Friday, December 30, 2011


Fr. Dale Matson

            “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3, NASB)
Since it was the end of this year, it was also time to take care of old business before the start of the New Year. It was rather simple to catalogue and recount my sins since the last confession, under the infamous seven deadly sins.  Some sins on the list are more problematic for me than others. If vainglory is a form of pride, it is the ugliest form of pride. While vainglory is not easy to define, it is easy to describe. I know it when I see it.
In making his escape, Odysseus blinded the Cyclops and told the Cyclops that “no man” had done it to him, when asked by the Cyclops who had blinded him. This was to keep the Cyclops from recruiting his friends in pursuing the men.  Later Odysseus yelled back to the Cyclops from his ship as they sailed away.  The Cyclops threw giant boulders in the direction of the voice as they sailed away imperiling the ship. Odysseus could not resist setting the record straight by yelling back to shore that it was he, Odysseus that had blinded him. That is an example of vainglory. Vainglory is also the football player celebrating in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. While a professional vitae can be a form of credential, it can also be a historical archive of vainglory.
St. Paul had been shown the glory of the third heaven yet was careful in describing himself as the “least” of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). He would only glory in the cross. (Gal. 6-14, KJV). Let him who boasts, boast only in the Lord. (1: Cor. 1:31)
The problem is once again the almighty ego. Am I working for my glory or the glory of God? What is the underlying reason for the goal setting and the accomplishments? Is this sometimes why God brings our schemes crashing down like the log chute in Zorba the Greek? The local priests even gave their blessing prior to this “splendiferous crash”.   There was a formal confession to our “Bishop in Residence” JDS about this and a host of other misplaced efforts (missing the mark).
There was also a less formal confession prior to this via email as my friend, another priest, and I commiserated. “That's the problem. There is too much aspiration and goal setting, for my sake. I spend too much time checking to see whose paying attention. Too much need of adoration. Too much need for "atta boys". Too much who’s up and who’s down? Too much score keeping and not enough of God's glory in it. Why is there is so much time spent buttressing my own ego? Forgive me Lord.”
“…those who have never been driven to the point of seeing that their own achievements are nothing, and God’s grace everything, and that real religion begins only on the other side of the line where everything human has broken down; who have not recognized the subtle desperate hold that self lays upon the soul, making it’s very piety a barrier to Christ, and its morality an offense in God’s sight; who have never stared into the eyes of moral defeat, nor know the joy which comes when God floods a life and God’s power takes control, nor felt the consuming passion of a Christ filled man to impart his joyous secret to all the world. A Man In Christ  James S. Stewart

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Changing Face Of 21st Century Anglicanism

Fr. Dale Matson

            There are approximately 80 million Anglicans worldwide which makes it the third largest Christian denomination. While the Church of England is considered the largest province, the numbers are somewhat misleading since English citizens are automatically included as members of the established church whether they attend or not. Today, the average Anglican is an African female. There are nearly 40 million Anglicans in the 11 African provinces.  What does it mean to be Anglican in the 21st century? This is perhaps the main question and the primary task before us today.  This is a time when Anglicanism is experiencing both realignment, and related cultural shifts in membership. Some would say that the realignment is a matter of conservative versus liberal ideology. Some would even say that it is a battle for the faith once delivered but it is also a struggle for control of who shapes Anglican identity. The liberal (sometimes called Broad Church) focus is on inclusion, social justice and the right to innovate. They see God doing a new thing in this generation. They also advocate autonomy from centralized authority. They see themselves as relevant to contemporary society because they are informed and changed by culture. This includes embracing issues such as environmental sustainability and related measures to ensure this, like energy conservation and population control. This portion of Anglicans is located primarily in the North and West (also New Zealand and parts of Australia) and includes the See of Canterbury, the historical center of Anglicanism. The See of Canterbury is the residence of the Archbishop of the World Wide Anglican Communion and it is the Archbishop who recognizes who is and who is not Anglican by which bishops are invited to the Lambeth Conference held every 10 years. The liberals are ahead of their theology with their practice but practice is precedence and precedence creates “new tradition.” Liberals have established their branding ahead of the conservatives who have defined themselves in the negative by saying essentially that they are not like the liberals. Those conservatives who have separated themselves for the sake of truth as they understand it have lost the public relations battle with the liberals who have successfully portrayed conservatives as schismatic and bigots in the media. The liberals have most of the money because of endowments, a higher  per capita wage and governmental financial support as in the established church in England. However, The liberal face of Anglicanism is disappearing. For example, in 2011 the Episcopal Church (TEC) reported a 16% decline in membership over the previous decade. There are also significant membership declines in the Church of England.  and The Anglican Church of Canada with a decline of more than half its members in the last 40 years.
Conservatives are more likely to be found in the other traditional Anglican streams which include Evangelical, Anglo Catholic and Charismatic and constitute the green shoots on the Anglican tree. The majority of Anglicans are in what is called the Global South, which includes Africa, South America, Asia and Sidney Anglicans. Conservatives are increasing. For example the newly formed Anglican Church North America (ACNA) increased membership by 15% in its first year.  Many conservative Anglicans live in former English colonies where Christianity was introduced by Anglican missionaries.  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still used by many African Anglicans. What do these conservative groups have in common? I believe they would all agree on the basic four tenants of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888. Scripture is the revealed Word of God; The Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of the Christian Faith, Baptism and Communion are the two dominical sacraments. There is a Historic Episcopate locally adapted. This is of course the minimum standard since it was designed as ecumenical outreach toward greater church unity. Conservatives would also insist on the primacy of Scripture along with Tradition and Reason, the 39 Articles of Religion and the call of the Great Commission. There is another important issue that is increasingly dividing the liberals and conservatives. It is Christology. For conservatives Christ is the only way one may obtain salvation (Article XVIII). He is God and He was raised bodily from the dead. Problems emerge for conservatives when Evangelicals tend to emphasize the Protestant and reformed side of Anglicanism and others including Anglo Catholics emphasize the reformed and Catholic aspects of Anglicanism. Women’s ordination is an unresolved issue also. Where are the roots of Anglicanism? Is it The Apostolic and undivided church or Cranmer, Parker and the Calvinists? Is it both?
Lastly, there is a disconnect  between the liberal power structures of the WWAC and the people they lead. The leaders do not reflect the mind of the communion. The power structures are based on history and tradition but underlying this is also the scent of imperialism and colonialism. There is also a rift that has become an irreconcilable chasm between liberals and conservatives.    
This is one of several pieces that has been and will be posted on our Soundings Blog for discussion. Self-knowledge and identity are important for both individuals and for Anglicanism. This is especially true in North America where our Anglican Christianity is attracting a new generation of those who seek the face of God in a culture that is less tolerant and increasingly hostile. (See the article on "Anglican Fever.") We offer structure and discipline for those who need it. We offer a Mystical faith for those who seek it. We offer a historic faith for those looking for context. But primarily, we offer Christ in Whom we are being saved.
“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thomas More, Henry VIII and the Future of Anglicanism

On July 6, 1535 Sir Thomas More was beheaded because he was unable to agree with the conscience of King Henry VIII, in opposition to the Conscience of the Church.

Thomas More defended his refusal to sign the oath acceding to Parliament's Act of Supremacy because:
  • The Act of Supremacy contravened God's Law.
  • English subjects could not be removed from the corps of Christianity by an act of parliament.
  • That corps is represented by the General Councils of the Church (over king and pope).
Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley ruled against More stating, “if the Act of Parliament be not of unlawful, then the indictment is not in my Conscience invalid.” In other words, with some obvious sarcasm, if the acts of Parliament were valid, than the verdict stood. Audley ignored the entire point of More's argument, which was that neither the acts of Parliament, nor the King could overrule the corps of Faith, as held by the Conscience of the Church.

When More defended his inability to defy conscience, it was not in defense of an arbitrary personal conscience but the conscience of the Church, which was proclaimed and protected by the Councils of the Church. More did not elevate the Councils of the Church above Holy Scripture, but saw them as the guardians against the whims of individuals.

