diocese of San Joaquin (now called the "Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin").

This article continues with an extensive review of the decision. Please read the rest of Mr Haley's analysis at the Anglican Curmudgeon.

Appellate Court Sends Case back to Superior Court

The following excerpts are from a recent Fresno Bee article, "Episcopal dispute sent back to Fresno Co. court":

"The legal battle between the U.S. Episcopal Church and the breakaway Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin over who owns church property will return to Fresno County Superior Court, the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday.

The appellate justices tossed out a Superior Court judge's decision that the breakaway diocese couldn't claim a right to the property in a jury trial. The judge essentially had decided that it was a church matter, not a matter for the civil courts."

At the end of the article there is this comment from the attorney representing the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin:

"Attorney Russell VanRozeboom, who represents the breakaway diocese, said he was aware of the ruling and that the trial court has been told by the appeals court to proceed based on neutral principles of the law. 'It's absolutely a positive step. We asked for it to be reversed and it was. Not only was it reversed, it was dismissed. We got more than what we asked for.'"

See the link below to read the entire article, which includes commentary from those representing the Episcopal Church.

Read more at Fresno Bee.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dreams

Dreams
11-18-10
Fr. Dale Matson
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28).
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” (Opening sentences of Confession of Sin in Rite II BCP, P. 360).
Just in case you thought we are only judged by our works, it is obvious that our thoughts are the next level that God examines. Our actions, failures to act and our thoughts essentially stem from our conscious thought life.
Thinking about doing something that one should not do, may or may not be a prelude to actually doing it but what is considered a harmless fantasy can be rehearsal for acting on that same fantasy. If not carried out in real life, wishes may find their way into the latent (hidden) content of a dream and be acted out in disguised form in the dream. In some dreams the manifest and latent content are the same and there is no symbolism. Here we do not need a Jungian analyst or a Daniel to interpret our dream. As a former smoker, I am always happy to awaken and find that the disappointment and defeat I experienced smoking in a dream is relieved by waking. In that case I believe it is God preemptively waiving me off the runway of temptation.
Dreams are a way that God speaks to His people and as Morton Kelsey stated in God, Dreams and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams (1991), ” Neglecting the dream can separate us from one of the most significant ways that God reaches out to human beings.”
The Psalmist understood that his dreams revealed an inner man. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me," (Psalm 139:23-24) and "Behold, Thou desires truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me know wisdom." (Psalm 51:6).
Recently I believe that God revealed to me the utter depth and depravity of my sinful nature in a dream. Without revealing the actual content, I must say that there was not a waking life to connect to the dream content and no frustrated waking impulse to fulfill in that dream. When the manifest and latent content are identical there can be no denial of the actions in the dream. It was a dream that had me saying to myself when I awakened, “Thank God this was a dream. This cannot be me!” I believe it was God showing me who I am without Christ. There is no room for self-righteousness after a dream like this. It was sobering indeed and as a priest so humbling. Two verses from scripture immediately come to mind as I reflect on this. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;” (Romans 7:18a). But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6a).
However, with and in Christ I recall the following verses. “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:28-30).
I believe God uses dreams to show us many things including the person we are without Christ. It is an inescapable truth and there is no denying this. It is our unconverted self, our old Adam at the deepest level and he is a ruthless cold blooded self, deserving of Hell. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1). Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here?
11-17-10
Fr. Dale Matson
“For goodness sakes, what will it take all ranks of the clergy in the Anglican world with at least two brain cells to simply walk away and form another denomination?”
[This question was posed recently on a blog site thread discussing an article where The Archbishop of Canterbury said that plans to make the unemployed do unpaid work to stay in benefits was unfair. http://tinyurl.com/Rowan-Williams. He tends to be crystal clear and quick to offer opinions on social policy issues and less so with his statements about the state of the WWAC.]
While I believe I still have at least two brain cells, the thought of walking away once again is troubling indeed. I believe that those of us in ACNA are already considered schismatic since most came out of TEC rather than continue to fight the heresies. What do we do now? Do we advocate for an additional split in the WWAC too? My hope is that the Global South Primates, who recognize the ACNA, will understand more clearly the leadership role that God is calling them to take in the Communion. In the All Africa Bishops Conference held last August there was evidence of this awareness. “Four hundred bishops from Africa announced today that 'business as usual' was no longer an option for the Anglican Church there and that Africans should ‘take their destiny into their own hands’.” http://tinyurl.com/2a7cafl.
The ACNA has been recognized and included in this destiny. “We are committed to network with orthodox Anglicans around the world, including Communion Partners in the USA and the Anglican Church in North America, in holistic mission and evangelism. Our aim is to advance the Kingdom of God especially in unreached areas. ” http://tinyurl.com/Bishops-Communique.
In North America the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin has been a point of the spear and has suffered for this but willingly and with perseverance. TEC is now suing each incorporated parish in our Diocese in addition to the Diocese itself. I personally believe that there would be no ACNA had not John-David Schofield our Bishop taken the first step in being the initial Diocese separating from TEC. If you were to look at us you would wonder why this move came from such an unlikely place, the very ordinary Diocese of San Joaquin. This was truly a David vs. Goliath moment.
Anglicans constitute the 3rd largest Christian denomination. The vast majority of Anglicans are orthodox and hold to the historic faith once delivered. The Jerusalem Declaration http://tinyurl.com/Jerusalem-Declaration. describes where faithful Anglicans are today more clearly, not nuanced and with less appeasement than the Anglican Covenant which may never be adopted by either the liberals or the conservatives in the World Wide Anglican Communion. I believe that eventually a branch of Anglicanism centered in Jerusalem or Africa will become the answer to Canterbury centered Anglicanism which is the historic center but no longer the theological center. I see little difference in the quest for innovation and another gospel in the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada and amongst those in authority in Canterbury and the other instruments of unity such as the Anglican Consultative Council than TEC. Archbishop Rowan Williams seems not to fully appreciate the depth of the division within the WWAC. Footnote #2. of the August CAPA Primates Communiqué states, “There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.” This should not be considered a threat. These are leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say.
There was a time that I hoped that ACNA would be recognized by the See of Canterbury this is no longer the case. It is the Global South that I look to for clarity, orthodoxy, leadership and the future of Anglicanism. It is Christianity that has come full circle. Those we taught now teach us. It is time to turn the page. In the meantime we will be doing the work we were called to do in the great commission and the great commandment. I speak only for myself about these things. Thy will be done Lord Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Words

