Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Fr. Dale Matson

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
Close friends are really extended family. The connection is so close that the phrase “kith and kin” is intended to encompass both friends and family. Some folks by estrangement, age or disaster have no family and thus their friends of necessity become their family.
Friends are collectables. Friendships are cultivated over the period of a lifetime. To some extent friendships with others have helped make us who we are. They are an external form of DNA. I can still remember permanently changing the way I made the number four in response to the way Tom, a fourth grade friend made his fours. I lost track of Tom after he returned from Viet Nam.
Friendships are similar to annual and perennial plants. Intense and intimate school friendships sometimes wither and die within a short period following graduation. The perennial friendships survive the seasons and transplanting. Like plants however the friendships require tending. Frequently it is not a reciprocal effort. “I was just going to call you.” I was just thinking about you.” Isn’t that the frequent response to a phone call? I am one of those folks who contacts the kith and kin. Sometimes the ego says, “Isn’t it their turn to call you”? No matter, they rarely if ever have. Sometimes one needs the tenacity of an obsessive compulsive and the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes to keep track of the friends without tap roots.
Friendships like wine, improve with age. It is not just a shared history together and a willingness to be interested in their life as it is now. Friends help fill in the outline of each other’s lives as we look back and reminisce. Each new conversation with an old friend reveals new riches in an old stream bed. There are also reassurances. “You were not as bad as you remember yourself to be.” There is a Godly grace that has kept you together. There is a refuge in both shared suffering and laughter. Old friends provide perspective. “You look just like your father as I remember him.”
There is a kindness and a charity to the conversation. There is so much distance and so many years since we have been in the same room together but with telephones and letters and now e-mail the pilot light of an old friendship is kept burning.
I have been blessed with a handful of close friends who have remained in touch with each other for over fifty years and two friends I have known for over sixty years. With our parents now gone, they have become part of our adopted lineage. Most begin their last name with “M” also. We were seated alphabetically in school. Maybe I would be different if my last name began with an “A” or a “Z”.
There are things that they have said to us that has helped change the course of our life and interrupted the trajectory of our fall. Our friends have been such a grace gift of God. I now sign my correspondence or end a conversation with, “I love you.” or “God bless you.” It is so strongly felt and so easy to say now. Jesus has taught us who God is and our friends have helped us to understand who Jesus is.

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief’s to bear! Joseph M. Scriven, 1855

Friday, June 25, 2010


Fr. Dale Matson
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15 NIV)
We live in a society less and less accustomed to work. By this I don’t mean white collar employment but blue collar folks engaged in the trades or in unskilled workers that live by the sweat of their brow. As someone who worked in construction for seventeen years, I still remember the construction season. We had to work long days and weeks to make up for the winter when deep frost made excavation and grading impractical. During the drive home each day there was a satisfying fatigue that burned bone deep yet provided an intoxicating peace.
The reality is that we were created to work. Work is an irreplaceable kind of exercise. It is unique because it yields a product. The product could be food, a home and even a good bead on a weld. The hot days for me were made hotter as a journeyman plumber when melting the lead ingots for sealing the jute in the joints in cast iron sewer pipes. Sweat would drip into the lead pot and create a small crackle as the moisture was absorbed. Work is also a cooperative effort. Many jobs require more than two hands or two skills. Friendships develop and stories are shared. A work colleague can become a confidant. Firefighters and law enforcement officers become brothers and sisters in the meaningful work of protecting others.
Today gym memberships abound. White collar folks know that sweat comes from places that a shower never reaches. Sweat brings out the toxins of a stressful life and the gym is a place where “parallel play” mimics normal human interaction. Each person with a set of ear buds listening to this or that tune selection. There is a good burn following an intense spin class or weight lifting circuit. Then there is a shower and off to the office. However, there is no work product and no guild fraternity.
There is something holy about work that sets it apart from other forms of exercise. Not only did God create us to work. He gave us a job and this job gave us meaning. For the workaholic his meaning has become his job. He has become an idolater and his god is the center of his meaning. Like all idolaters, the workaholic has replaced God with a gift of God.
I believe worship is a human activity closely related to work. Both take us out of ourselves, give us meaning and make us hardy and resilient. We are better for it. God is a worker also for we are His handiwork. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10). Liturgy is the work of the people and so in liturgy we are become coworkers with God. In liturgy the work we do divides both the year and our lives into sacred seasons. We perform sacred work marking points along the path of our earthly journey which includes Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Death. Our work in the Liturgy is also preparatory for the specific work God calls each of us to do. Our assigned work is specific to each of us and we are also each a living stone in the building of God’s Kingdom held together by our chief corner stone Jesus Christ.
“And now , Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (This is a portion of the concluding prayer of the liturgy, from the Book of Common Prayer p. 366).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Christians and Depression