Contemporary Anglicans would do well to follow More's example. We rely too much on a sense of individual personal conscience, without first exploring and submitting to the conscience of the Church. North American Anglicans did well to recognize that the leadership of The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada abandoned the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church, and reoriented themselves back toward their Anglican roots where the authority of Holy Scripture is honored.

However, this reorientation is incomplete and confused. Some are reorienting themselves to the Reformation Movement with particular respect to Thomas Cranmer. Some are reorienting themselves toward the Roman Catholic Church. Some are orienting themselves toward a form of Evangelical non-denominationalism. Some are finding their identity in the Global South – so long as it doesn't require too much submission. And, some look to 1662 or 1928 as their defining ethos. Others look to Canon Law to define who they are.

Even as we endeavor to re-embrace a genuine and orthodox Anglicanism, we are struggling with our identity. We are so accustomed to being western individuals that we struggle to be authentically Catholic. In other words, submission to our ancient catholic corporate identity does not come naturally to us. We value Apostolic Succession in our catechisms but have difficulty honoring it in actual practice.

There is much that we can learn from all of the post-reformation expressions of Christianity. However, these are not our roots if we are a Catholic Church. Our catholic legacy did not begin with the Reformation Movement, but with Pentecost, and the Apostles, and was carried to us by the faithful Church Fathers. This is evident as we read the history of the Church in the British Isles from the Third Century onward, as well as from the writings of so many of the Anglican Divines, who constantly referred back to the Church Fathers as the source of Anglicanism.

Anglicanism is not the illegitimate child of Henry VIII. It is not the invention of Archbishop Cranmer. Anglicanism is no longer ethnocentric and imperialist. Anglicanism is not a pale reflection of Roman Catholicism, as though there never was an undivided Church.

The primary emphasis of Anglicans in North America over the past several years has been to re-establish Biblical orthodoxy, which must be our first concern. This led to a variety of Anglicans, with different identities, banding together for the sake orthodoxy – but not necessarily unity. While agreeing on Biblical orthodoxy, numerous debates have ensued over the Instruments of Unity and other Anglican distinctives. Discussions and meetings about canons and covenants occupy a considerable amount of attention throughout the Anglican Communion.

It is going to be extremely difficult to overcome these differences (if not impossible) until we come to an agreement on who we are and what our lineage is. If we continue under the mistaken identity that our patrimony is Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and the Reformation Movement, then we will be hopelessly embroiled in all the personal conscience issues that those embody. If, however, we recognize, as did Thomas More and the Anglican Divines, that our identity and lineage is to be found in the corporate conscience of the Fathers and Councils of the Church, we will find an appropriate standard through which we can find catholic unity, not only for ourselves, but also with the Churches of Rome and Constantinople.

As for the general councils assembled lawfully, I never could perceive but that in the declaration of the truths it is believed to be standen to; the authority thereof ought to be taken for undoubtable, or else were there in nothing no certainty, but through Christendom upon every man's affectionate reason, all things might be brought from day to day to continual ruffle and confusion, from which by the general councils, the spirit of God assisting, every such council well assembled keepeth and ever shall keep the corps of his Catholic Church. (Thomas More to Thomas Cromwell – March 5, 1534)

- Fr Van McCalister

Note: The historical references are from lectures by Prof. Dale Hoak of Wm and Mary College, and The Last Letters of Thomas More, Letter 5 “To Thomas Cromwell, Chelsea, 5 March 1534.” Edited by Alvaro de Silva.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trinity Wall Street and Social Justice

Fr. Dale Matson

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” 1 Cor. 1:27, NASB)
“The Executive Council at its October meeting passed a resolution (AN037) affirming ‘the growing movement of peaceful protests in public spaces in the United States and throughout the world in resistance to the exploitation of people for profit or power bears faithful witness in the tradition of Jesus to the sinful inequities in society’ and calling upon Episcopalians ‘to witness in the tradition of Jesus to inequities in society.’” [ENS Dec. 15th]
“Trinity Church, Wall Street, has provided extensive practical and pastoral support to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Trinity congregation has decided that the property known as Duarte Park is not appropriate for use by the Occupy movement, and that property remains closed. Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks. It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property. Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms.  I would urge all concerned to stand down and seek justice in ways that do not further alienate potential allies.”
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. [ENS Dec. 16th]
I believe this is a social justice issue, one of many issues, championed by TEC that conveniently presents an evaluative metric that TEC or any organization for that matter, can be judged by. Does it walk the walk or just talk the talk?  Trinity Wall Street is really not seen by the OWS folks as a church but as one Episcopal blog commenter put it, “a soft target.” Trinity Wall Street is a corporation with deep pockets and huge assets making it look a lot like other area firms.   TEC is not offering pastoral counseling but it is offering other comforts.  “Recognizing the need for social, homeless and medical services, Trinity hired the Rev. Mary Caliendo, a Wiccan priest who works with Occupy’ s medical clinic — which includes doctors, nurses and psychiatrists aiding protestors — to work at Charlotte’s Place and facilitate care.”
Here, on its doorstep is a perfect opportunity for embracing diversity in an inclusive environment.The park was almost a perfect microcosm for the racism, classism and entitlement present in society — all of the corruption OWS is attacking, ‘manifested in our movement,’ said Zink, adding that her focus is to bring the voices of the marginalized to the table. [ENS Dec. 16th]
Is there any glee in this for me? No, I have written about similar concerns regarding the homeless on our campus.  There are some differences. We have an open campus with no fences. We see it as an ongoing ministry (“The poor will always be with you”, Mark 14:7) not an inconvenient situation that requires a position statement and the homeless who reside on our campus do not consider themselves occupiers. They attend our services and see themselves as a part of our faith community. We have rules, which include no weapons, drugs and no permanent residence. Do we have all the answers? No we don’t. We also have two deacons that supervise this ministry and a congregation willing to support it as part of our church mission.
Who best speaks for TEC? I believe it is retired Bishop George Packard. ““I have this great worry that this venerable parish will be on the wrong side of history in a few weeks,” Packard said in a post on Trinity’s Facebook page that later was deleted. [ENS Dec. 16th] “Surely there’s some consummate wisdom in the leadership that can offer Occupiers a chance to express their prophetic destiny in these days. It’s a matter of record that the church is good with the provision of service and succor for the neighborhood; they are unable, it seems, to understand their dynamic needs” Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ one of those dynamic needs Bishop?
It is not what happens to us. It is how we deal with what happens to us. Where is the grace in the TEC response? Is the response of KJS a teaching and comforting response or a threat. Is there no outer court for the gentiles? TEC has become so accustomed to using the law over the last decade that it needs the prophetic voice of a retired Bishop to remind itself that it is in fact the broad church and not just a litigious corporation.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Celebrating A Traditional Family Christmas

