Friday, July 29, 2011

Corrective Feedback As Consultation

Fr. Dale Matson
I recently offered some corrective feedback to a brother. One test of whether my feedback is authentic and not me just being a critical parent is how much it pains me to say it. If there is eagerness, then it is probably not necessary to say it. If it is not spoken in love, it probably should not be said either.

There is an additional event that will follow corrective feedback I’ve offered to others as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. A brother will offer me feedback and that happened twice yesterday. My friend of over fifty years called to point out some things I could improve on with some Kindle Singles I had recently published. “Yes Phil, spell check does not catch the word break when I intended brake”. “Yes Phil I shouldn’t use a brand name that may be obsolete in five years which renders my example void.” Etc. Etc. Etc. He had lots of good things to say but…did I remember those things? Not so much.

Another brother of twenty years; a former colleague and I finally managed to get together after quite some time. I was quite annoyed with him since he seemed to be continually putting me off. Can’t friends find the time for one another? He told me in our two hour conversation that I had said some hurtful things to him. “You can push people Dale. Others feel that way about you too.” Ah yes, the sickening sense in the stomach signaling the truth of what he was saying. How often have I misused the gift of exhortation? “You’ve done a lot of things but we get tired of hearing about it.” Oops I guess he’s right again. I’m sorry Peter for hurting you. Please help me by telling me at the time so things don’t fester under the surface.

We all have blind spots and in the Johari Window there are things that others see in us that we are unaware of. That is why the Psalmist says, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” (Psalm 19:12, KJV). The Holy Spirit does convict us from time to time also.

Many years ago I was given a job evaluation at a place where I worked at an entry level position. I walked in expecting to receive an employee of the year nomination. Instead the supervisors told me that no one wanted to work with me. I was considered by my coworkers to be a self-righteous S.O.B. I think one of my supervisors; John B. actually smiled as he delivered the bad news. I hope I have changed over the years partly in response to this. I hope being a priest doesn’t feed into that tendency and make it less visible to me.

The point of this is to say that our spouses, siblings and children, if we are fortunate enough to be blessed with them are the first in line as our consultants. After that, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I was once told as I smoked a cigarette outside church, “You know Dale, Christ loves you exactly where you are at but he loves you enough not to let you remain there.” After much prayer, my will to quit emerged and about two years later, January 10th 1983, I quit smoking.

Keep those consultations coming brothers and sisters. I think at age 66 there is still room for a tad more improvement. Amen.     

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Atrocity in Norway

Fr. Dale Matson

"In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph. 4:26).

In an article in the New York Times today by David Jolly, Anders Behring Breivik was identified as the suspect in the bombing and shooting related deaths of over ninety people. The New York Times also quoted the Norwegian police as referring to him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.

I am shocked and saddened by this cowardly and heinous act and condemn it. My deepest sympathies go out to those families who were directly affected and to the nation of Norway. This act has diminished all of us who inhabit this planet.

These are also not the actions of a psychotic individual because of the premeditation and planning that were required. A radicalized individual is not insane in the traditional sense. These are the actions of an individual that has allowed the root of bitterness to capture his heart. “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

I am also saddened that anyone would consider a radicalized murderer to be a Christian. This was not a Christian act nor was it the act of a Christian. No person who had the Holy Spirit dwelling inside could commit such a barbarous act against innocent individuals.

This is an individual who let bitterness take hold and fill his heart with hate. His imaginations became plans and his plans led to the death of scores of young people. Christians are commanded to love others and to have compassion on others not harm them.

When an individual is filled with such hate the unthinkable becomes a reasonable course of action. What is reasonable is not necessarily rational. That is a kind of non-psychotic insanity. That is what motivated Timothy McVeigh too.

As Christians, we are also commanded by Christ not to be afraid. Paul states, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. “ (2nd Timothy 1:7).  I believe fear is the fertile soil for the root of bitterness and the fruit of this root of bitterness is a heart darkened by hate.

This was not the act of a fundamentalist Christian. It was the act of a radicalized man filled with fear, motivated by hate and empowered by Satan the murderer.

As our Lord told us, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:16). And what are the fruits whereby we may know a Christian? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23a).

Lord, watch over the nation of Norway and especially comfort the affected families. Amen

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Journal Again

Fr. Dale Matson

Although a major issue for those of us who are officially retired is the wise use of time, I believe the wise use of time is just as important for those who are still employed. Whether we like it or not we all need a supervisor and I am not talking about a spouse, although spouses can be excellent consultants.