Words
11-15-10
Fr. Dale Matson
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
“ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Gospel of John 1:1)
Two of my favorite passages in Scripture deal with words. In Genesis, God spoke the universe into being. In St. John’s Gospel our Lord Jesus Christ is immediately identified as the Word of God and God Himself through whom all things were created (verse 3).
Words are an important means of communication and provide humans with a history. While we can now communicate with images, it is words that provide a longer historical memory for humans. Our intellectual functioning is possible because we have a language to form and express thoughts and images. Much of my life has been spent developing, cultivating and refining the use of words. I am amazed at how well brilliant individuals can provide a clear image with few words. It reminds me of the economy of genius of the composer Beethoven, who could use so few notes in so many ways in the first movement of his 5th symphony. The same can be said of words. I remember a critic stating succinctly that the movie Remains of the Day was a “superb portrayal of unshakable repression.”
While words can be used in positive ways to create and portray, they can also be employed for the opposite outcome. Words can be used with the precision of a scalpel to help or they can be a dagger that leaves a wound that never heals without intervention. Those of us with the gift of exhortation possess the opposite also. I have said things to my sons in anger that have the power of a curse. Their forgiveness came grudgingly but helped heal the collateral damage I had incurred.
Another concern for me is that the use of words, that should be used to communicate clearly and with precision, have become a kind of Romulan cloaking device to create incremental change and communicate permissions to those in power. The words are nuanced in such a way as to stay off the radar of those of us who believe that our yes should be yes and our no should be no. It is subterfuge and it is dishonest.
Finally Words should be an improvement on Silence. The sheer volume of words by individuals such as the Archbishop of Canterbury becomes a white noise covering the overly nuanced intentionally obfuscated meaning. When a leader speaks, the words must breathe life into the hope of those they lead. They must engender courage. They must speak the truth in love.
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63) Amen