Fr. Dale Matson

We had our “family” Christmas here yesterday because that is when the most relatives could be in one spot at the same time on the same date. Unfortunately there are geographic and vocational limitations to everyone being together, so each subset of our family celebrates additional Christmases elsewhere. There are certain traditions to be honored. Gramps, (that’s me) cajoled and corralled all the loose strays for Grace. We then served ourselves buffet style from the vast array of foods prepared by all the attendees and grandma the hostess. There was still plenty of food for the glucose/lactose intolerant folks. We seem to have more dietary restrictions than the old days. Today you would need a prescription just for the gravy served up in the old days.
Dessert had to wait until the dinner bloat subsided so the next phase of our tradition was opening gifts (keep those receipts!). This is where the kids were overindulged and overwhelmed, once again. Conflicts emerged about who had what toy. They also brought the gifts to everyone else. Uncle Jed AKA Santa showed up and was immediately recognized by a too-smart-for–his-own-good five year old. His younger brother did not catch on as fast and was initially unwilling to take his gift. Meanwhile the Packer/Raider game was being taped for fans on both sides. Who watches commercials anymore anyway? The younger men proudly wore aprons and helped with the dishes. We use less Tupperware and more self-sealing plastic bags for leftovers these days. Some admittedly worked in the kitchen to avoid the hubbub and whirlwind. The moving eye of the tornado was our two grandsons (ages 3 and 5). They count for 10 people since they were like monkeys that had escaped from their cages, running all over the place including the tops of all our furniture. I think they thought the carpet was molten lava so they avoided it as much as possible. They gave our Airedales an extra mile of exercise by chasing them around the living room till the dogs stood by the door, which was their way of pleading for mercy.
 By the time the boys were ready to leave, they were stripped down to only pants because they were so warm from wilding. I also took out my hearing aid since they only have one volume and that is “yelling”.  On top of that, grandma insisted on their presents having batteries to enable each gift to have a distinctive and irritating sound. Their father suggested (threatened) that there was more room at our house for those particular gifts. One gift is a basketball hoop that has flashing lights and crowd noises every time they make a basket. Because their behavior was within acceptable boy limits (just shy of feral), there were no “time outs” assigned to them, so I assigned a couple of time outs to yours truly and closed myself in the computer room. In all, it was great. No one got hurt and nothing was broken.  Grandma was energized by the day’s events and me… not so much.  She was back to gardening today and I was out exchanging a couple of gifts. I hope you saw some of your family in this story too. Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Days!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Is Anglicanism?

Fr. Dale Matson

The fact is that we are still trying to decide what being an Anglican means. Is Anglicanism Protestant or Reformed Catholic? Where are our roots? Are our roots in the early undivided church or does Anglicanism begin with the Elizabethan Settlement? Is Thomas Cranmer’s Anglicanism as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer [and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons.]  the heart of Anglicanism? Is Canterbury still the historic center? If so, then are we looking at Augustine of Canterbury as the first Archbishop (597) of the Church in England? Was Cranmer our Luther?  Did Anglicanism begin with the church in England or the Church of England? Was it even later with the addition of the church in Ireland and colonies?  Do Anglicans go back to St. Columba (500’s), St. Patrick (400’s) and St. Alban the first recorded British Martyr before 300? What about Pentecost?  Is the more Protestant 1662 Prayer Book the norm and standard? If so, is Christ truly present in the sacramental elements of the Mass or is He in Heaven. Is it Sola Scriptura or Scripture, Tradition and Reason? It is Sola Christos and Gratia but is it also Sola Fide [Article XI]? What about the Roman and Orthodox positions?
How wed are we to the 39 Articles? Are the Articles dogma, doctrine or historical guidance? Do we embrace Saints Gregory, Augustine of Hippo and Athanasius to the extent we embrace Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon. Did Jewell and Hooker complete the canon of Anglican thought?   If we began with the Protestant Reformation, why do we include so many individuals in our Lesser Feasts and Fasts who died prior to that time? How can a church with no Apostles believe in Apostolic Succession?  
 The Roman Catholic encyclopedia has an insightful view of who we are. . The Anglican Covenant is as much a political document as it is one that defines Anglicanism. For me, Anglicanism is still in the process of defining itself with documents such as the Anglican Covenant, Jerusalem Declaration and ACNA Constitution.
This is where I come back to the Anglican Covenant which used language that included “Apostolic” and “catholic” in describing itself in 1.1.1 and 1.1.2., but borrows heavily from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888. Both sources are recent in the history of Anglicanism if one sees oneself as a reformed Catholic, which is actually how the Church of England describes itself on its website. “An Ancient Church, Catholic and Reformed”
Here is my primary question. “Who are we”? But to address it, we must first answer a preliminary foundational question. “Where did we officially begin”? I believe the answer to that goes a long way in defining who we are.
            And then, a final question, “Who are we becoming”? These are crucial questions that must be addressed in the 21st century. My prayer would be that our answers to all these questions would lead toward repentance and unity once again. At this point it seems as if many are doing what is right in their own eyes and this is leading to increasing friction and factionalism.  As we separate from people with whom we do not agree, are we simply finding new issues that further fracture our church? Is schism a curse the Protestant Reformation brought upon itself?
            Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen. [Preface of All Saints’ Day]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Memories: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Fr. Dale Matson

            The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is the title of the third in a series of three Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood released in 1966. It reminds me of a way of describing three types of memories common to all of us.
The first types of memories are good. Some events in our contemporary life may trigger this kind of memory. For example, Sharon cut a two inch piece off the bottom of the trunk of our Christmas tree so it would fit better into the tree stand. Watching the grandchildren roll the piece up and down our driveway for almost an hour reminded me of my sons playing for hours in a large cardboard box that had contained one of their Christmas toys. I should have just bought the box. This then reminded me of the Christmas we made a snow fort in my folk’s back yard in Michigan. We rolled up massive snow balls, butted them together forming a rectangle and lifted more on top of them. By the time we were done, we had stripped the lawn of its white blanket.
The second types of memories are bad. I cut myself the other day and it reminded me of the time my dad was opening a split shot sinker with his fishing knife and it slipped, cutting him severely. He shouted, “Balls of fire!” then simply wrapped his finger in his snotty handkerchief until the bleeding stopped while we continued to fish. In those days, you didn’t leave home without the multipurpose handkerchief. Bad memories also consist in moral failures of commission and omission. In many cases we have not had the opportunity to make amends but have asked God for His forgiveness. I believe while God, as promised, has forgotten our confessed sins, Satan never does and enjoys serving up the memories and attendant false guilt.
The third types of memories are ugly. On my morning run, I remembered something I had said to an individual years ago at a high school lunch table. It was unkind and intended to publicly embarrass her. Why are these types of memories ugly? It is because it is unfinished business that God has brought to our attention. We are convicted by the Holy Spirit for the first time about a sin we only now remember. There is a wince as we recognize the full import and impact. “I’m sorry Lord, please forgive me.”
Sanctification is as much about the ongoing part of the conversion process as it is becoming a holy person. There is so much about us that we do not yet know until God shines His cleansing light into the dark crevices of our memories. Christ knows us better than we know us (then we shall know as we are known). He loves us so much that He was willing to die to redeem even the unknown and unconfessed parts of us too. I believe we could not deal with our sins being revealed to us all at once. "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12). This statement by Jesus is true for the Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Amen

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Assize II: John Keble's Warning To Us Today

Fr. Dale Matson

[Note: I have posted John Keble's sermon in its entirety because it is not only a classic piece of Anglican writing, it is a contemporary warning to all Anglicans, in fact, all Christians that is as intelligent as it is prophetic. Perhaps it is even more appropriate for today than when it was first preached. I have highlighted certain passages that spoke to me more than others but I would encourage everyone to read it in its entirety. I have nothing to add, being a much lesser light. Dale Matson] 

Project Canterbury
National Apostasy
by John Keble
Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, on July 14, 1833
[published in London by A. R. Mowbray & Co., n.d 24 pp]