Fr. Dale Matson
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12

Depression has been called the common cold of mental health. It is true in the respect that it is common and can also be contagious but it is much more severe than a common cold. It is an isolating, deep, seemingly hopeless hole of despair. It is a place where a broken shoelace in the morning can destroy an entire day. It is a place with no pleasure and no more tears to shed. It can appear normally as a part of grief or comingled with anxiety. Depression has been described as a behavior disorder, a cognitive disorder, a family systems disorder and a neurotransmitter imbalance.
I want to offer another way for folks to consider why endogenous (non reactive) depression is seemingly so intractable yet point to a hopeful understanding and treatment. In some sense I see chronic (with acute episodes) depression as an identity disorder. It is as if people who suffer from chronic depression no longer can distinguish themselves from their disorder. It is as if they would have to give up who they know themselves to be if their depression was removed. They would not know who they were any longer. In The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis makes an insightful observation. “The question is whether she is a grumbler or a grumble. If there is a real woman, even the trace of one-still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.” From a Christian perspective this means to go to the cross with Christ not to destroy oneself. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). And we hear also from Paul in Romans “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (6:6). I think that is why a truly Christian approach could provide help. I mean by this, helping the individual to put on Christ as their new identity. This is something all Christians are asked to do. The life of a Christian is continually taking the old man to the cross or as Luther would say, celebrating our baptism daily by drowning the old man so that the new man might come forth. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4: 22-24). There is so much in Scripture that encourages us to put on the new person that is Christ. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2a) What kind of mind are we to have? Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5). “… my friends keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).
There is another additional side to addressing depression. Since depression can be isolating, Christians know that physically they reside in Christ’s body the church. Their brothers and sisters who may also have experienced depression are available to offer the comfort that they were comforted with. (2 Cor. 1:4). Spiritually they also reside in Christ. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28a). Christ suffers with us and His church. The topic of depression fills volumes and treatment options are multifaceted with varying degrees of efficacy depending also on the individual. What I have attempted to say, that as Christians we all have an opportunity to seek and to find ourselves in Christ and He in us. For those with depression this is especially important. This is in addition to, not in lieu of other treatment options offered by your physician.
Christ is our true self and our only self. Listen to the life He offers us. It is a not a life without suffering but it can be a life of joy. Amen

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Jesus Part Of Us

The Jesus Part of Us
Fr. Dale Matson

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

As a Psychologist, I was taught and aware that much of what we do is based on motivation from our unconscious mind and much of this activity is self serving. For example, we might do a charitable deed but the motivation might be self serving. Even though we thought the act was selfless, it was really selfish. We may gift someone and think that this is an affirmation for them but it is really a need on our part for them to like us.
As Christians however, there is another force at work in us. “For it is God who works in you, to will and to act, according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)
As a Priest it is also evident to me that Christians are motivated in a way that may be unconscious but is mysterious and selfless. It reminds me of the remote control devices we use to turn on our Television or Radio. The remotes use an infrared beam of light that we cannot see. We usually don’t think about the beam unless our dog is standing between us and the TV when we are unable to mute a commercial.
Recently I was conversing with another customer in the hardware store. It is the kind of small talk people make while in close proximity waiting for the clerk. I was having a little difficulty understanding him because of my age and his thick accent but the conversation included mutual respect and laughter. He mentioned to me that he was Muslim and I said that I was an Anglican Priest. I had to put the purchase in the back of my truck and while I was doing that he came up behind me. He said, “You are like Jesus. I like being around you. Do you have a business card where your church is”? As we parted, I gave him a blessing and told him so also. He smiled and went to his car.
To me this was a Kingdom of God moment. Jesus was like that invisible infrared light that had gone out from me to this man. The Gospel light is that Jesus part of us coming in contact with others. Yes, I can be known for having a hard edge but there is also the Jesus part of me too. We must all understand as Christians that when our best self, our only true self, is operating, others want to be around us. We are an incarnation of the Gospel light to others.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)