Sunday, November 28, 2010



Fr. Dale Matson


"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
"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)
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


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.( 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
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


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?
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. 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’.”
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. ”
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 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


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

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Interview With Morton T. Kelsey by Fr. Dale Matson

This is Part 2 of an edited interview with Fr. Morton Kelsey.

An Interview With Morton T. Kelsey by Fr. Dale Matson

This is Part 1. of a two part edited interview I Conducted in 1996 with Fr. Kelsy (1917-2001) at his home in Gualala CA. He authored over 30 books on spiritual life and development. This may be the only interview of him available.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Between a Personality and a Mood

In Between a Personality and a Mood
Fr. Dale Matson
I once worked as a mental health counselor with a nurse on a psychiatric unit. She seemed rather moody to the staff. One day she would be full of compassion and grace and the next time she would be angry and vindictive. She eventually experienced a psychotic episode and needed to be admitted to the very unit she supervised. As it turned out, she was later diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (currently referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). It is theorized that individuals with MPD experienced severe trauma as young children. This was in the form of severe sexual and or physical abuse. In order to survive, the individual developed additional personalities that absorb the abuse and distance the original personality from the reality of the trauma. When the other personality or alter ego emerges, the original personality is seemingly unaware and in what is called a fugue (amnestic) state.
Moods are different than personalities in that they are transitory emotional states and not enduring identities like a personality. Moods are usually brief but sometimes last considerably longer than the situation that provoked the mood. Someone can be angry or sad for days, refusing to give up the mood and giving it lodging. Moods are however not necessarily a pathognomonic sign that there is an underlying additional personality.
I believe that there is a third condition that while someone does not adopt an additional personality or personalities, they shift from their usual self to what Eric Berne would call the parent self. In reality the parent self could also be called the “Critical Parent”. Many people have experienced abuse by parents. This abuse did not rise to the level that it caused another personality to develop but it did create a scripted response that is evoked by a situation where a person feels threatened in some way. It is a kind of dissociative state, in that the individual usually does not realize that they have become the critical parent to another person. This third condition is unfortunately all too common in social and work situations. I have been the critical parent and been scolded by the critical parent of someone else. It is most harmful when we hand this down to our own children who carry on the family tradition. It is an unconscious dominant trait. It is reinforced by secondary gain because we reduce the perceived threat.
So how do we deal with this in between state? Perhaps the first step as a Christian is repentance. We know that we do not build ourselves up or even protect ourselves by tearing others down. This is a failure to love others as we should. The second step is coming to grips with how we feel about our parents. If we have forgiven them then we need to be intentional about loving them also, whether they are living or deceased. We need to make peace with our parents who will live forever in our minds and hearts. I believe this frees up good memories that can be held captive by vindictive, self-destructive anger. Finally, we need to be re-parented. What does this mean? It means finding a mentor, spiritual guide counselor or clergyperson who is a good parent. They are adults and treat us as adults, encouraging us and seeing our healthy selves. They model for us how adults relate to and love one another. It also means understanding the love of God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ and Mary our spiritual mother. Amen

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Right Stuff and Holy Orders

The Right Stuff and Holy Orders
Fr. Dale Matson
“The Right Stuff” is the title of a nineteen seventy nine book by Tom Wolfe about the original seven Project Mercury astronauts selected for the U.S. space mission. The characteristic of all of the astronauts was their willingness to risk their lives to accomplish a mission in outer space for their country. Their prior track record, many who were test pilots, demonstrated that they had the prerequisite skills and aptitudes to become astronauts. It was then a matter of providing the training (added value) that would prepare them for space flight. If they didn’t have the right stuff, no amount of training would turn them into astronauts.
As a program director selecting students for graduate training in a School Psychology preparation program, it was evident to me that to be a school psychologist one also had to have the right stuff. Prospects needed a track record also. Did they have a heart to serve others as a part of a team in a school setting? Did they have the prerequisite aptitude to interpret data and make sound judgments? Were they ethical, compassionate and dependable? Perhaps the most important factor for me was, were they unflappable?
As vocations officer for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, I am also involved in a selection process. Our commission on ministry meets monthly and it also generally involves face to face meetings with prospective aspirants. I believe aspirants need a track record of service in the parish. A sponsoring parish serves an important role in discernment and formation. An important consideration in the discernment process, is the call of God to the individual and the confirmation of this within the parish. How a person acts on this perceived call as they interact and serve with the brethren in the parish is a better measure of the mature Christian life than an interview by COM. Someone called by God is compelled to serve just as the unbaptized convert senses the need to be baptized. Although this call from God may vary with individuals, it seems to occur in early life and can only be resisted at the peril of those called by God. As someone serving God for years as a plumber and a professor, I found there to be no rest until I became a Deacon and then a Priest yet I am reminded by my sister that I had told her that God had called me to serve His church early in life.
Why do I focus so heavily on the call of God? It is because it is an important part of the right stuff for those seeking Holy Orders. It means that they are listening to God and they will follow Him. The service they provide and the love they demonstrate in their church should prove the other qualities; indicate someone with a teachable heart and someone growing in grace. I learned early on as a program director that school psychologists can come in all shapes and sizes as long as they have the prerequisites. In taking on the added value of their training they also took on the mantle of the profession, the identity of the school psychologist. The same is true of clergy. I’ve been told by more than one person that I am not the same person who was told by COM to come back in two years, ten years ago. I needed to downsize.
A second component in the right stuff is being ordinary. This may come as a surprise to some but if we examine the great heroes of our faith we see Moses who mumbled, David who was small of stature, Peter who was impulsive and Paul who had sharp elbows, to name a few. This is so God can demonstrate that it is His power working in us. Send us more ordinary people filled with Your Spirit Lord!
The final component of the right stuff is the same as the right stuff for astronauts. It is a willingness to die for the mission. For some this may mean a willingness to die a literal death. There are some who know in their heart that they will be martyrs. For most of us it means dying to self. It means that Christ is not just the heart of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in person. It means that for us our prime directive is to lead a Christ like life seeking the face of God, to lead others to a saving knowledge of Christ and equip them for their ministry. Amen