'As for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.
—1 SAM xii. 23.
On public occasions, such as the present, the minds of Christians naturally revert to that portion of Holy Scripture, which exhibits to us the will of the Sovereign of the world in more immediate relation to the civil and national conduct of mankind. We naturally turn to the Old Testament, when public duties, public errors, and public dangers, are in question. And what in such cases is natural and obvious, is sure to be more or less right and reasonable. Unquestionably it is mistaken theology, which would debar Christian nations and statesmen from the instruction afforded by the Jewish Scriptures, under a notion, that the circumstances of that people were altogether peculiar and unique, and therefore irrelevant to every other case. True, there is hazard of misapplication, as there is whenever men teach by example. There is peculiar hazard, from the sacredness and delicacy of the subject; since dealing with things supernatural and miraculous as if they were ordinary human precedents, would be not only unwise, but profane. But these hazards are more than counterbalanced by the absolute certainty, peculiar to this history, that what is there commended was right, and what is there blamed, wrong. And they would be effectually obviated, if men would be careful to keep in view this caution:—suggested everywhere, if I mistake not, by the manner in which the Old Testament is quoted in the New:—that, as regards reward and punishment, God dealt formerly with the Jewish people in a manner analogous to that in which He deals now, not so much with Christian nations, as with the souls of individual Christians.
Let us only make due allowances for this cardinal point of difference, and we need not surely hesitate to avail ourselves, as the time may require, of those national warnings, which fill the records of the elder Church: the less so, as the discrepancy lies rather in what is revealed of God's providence, than in what is required in the way of human duty. Rewards and punishments may be dispensed, visibly at least, with a less even hand; but what tempers, and what conduct, God will ultimately reward and punish,—this is a point which cannot be changed: for it depends not on our circumstances, but on His essential, unvarying Attributes.
I have ventured on these few general observations, because the impatience with which the world endures any remonstrance [evidence] on religious grounds, is apt to show itself most daringly, when the Law and the Prophets are appealed to. Without any scruple or ceremony, men give us to understand that they regard the whole as obsolete: thus taking the very opposite ground to that which was preferred by the same class of persons two hundred years ago; but, it may be feared, with much the same purpose and result. Then, the Old Testament was quoted at random for every excess of fanatical pride and cruelty : now, its authority goes for nothing, however clear and striking the analogies may be, which appear to warrant us in referring to it. The two extremes, as usual, meet ; and in this very remarkable point : that they both avail themselves of the supernatural parts of the Jewish revelation to turn away attention from that, which they, of course, most dread and dislike in it: its authoritative confirmation of the plain dictates of conscience in matters of civil wisdom and duty.
That portion, in particular, of the history of the chosen people, which drew from Samuel, the truest of patriots, the wise and noble sentiment in the text, must ever be an unpleasing and perplexing page of Scripture, to those, who would fain persuade themselves, that a nation, even a Christian nation, may do well enough, as such, without God, and without His Church. For what if the Jews were bound to the Almighty by ties common to no other people? What if He had condescended to know them in a way in which He was as yet unrevealed to all families of the earth besides? What if, as their relation to Him was nearer, and their ingratitude more surpassing, so they might expect more exemplary punishment? Still, after all has been said, to exaggerate their guilt, in degree, beyond what is supposed possible in any nation whatever now, what can it come to, in kind and in substance, but only this;— that they rejected God? that they wished themselves rid of the moral restraint implied in His peculiar presence and covenant? They said, what the prophet Ezekial, long after, represents their worthy posterity as saying, 'We will be as the heathen, the families of the countries.' (Ezek. xx. 32.) 'Once for all, we will get rid of these disagreeable, unfashionable scruples, which throw us behind, as we think, in the race of worldly honour and profit.' Is this indeed a tone of thought, which Christian nations cannot fall into? Or, if they should, has it ceased to be displeasing to God? In other words, has He forgotten to be angry with impiety and practical atheism? Either this must be affirmed, or men must own, (what is clear at once to plain unsophisticated readers,) that this first overt act, which began the downfall of the Jewish nation, stands on record, with its fatal consequences, for a perpetual warning to all nations, as well as to all individual Christians, who, having accepted God for their King, allow themselves to be weary of subjection to Him, and think they should be happier if they were freer, and more like the rest of the world.
I do not enter into the question, whether visible temporal judgements are to be looked for by Christian nations, transgressing as those Jews did. Surely common sense and piety unite, in representing this inquiry as, practically, one of no great importance. When it is once known for certain that such and such conduct is displeasing to the King of kings, surely common sense and piety concur in setting their mark of reprobation on such conduct, whether the punishment, sure to overtake it, come to-morrow, or a year hence, or wait till we are in another world.
Waiving this question, therefore, I proceed to others, which appear to me, I own, at the present moment especially, of the very gravest practical import.
What are the symptoms, by which one may judge most fairly, whether or no a nation, as such, is becoming alienated from God and Christ?
And what are the particular duties of sincere Christians, whose lot is cast by Divine Providence in a time of such dire calamity?
The conduct of the Jews, in asking for a king, may furnish an ample illustration of the first point : the behaviour of Samuel, then and afterwards, supplies as perfect a pattern of the second, as can well be expected from human nature.
I. The case is at least possible, of a nation, having for centuries acknowledged, as an essential part of its theory of government, that, as a Christian nation, she is also a part of Christ's Church, and bound, in all her legislation and policy, by the fundamental rules of that Church—the case is, I say, conceivable, of a government and people, so constituted, deliberately throwing off the restraint, which in many respects such a principle would impose on them, nay, disavowing the principle itself ; and that, on the plea, that other states, as flourishing or more so in regard of wealth and dominion, do well enough without it. Is not this desiring, like the Jews, to have an earthly king over them, when the Lord their God is their King? Is it not saying in other words, 'We will be as the heathen, the families of the countries,' the aliens to the Church of our Redeemer?
To such a change, whenever it takes place, the immediate impulse will probably be given by some pretence of danger from without,—such as, at the time now spoken of, was furnished to the Israelites by an incursion of the children of Ammon; or by some wrong or grievance in the executive government, such as the malversation of Samuel's sons, to whom he had deputed his judicial functions. Pretences will never be hard to find ; but, in reality, the movement will always be traceable to the same decay or want of faith, the same deficiency in Christian resignation and thankfulness, which leads so many, as individuals, to disdain and forfeit the blessings of the Gospel. Men not impressed with religious principle attribute their ill success in life,—the hard times they have to struggle with,—to anything rather than their own ill-desert: and the institutions of the country, ecclesiastical and civil, are always at hand to bear the blame of whatever seems to be going amiss. Thus, the discontent in Samuel's time, which led the Israelites to demand a change of constitution, was discerned by the Unerring Eye, though perhaps little suspected by themselves, to be no better than a fresh development of the same restless, godless spirit, which had led them so often into idolatry. 'They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works, which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee' (I Sam. viii. 7,8).
The charge might perhaps surprise many of them, just as, in other times and countries, the impatient patrons of innovation are surprised, at finding themselves rebuked on religious grounds. Perhaps the Jews pleaded the express countenance, which the words of their Law, in one place (Deut. xvii. 14-20), seemed, by anticipation, to lend to the measure they were urging. And so, in modern times, when liberties are to be taken, and the intrusive passions of men to be indulged, precedent and permission, or what sounds like them, may be easily found and quoted for everything. But Samuel, in God's Name, silenced all this, giving them to understand, that in His sight the whole was a question of motive and purpose, not of ostensible and colourable argument;—in His sight, I say, to Whom we, as well as they, are nationally responsible for much more than the soundness of our deductions as matter of disputation, or of law ; we are responsible for the meaning and temper in which we deal with His Holy Church, established among us for the salvation of our souls.
These, which have been hitherto mentioned as omens and tokens of an Apostate Mind in a nation, have been suggested by the portion itself of sacred history, to which I have ventured to direct your attention. There are one or two more, which the nature of the subject, and the palpable tendency of things around us, will not allow to be passed over.
One of the most alarming, as a symptom, is the growing indifference, in which men indulge themselves, to other men's religious sentiments. Under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass; that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our approbation and confidence, whether in public or domestic life. Can we conceal it from ourselves, that every year the practice is becoming more common, of trusting men unreservedly in the most delicate and important matters, without one serious inquiry, whether they do not hold principles which make it impossible for them to be loyal to their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier? Are not offices conferred, partnerships formed, intimacies courted,—nay, (what is almost too painful to think of,) do not parents commit their children to be educated, do they not encourage them to intermarry, in houses, on which Apostolical Authority would rather teach them to set a mark, as unfit to be entered by a faithful servant of Christ?
I do not now speak of public measures only or chiefly; many things of that kind may be thought, whether wisely or no, to become from time to time necessary, which are in reality as little desired by those who lend them a seeming concurrence, as they are, in themselves, undesirable. But I speak of the spirit which leads men to exult in every step of that kind; to congratulate one another on the supposed decay of what they call an exclusive system.
Very different are the feelings with which it seems natural for a true Churchman to regard such a state of things, from those which would arise in his mind on witnessing the mere triumph of any given set of adverse opinions, exaggerated or even heretical as he might deem them. He might feel as melancholy,—he could hardly feel so indignant.
But this is not a becoming place, nor are these safe topics, for the indulgence of mere feeling. The point really to be considered is, whether, according to the coolest estimate, the fashionable liberality of this generation be not ascribable, in a great measure, to the same temper which led the Jews voluntarily to set about degrading themselves to a level with the idolatrous Gentiles? And, if it be true anywhere, that such enactments are forced on the Legislature by public opinion, is APOSTASY too hard a word to describe the temper of that nation?
The same tendency is still more apparent, because the fair gloss of candour and forbearance is wanting, in the surly or scornful impatience often exhibited, by persons who would regret passing for unbelievers, when Christian motives are suggested, and checks from Christian principles attempted to be enforced on their public conduct. I say, 'their public conduct,' more especially ; because in that, I know not how, persons are apt to be more shameless, and readier to avow the irreligion that is in them ;—amongst other reasons, probably, from each feeling that he is one of multitude, and fancying, therefore, that his responsibility is divided.
For example:—whatever be the cause, in this country of late years, (though we are lavish in professions of piety,) there has been observable a growing disinclination, on the part of those bound by VOLUNTARY OATHS, to whatever reminds them of their obligation ; a growing disposition to explain it all away. We know what, some years ago, would have been thought of such uneasiness, if betrayed by persons officially sworn, in private, legal, or commercial life. If there be any subjects or occasions, now, on which men are inclined to judge of it more lightly, it concerns them deeply to be quite sure, that they are not indulging or encouraging a profane dislike of God's awful Presence ; a general tendency, as a people, to leave Him out of all their thoughts.
They will have the more reason to suspect themselves, in proportion as they see and feel more of that impatience under pastoral authority, which our Savior Himself has taught us to consider as a never-failing symptom of an unchristian temper. 'He that heareth you, heareth Me ; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me' (S. Luke x. 16). Those words of divine truth put beyond all sophistical exception, what common sense would lead us to infer, and what daily experiences teaches;—that disrespect to the Successors of the Apostles, as such, is an unquestionable symptom of enmity to Him, Who gave them their commission at first, and has pledged Himself to be with them for ever. Suppose such disrespect general and national, suppose it also avowedly grounded not on any fancied tenet of religion, but on mere human reasons of popularity and expediency, either there is no meaning at all in these emphatic declarations of our Lord, or that nation, how highly soever she may think of her religion and morality, stands convicted in His sight of a direct disavowal of His Sovereignty.
To this purpose it may be worth noticing, that the ill-fated chief, whom God gave to the Jews, as the prophet tells us, in His anger (Hosea xiii. II), and whose disobedience and misery were referred by himself to his 'fearing the people, and obeying their voice' (I Sam. xv. 24), whose conduct, therefore, may be fairly taken as a sample of what public opinion was at that time supposed to require,—his first step in apostasy was, perhaps, an intrusion on the sacrificial office (I Sam. xiii. 8-14), certainly an impatient breach of his engagement with Samuel, as the last and greatest of his crimes was persecuting David, whom he well knew to bear God's special commission. God forbid, that any Christian land should ever, by her prevailing temper and policy, revive the memory and likeness of Saul, or incur a sentence of reprobation like his. But if such a thing should be, the crimes of that nation will probably begin in infringement on Apostolical Rights ; she will end in persecuting the true Church ; and in the several stages of her melancholy career, she will continually be led on from bad to worse by vain endeavours at accommodation and compromise with evil. Sometimes toleration may be the word, as with Saul when he spared the Amalekites ; sometimes state security, as when he sought the life of David; sometimes sympathy with popular feeling, as appears to have been the case, when violating solemn treaties, he attempted to exterminate the remnant of the Gibeonites, in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah (2 Sam. xxi. 2). Such are the sad but obvious results of separating religious resignation altogether from men's notions of civil duty.
II. But here arises the other question, on which it was proposed to say a few words ; and with a view to which, indeed, the whole subject must be considered, if it is to lead to any practical improvement. What should be the tenor of their conduct, who find themselves cast on such times of decay and danger? How may a man best reconcile his allegiance to God and his Church with his duty to his country, that country, which now, by the supposition, is fast becoming hostile to the Church, and cannot therefore long be the friend of God?
Now in proportion as any one sees reason to fear that such is, or soon may be, the case in his own land, just so far may he see reason to be thankful, especially if he be called to any national trust, for such a complete pattern of his duty, as he may find in the conduct of Samuel. That combination of sweetness with firmness, of consideration with energy, which constitutes the temper of a perfect public man, was never perhaps so beautifully exemplified. He makes no secret of the bitter grief and dismay, with which the resolution of his countrymen had filled him. He was prepared to resist it at all hazards, had he not received from God Himself directions to give them their own way; protesting, however, in the most distinct and solemn tone, so as to throw the whole blame of what might ensue on their wilfulness. Having so protested, and found them obstinate, he does not therefore at once forsake their service, he continues discharging all the functions they had left him, with a true and loyal, though most heavy, heart. 'God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you : but I will teach you the good and the right way.'
Should it ever happen (which God avert, but we cannot shut our eyes to the danger) that the Apostolical Church should be forsaken, degraded, nay trampled on and despoiled by the State and people of England, I cannot conceive a kinder wish for her, on the part of her most affectionate and dutiful children, than that she may, consistently, act in the spirit of this most noble sentence ; nor a course of conduct more likely to be blessed by a restoration to more than her former efficiency. In speaking of the Church, I mean, of course, the laity, as well as the clergy in their three orders,—the whole body of Christians united, according to the will of Jesus Christ, under the Successors of the Apostles. It may, by God's blessing, be of some use, to show how, in the case supposed, the example of Samuel might guide her collectively, and each of her children individually, down even to minute details of duty.
The Church would, first of all, have to be constant, as before, in INTERCESSION. No despiteful usage, no persecution, could warrant her in ceasing to pray, as did her first fathers and patterns, for the State, and all who are in authority. That duty once well and cordially performed, all other duties, so to speak, are secured. Candour, respectfulness, guarded language,— all that the Apostle meant, in warning men not to 'speak evil of dignities,' may then, and then only, be practised, without compromise of truth and fortitude, when the habit is attained of praying as we ought for the very enemies of our precious and holy cause.
The constant sense of God's presence and consequent certainty of final success, which can be kept up no other way, would also prove an effectual bar against the more silent but hardly less malevolent feeling, of disgust, almost amounting to misanthropy, which is apt to lay hold on sensitive minds, when they see oppression and wrong triumphant on a large scale. The custom of interceding, even for the wicked, will keep the Psalmist's reasoning habitually present to their thoughts: 'Fret not thyself because of the ungodly, neither be thou envious against the evil doers : for they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and be withered even as the green herb. . . . Leave off from wrath, and let go displeasure : fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil' (Ps. xxxvii. 1, 2, 8).
Thus not only by supernatural aid, which we have warrant of God's word for expecting, but even in the way of natural consequence, the first duty of the Church and of Churchmen, INTERCESSION, sincerely practised, would prepare them for the second;—which, following the words of Samuel as our clue, we may confidently pronounce to be REMONSTRANCE. 'I will teach you the good and the right way.' REMONSTRANCE, calm, distinct, and persevering, in public and in private, direct and indirect, by word, look, and demeanour, is the unequivocal duty of every Christian, according to his opportunities, when the Church landmarks are being broken down.
Among laymen, a deep responsibility would appear to rest on those particularly, whose profession leads them most directly to consider the boundaries of the various rights and duties, which fill the space of civilized Society. The immediate machinery of change must always pass through their hands : and they have also very great power in forming and modifying public opinion. The very solemnity of this day may remind them, even more than others, of the close amity which must [20/21] ever subsist between equal justice and pure religion ; Apostolical religion, more especially, in proportion to her superior truth and exactness. It is an amity, made still more sacred, if possible, in the case of the Church and Law of England, by historical recollections, associations, and precedents, of the most engaging and ennobling cast.
But I return to the practical admonition afforded her, in critical periods, by Samuel's example.
After the accomplishment of the change which he deprecated, his whole behaviour, to Saul especially, is a sort of expansion of the sentiment in the text. It is all earnest INTERCESSION with God, grave, respectful, affectionate REMONSTRANCE with the misguided man himself. Saul is boldly rebuked, and that publicly, for his impious liberality in sparing the Amalekites, yet so as not to dishonour him in the presence of the people. Even when it became necessary for God's prophet to show that he was in earnest, and give the most effectual of warnings, by separating himself from so unworthy a person,—when Samuel came no more to see Saul' (I Sam. xv. 35)—even then, we are told, he still 'mourned for him.'
On the same principle, come what may, we have ill learned the lessons of our Church, if we permit our patriotism to decay, together with the protecting care of the State. 'The powers that be are ordained of God,' whether they foster the true church or no. Submission and order are still duties. They were so in the days of pagan persecution ; and the more of loyal and affectionate feeling we endeavour to mingle with our obedience, the better.
After all, the surest way to uphold or restore our endangered Church, will be for each of her anxious children, in his own place and station, to resign himself more thoroughly to his God and Saviour in those duties, public and private, which are not immediately affected by the emergencies of the moment: the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice. It will be a consolation understood by every thoughtful Churchman, that let his occupation be, apparently, never so remote from such great interests, it is in his power, by doing all as a Christian, to credit and advance the cause he has most at heart; and what is more, to draw down God's blessing upon it. This ought to be felt, for example, as one motive more to exact punctuality in those duties, personal and official, which the return of an Assize week offers to our practice ; one reason more for veracity in witnesses, fairness in pleaders, strict impartiality, self-command, and patience, in those on whom decisions depend ; and for an awful sense of God's presence in all. An Apostle once did not disdain to urge good conduct upon his proselytes of lowest condition, upon the ground, that, so doing, they would adorn and recommend the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus ii. 10). Surely, then, it will be no unworthy principle, if any man be more circumspect in his behaviour, more watchful and fearful of himself, more earnest in his petitions for spiritual aid, from a dread of disparaging the holy name of the English Church, in her hour of peril, by his own personal fault or negligence.
As to those who, either by station or temper, feel themselves most deeply interested, they cannot be too careful in reminding themselves, that one chief danger, in times of change and excitement, arises from their tendency to engross the whole mind. Public concerns, ecclesiastical or civil, will prove indeed ruinous to those, who permit them to occupy all their care and thoughts, neglecting or undervaluing ordinary duties, more especially those of a devotional kind.
These cautions being duly observed, I do not see how any person can devote himself too entirely to the cause of the Apostolical Church in these realms. There may be, as far as he knows, but a very few to sympathize with him. He may have to wait long, and very likely pass out of this world before he see any abatement in the triumph of disorder and irreligion. But, if he be consistent, he possesses, to the utmost, the personal consolations of a good Christian : and as a true Churchman, he has that encouragement, which no other cause in the world can impart in the same degree:—he is calmly, soberly, demonstrably, SURE, that, sooner or later, HIS WILL BE THE WINNING SIDE, and that the victory will be complete, universal, eternal.
He need not fear to look upon the efforts of anti-Christian powers, as did the holy Apostles themselves, who welcomed the first persecution in the words of the Psalmist:
'Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
'The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed.
'For of a truth against Thy Holy Child Jesus, Whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rowan Williams In Hindsight

Fr. Dale Matson

            I was initially troubled by Archbishop Rowan Williams when he stated that while he did not agree, he would honor the mind of the Anglican Communion on Lambeth Resolution 1.10. It concerned me then because I did not believe a leader in particular (or any normal person) should act contrary to his own moral compass. I do not believe that he ever intended to honor the mind of the Communion, but to change it on this matter. It appears to me now that there are much deeper issues in addition to this.
Here is a statement excerpted from his enthronement speech. “Once we recognize God's great secret, that we are all made to be God's sons and daughters, we can't avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We can't assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don't count in the world's terms.” There is an initial appealing inclusivity to this comment but just what does Dr. Williams mean by “…we were all made to be God’s sons and daughters.”? I believe there is a universalism embedded in this statement that denies the reality of the tares in the Kingdom of God. To Rowan Williams, there is only wheat. While his theology has been referred to as radical orthodoxy (Karl Plank - Davidson College), it is only orthodox in the broad church sense of the phrase.
            Another statement in his speech is either naïve or intentionally superficial for a man of his intellectual depth. “Does there come a point where we can't recognize the same Jesus, the same secret? The Anglican Church is often accused of having no way of answering this. But I don't believe it; we read the same Bible and practice the same sacraments and say the same creeds.” This is rather a behavioral understanding of what constitutes unity and shared ethos. Yes, we use the same prayer book but does he agree with this statement? "Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord"
-1662 Book of Common Prayer.
            I believe that Rowan Williams believes in Hell, Heaven, Salvation, and even the uniqueness of Jesus Christ but I also believe he has substituted a contemporary humanist understanding of what these concepts mean as his theology is revealed. How about this careful omission from his funeral sermon, following terrorist attacks in England, in July of 2005?  “Jesus tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body but those who can destroy body and soul [in Hell] and part of the sickness of spirit we feel when confronted with terrorism is that we face people whose souls are damaged, almost destroyed.”  
What about the uniqueness of Christ? “What the New Testament does not say is, 'unless you hold the following propositions to be true there is no life for you'. What it does say is, 'without a vital relationship with Jesus Christ who is the word of God made flesh, you will not become what you were made to be. You will not live into the fullness of your human destiny.' And it's this claim — not so much about unique truth in a form of words but about unique relationship with Jesus — which I want to explore a little with you.” The Finality of Christ in a Pluralist World, p. 2)
            Rowan Williams sounds like a mixture of Abraham Maslow in becoming all that one can be and Karl Rahner’s concept of the anonymous Christian. “And if we emphasize the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit in this, rather than human effort alone, we may well understand that what we see of people's relationship to Jesus and the Father isn't necessarily all that's going on. There is a truth about human beings. God has revealed it in Jesus Christ and revealed himself in that action. That's what we know. And how those who don't encounter that mystery explicitly and directly, are related to Jesus and the Father, we can't know and we'd better not pretend that we do. (p. 4)
            I am concerned that Rowan’s underlying inclusivism, humanist, and Universalist ideas have been driving an agenda that insists on everyone having seat, voice and vote. Does he want to keep people at the table for the sake of unity or to change minds? It is the latter. It has led to a confusion that is vastly worse than ignorance. It has increased the division within the Anglican Communion and further distanced the Anglican Communion from both the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Lord have mercy on us all.   

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Peace Of God As A Lifestyle Issue

Fr. Dale Matson

 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30-33, NASB)
I have been blessed with constitutional weaknesses inherited from my ancestors. Yes, I did say “blessed”. I have inherited a vulnerability to obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol and blood pressure. The result is what is referred to often in my family records, as death from “Apoplexy”. Apoplexy is an antiquated generic term for sudden death by stroke or heart attack. I am blessed because leading a disciplined life tends to keep these variables in remission. This part is up to me because I am in control of these risk factors.
My cardiologist recently told me that 85% of those who are referred to him are there because of lifestyle issues. My elevated blood pressure was directly related to being overweight. I am an ectomorph (long and lean) by design. Even if my additional weight were muscle, it is still not healthy to add it to a frame that is not intended to carry it. For years, I have been able to chase away calories through exercise but this type of purging is also not healthy and has led to overuse injuries.
Diet (especially portion control) is perhaps more important than exercise as a variable in taking charge of our health.  I recently discovered that I was glucose intolerant and have sadly eliminated wheat products from my diet. Perhaps the key for a pre-diabetic like me is avoiding foods that cause my blood sugar to “spike”. These and adequate rest are lifestyle issues that are under my control and part of a disciplined adult life. If I lead a disciplined life will it guarantee that I will live longer? Even if I don’t live longer, the life I do lead will be of higher quality.
The last and most important lifestyle issue for a Christian is allowing God to be in control of those things under which we have no control. It is one thing to say that you have given your life to Christ. It is quite another to examine how this “surrender” is treated in a generic and theoretical sense. Have you given Christ your finances, your children, your health and your future? Perhaps the most elusive thing for me has been this letting go and trusting God. Because I have compartmentalized those things that I have given to God while still saying that I have given my life to Him, I have experienced God’s peace only occasionally. This peace, the peace that passes all understanding is the most important of all lifestyle issues. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:6-7). Lord, I cast all of my cares on you. Amen      

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Convent of St. Teresa in Avila Spain

Fr. Dale Matson

As I reflect on my dreams included in twenty years of journaling, there are frequent appearances by lions and tigers and bears. I believe a Jungian understanding would be that these animals symbolize untamed aspects of us. They are things about us that can be latent passions. They are the dark parts of our own soul and our unconscious life. Our dreams are also where God speaks to us, often using the language of symbols. It is here that God can bypass the ego’s diminished capacity as sentinel and filter. God once appeared to me as a bright light with radiant beams of light projecting from Him. One of the rays came directly into my chest. It has given me a great and lasting comfort knowing that I belong to Him.

The Wizard of Oz includes a scene where Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow are walking through a dark forest on their way to emerald city.  It is here that the Dorothy responds to the Tin Man’s caution with, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” For Dorothy, it is a vivid and colorful unconscious experience when compared to her otherwise ordinary black and white life in the conscious world.”  Eventually, the characters learn on their journey that they already have within themselves what they were seeking on their journey. It is a journey to a destination in another realm in an attempt to return home.

For many years, I have been captivated by the life of St. Teresa of Avila and had the opportunity to visit her convent in Avila. I have been reading The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. In her book, she describes the mansions of the soul. They are rooms within the soul with each room closer to the most interior mansion where God dwells. It is the journey of the soul on its pilgrimage back to God. In the First Mansion Chapter II, she commented about the hindrances to humility and self-knowledge, “The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves. This seems to me to be the condition of the soul which, though not in a bad state, is so completely absorbed in the things of the world.”

The wild beasts and animals are the lions and tigers and bears of our dreams. Dorothy and St. Teresa exhort us to courageously take on this journey of self-discovery as we also attempt to find our way home. It is a dangerous journey with wild beasts and evil creatures. Dorothy was kept safe on her journey by the ruby red slippers. We are kept safe by our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.” (Ephesians 6:15).

Lord, protect us on our way home to you. Give us courage, humility, self knowledge and zeal. Amen

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living and Dying: The Christian Paradox

Fr. Dale Matson

“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33, NASB)
Carl Jung asked all of his new patients the same question. “Do you really want to live”? This is not only the basic question for those wanting to be well; it in no way contradicts the previous passage from Luke. Christians should neither overindulge nor neglect the needs of the body. St. Paul states, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Once again, there is a certain irony in both the humility of our bodies being clay pots and the glory of our bodies being temples that contain the Holy Spirit. It is the contents that matter most in either case.
In the Church, there is a considerable focus on the spiritual “activities of daily living” (ADL’s) that includes meditation, prayer, liturgy and service. How disciplined and intentional are we about these things on a daily basis? This is how the Christian participates in the daily drowning of the old Adam. It is a dying with Christ on His cross. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). If you are a Nicodemus, this is written for your sake.
There is also a healthy seeking of life as stewards of the bodies God has given us. St. Paul refers to a sanctification of the body in addition to the soul and spirit. This does not mean neglect of bodily needs, or worse hedonism or self-abuse. While Christ fasted, he also ate when He was hungry, slept when He needed rest and drank when thirsty.  This is not what St. Paul means when he states, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13). This statement is in perfect harmony with the passage from Luke. This is mortification of the flesh but it is not a reference to bodily obsession, neglect or abuse. Mortification of the flesh is a putting to death of the fallen part of our nature inherited as original sin. It is our selfish, self-seeking egocentricity that is the life that must be mortified. It is a circumcision of the heart. “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). It is a heart of stone being replace by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Mortification of the flesh is performed on the inside.
Just as there are spiritual ADL’s, there are also Bodily ADL’s and the vast majority of physical problems presented to medical doctors involve a failure to honor these. Our bodies were created for and require physical work and exercise. Diet is another ADL that is as least as important as exercise. In fact, I have learned that no exercise program, no matter how extreme, can purge the careless consumption of calories. I have historically been more concerned about the kind of gasoline I put in my vehicle than the kind of food I consume. Proper diet can correct or alleviate problems with hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
As Christians we must understand the difference between dying to self for Christ and destruction of self through poor stewardship of our bodies. If you think that you need to be only involved in the Spiritual ADL’s, this is written for you.
Lord, help me to lead a disciplined life in body, soul and spirit. Amen   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Boogey Man And The Cup Of Suffering

Fr. Dale Matson

“You in your robes sang calling, calling, and calling him. In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?” (From the song Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt)

I believe many individuals, particularly those who have an anxious temperament, phobics, substance abusers or those who have difficulty trusting others, spend much of their lives seeking peace. For years, I have listened to the haunting song, Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt and my answer remains, “No, I have not found peace.” I have experienced peace states but I have never experienced peace as a trait. Peace has been my heart’s desire but it is so frequently stolen by the Boogey Man.  
The Boogey Man is the incarnation of our fears. He is what the child looks for under his bed and the adult buys insurance against. The Boogey Man is a tormenting bully (Captain Kirk’s Finnegan), a chronic illness, a supervisor at work, a parent, a random sniper. The Boogey Man is what we torment ourselves with more than whom or what torments us. Would that God would make him go away. If only God would just remove this thorn from our flesh. If only He would remove this cup of suffering from us. And when it is removed, we have peace for such a short sweet time. Then a new Boogey Man takes his place and we vex so, till our sweat falls to the ground like blood as we plead with God to remove the new cup of suffering. As with Job, the things we fear are in a holding pattern, hanging over us, waiting in the “trouble” cue, to descend upon us.
We know so well what the Boogey Man does. He steals our pride, our sense of control, and our self-confidence. He binds the strong man and takes his goods. We are continually mortified. It is that dream where we are naked in public. Or, is it a dream? Worst of all he cuts us out of the herd and isolates us. Our friends sound like Job’s friends. Lord, take this cup of suffering from me. The answer is always the same. “You have taken My yoke upon you yet you continue to refuse your cross.” Lord, couldn’t I progress without this suffering, without this baptism of fire”? “I am not like your saints. I am an ordinary person. Your saints sought this trail of sorrow. Blessed Mother Teresa asked to drink from your cup of suffering to the last drop. I have not sought these sorrows. These desolations are destroying me. “But you are so full of yourself; there is little room for Me”.
  Was this the question, pulling, pulling, pulling you in your heart, in your soul, did you find rest there?  Peace Lord, bring me peace. Amen



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Individualism and Self-Absorption

Fr. Dale Matson

            “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” (From Invictus by William Ernest Henley)
             I came from a Protestant white middle class family that embraced what President Herbert Hoover called rugged individualism. Many have pointed to Teddy Roosevelt as the archetype of the rugged individualist.   
            When I interviewed student prospects as the director of the school psychology program, I would ask them to tell me their story. What became clear to me over the years was the different world views the students brought to the program. Almost all of the Hispanic students told their story in the context of their family and culture. They did not see themselves as individuals distinct from the family which included the grandparents. Sometimes it would take an hour for their stories to unfold. Often, I would get lost in the lineage.
            There is a risk of an ego centricity that accompanies individualism. Perhaps males are given more latitude than females on this. Someone once said that we give our boys wings and our girls roots. In our society today, individualism has now been raised to the level of idolatry. Human rights translated in today’s terms is, I’ve Got To Be Me (A song popularized by Sammy Davis Jr.). Carol Gilligan correctly asserted the role of relationships in moral development and challenged Lawrence Kohlberg on his system of moral development based on individualism. Today, when the individual is free to do whatever she wants as long as it does not encroach on my rights; it is really a “work around”. It is me absolving myself of a responsibility to my neighbor. Ignoring my neighbor is failure to love my neighbor as myself.
            Eventually, I have come to see myself not as an individual with personal goals to be accomplished and a vitae to be embellished. While I still enjoy the alone time, it is obvious that I depend more on others every day. God puts those people around us to help us.
Life lived in a collaborative fashion produces richer results, affirms and empowers others and draws us out of the hell of self-absorption. There is no such thing as a self-made person. Each person begins with a genetic endowment from ancestors just for a starter.
             Hyper-reflection is a preoccupation with self. Kierkegaard called it “extravagant subjectivity”. Our contemporary society caters to and assists this narcissism. This individualism contributes to the symptoms of anxiety, hypochondria, depression and character disorders. At its most pathological point, it is the Schizophrenic collecting his urine because his bodily functions have become his sole focus and vocation. Our society as a whole is so individualistic that it is fast approaching a state of anomie, which Durkheim applied only to individuals.
An individual in isolation may succumb to hyper-reflection, dryness and desperation. A life lived interconnected to the community does not threaten the loss of individuality; it nourishes it. Family, friends and the Church are groups that provide structure, nurture faith, provide service opportunities, and direct us toward God and away from ourselves. The older I become, the more I see individualism as a pernicious modern malady.
The poem Invictus has always bothered me, even in my youth. I prefer, “"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20, NASB)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Philip’s Questions and My Responses

Fr. Dale Matson

It is strange how sitting in front of the blank screen of a word processor ruins my thought train.
In addition, I have not had such an experience, so I can only guess how I think it might affect me.
YOUR VISION How has this changed?
Your view of yourself
Your thoughts about the Church; Church Hierarchy; Mass; Your Homilies; the congregation
Your memories of childhood; your parents
Your day-to-day lifestyle
Your thoughts on running
Your expectations of yourself as a first responder
Your energies as a priest
Your thoughts about death? Your own? Other peoples?
These change questions above imply some change. Like “do you still beat your wife?” If there have not been changes of the sort implied, why do you think so? (I ask these questions because surviving my accident has had a profound ‘ripple effect’ on my life and the way I look at it and others.)
Have you been able to share this experience? How has it been received? Can people relate to it? Do they think you’re nuts? On something?
How did you feel during the experience? Just before? Immediately after?
Was this an out of body déjà vu? Kinda?
Do you feel more important as a priest now? Less? Same?
Does this make you more a provider than a server? Or vice versa. Or neither.
How does this vision compare to a normal experience?
Have you been taken aback by this?
How does the feeling you have about it now compare to that of your first love, Finishing the Iron Man? The birth of your first child, Being a grandparent, Quitting Dixon and Ryan?
Will this change the way you think about death?
Does the vision have an effect on the way you tolerate others?

Phil, I continue to think about myself being on a journey. Most of what I have written about is from the perspective of a seeker. I often think to myself, “Who am I that I should call myself a priest?” It is really a better question to ask, “Could I be anything else than a priest?”  That is what I was called by God to be from the beginning. As I stand by the altar, there are two thoughts running through my head. “I am not worthy to be here and yet I belong here.” I am only a clay pot but I contain a treasure. (Second Cor. 4:7)
I love the Church in general and the Anglican Church in particular even more. Without the Church, there would be no restraint on evil.  I believe in apostolic succession and know the liturgy of the Word and Table is what our Lord intended. The truth of Christ’s Church is evident to me and the mystery beckons me forward. As a priest, I am called to be a steward of the mysteries of God.  My homilies are always an attempt to demonstrate the application of the Gospel message to shine God’s light on sinfulness on one hand and offer His forgiving grace in Jesus the Christ on the other. He is our only hope of salvation and wholeness. I love our congregation. They and the other churches of our diocese have been obedient to their bishop, said "no" to false teaching, suffered persecution and poured themselves out on behalf of their neighbors.
There is a general restructuring of my past. As I stitch together the historical thread, I am please with what God has done orchestrating a life that seemed so aimless, self destructive and unproductive at the time. The curing process was lengthy but, as they say, “No wine before it’s time.” I was intentional about not just forgiving my parents but loving them. I am not repressing or denying things, only the good memories remain.     
I think my day-to-day lifestyle is informed by my vocation but realize that there is still much of the old Adam in me. I worry about a “hot microphone” and when I am driving, I do not wear my collar. I am also very much aware of the authority God has given me and try and keep in mind that when I speak, I  speak for His Church. I regret some of the public statements I have made on the blogs.  
When I am exercising in general and running in particular, He is with me, teaching me, offering ideas, telling me not to be so defensive, not to take things so personally, and to be more trusting. As a first responder in search and rescue, I have an opportunity to serve others. It is a chance to find those who are lost in a different sense. It is also an opportunity to submit to the authority of those who are in command and have authority over me. Finally, it is an opportunity to be in God’s wilderness.
My energies as a priest are limited because of my age. I observe the younger priests including our new Bishop (Menees) and wonder where they get all of that energy. God bless them for it and their optimistic zeal. I believe I have a different quality that comes with age that others pick up on. They give me the benefit of a doubt. Sometimes I am just thinking about candy when it appears that I am deep in thought.
My visions have been an unmerited and unrequested blessing from God. I asked for the gift of tongues years ago and received this gift. I mention this simply to say that both the Charismatic gifts and visions have strengthened my faith and diminished my concerns about my own passing. I have been both edified and humbled by the visions that God has provided to me. It is my hope that everyone has an opportunity to hear the Gospel message and accept it before they die. They may have begun work late in the day but their wages are the same.
I have both wanted and needed to relate these visions. I believe the people who are aware of these things in their own lives understand and are encouraged. You are the only one who has gone into such detailed questions. Perhaps others worry about my emotional stability at best and my sanity at worst. I think the fact that my life is disciplined and teaching orthodox, testifies to my credibility as a witness. In the most recent vision, I was simply an observer captivated by what I saw. Before that I was simply “Doing the dishes” as we say. After that, I investigated visions as a psychological phenomenon. I believe there is a general acceptance by psychologists that there are both normal and pathological possibilities. Generally, if you are left feeling humbled and more connected to others, I believe it is of God. I think being a psychologist has helped me sort out the reality of the experiences and comforted me. There is no rational explanation for what occurred. I did not even know at the time of the vision that the Corporal symbolized Christ’s burial linen. This was not an out of body experience at all. I believe the vision did not authenticate my priesthood nor enhance it. It was something God could offer to any believer. As I think about this answer, because it occurred during the cleanup portion of the mass, God was also reinforcing the servant role of my priesthood.
I believe this vision was different in kind than a normal experience. There was no visual stimulus there for my eyes to see. It was not a hallucination or a distortion of reality. I believe it was a vision that was not bounded by time or space perceived by my spirit. It was what Jesus talked about, when He talked about those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. He did not mean bodily senses. I am not taken aback by this because these things have always been a part of my world since childhood. I saw evil spirits in my grandparents’ home when I would awaken during the night. My brother never saw them. I sensed them in your mother in laws home and told you about it the next morning.
How does this compare to the other big experiences. I do not believe it diminishes them. It puts them into a new context and provides a patina. I am theocentric. God is at the center of my worldview. I hope to come to the place St. Paul was at when he said that he longed to depart and be with Christ. The world is a beautiful place. It is hard to give it up.  I still have difficulty being a self-designated “cop of the world”. I am prideful and self-righteous. I pray that God would help me to see Christ in everyone I meet.
Phil, I love you my brother,