Life, like committee meetings can be divided up into topics for discussion and topics for action. Much of my life is spent replacing consumables like a box of Kleenex, filling the dogs’ food dishes, mowing the lawn (I’m contracted with the women of the house till I am 70), or gassing up the SUV. It seems like our weekly trip to Costco is every other day but the food is good and cheap and that is our meal out every week. More and more my replacements have a lifetime warranty (my lifetime anyway) like the new shingles on our roof.

What keeps me moving along singing a song? I am accountable to the journal that begins each day following my devotional. What did I do the previous day that is worth recording beyond replacing the consumables in my life? Yes, yes I record my dreams but even my dreams seem to lack the pizazz they once had. Dreams must be partially powered by hormones?

I tend to focus on the general categories of the activities of daily living (ADL). Did you contact a friend or relative? Did you exercise aerobically or with weights? Did you spend time in prayers? Did you write another chapter in your book? Increasingly, my actions are directed at fulfilling little good works. Did you write that “Thank you” or the “Way to go!” email? They are replacements of consumables too. They are reciprocating good will. Did you call someone to see how they are doing?

I had a longtime friend say to me on the phone the other day, “You’ve set a lot of goals and attained them. What is next for you?” I’d like to continue to extend a hand up to others. My gift is exhortation. While direct service delivery provides ego food (fast food indeed!), indirect service delivery is more effective. One advantage to being an ordinary person is that lots of folks can identify with my struggles and yes, the successes also.

The good works often go unobserved but are in response to a reminder from the Counselor who often comes alongside others through us. He is the master of the little kindnesses. He is the one Who looks after others through us.

We all have been assigned the good works of the Kingdom. So much of our work goes on unobserved and oft times unappreciated. That is why we keep a personal accounting of ourselves; not to be self-righteous but to hold ourselves accountable for the “talents” God has given each of us. A journal is a marvelous tool for this purpose. Amen             

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jake’s Pond

Fr. Dale Matson

One of the reasons God created ponds was to have a place for boys to explore and that’s just what Tom Hardy and I did on hot summer days over several years. A pond contains more genuine adventure than Atari and Xbox combined. A pond is zoology 101. Today, ponds are thought of as ecosystems but we saw Jake’s pond as a place for adventures.

Jake’s pond was in the back forty of his property away from his house on Tipsico Lake Road and west of Tipsico Lake.  Jake arrived shortly after God built Tipsico Lake where Tom’s family lived and my family had a summer cabin. Jake spun stories of fish too big to be measured by a yard stick and the “old” days when he had to lead his horses out to the middle of Tipsico Lake just to get them a drink.

Jake liked Tom and me and we had a special dispensation from him to explore his pond whenever we wanted. This included harvesting all the elderberries we could carry to be processed as jam at home. Poachers tried to sneak in late at night to get the Bull Frogs. Jake had special shot gun shells with rock salt instead of lead pellets waiting for them.

In the spring the red wing black birds would begin nesting in the cattails of the pond and it would mean the pollywogs were soon to follow. We would wear our bathing suits and Converse All Stars to walk through the muck of the pond to collect them in mason jars. Yes, we put several holes in the lid using a finishing nail and a hammer. All critters need air! Ponds have a certain smell to them that literally shouts to your senses, “There’s lots of stuff here.”  An occasional Blue Heron would watch from a comfortable distance, as we looked for newts and salamanders. I don’t remember seeing any big fish in the pond and think that in the winter; the pond may have frozen too deep for larger fish.

We would also catch Painted turtles with the requisite leeches attached to them. We avoided the snappers and the musk turtles. We were always on the lookout for a Blanding’s turtle which was a rare find. Even when the turtles dove to the bottom of the pond to avoid us and buried themselves in the mud, the telltale bubbles would betray their location.  We used table salt to rid ourselves of the leeches that stuck to us when we got home. There were also leopard frogs along the shore area above the pond that migrated there from the pond to finish their life cycle on land. We would capture garter snakes with big lumps in the middle that were once frogs. There were also blue racers around but harder to catch than garters. What we called “Water Scooters” would skim across the surface of the pond ahead of us as we walked.

And what did we do with our treasures? Like “Bring Em Back Alive“ Frank Buck, we took them back to Tipsico Lake and released them in the rocks along the shore of Tom’s house. We thought we were creating an aquatic menagerie but fresh tracks suggested that nightly visits by Raccoons were culling our transplants.

We had a special mission for our captured turtles. We would set them free in Tipsico Lake but not before painting our initials T.H. or D.M. on the back so all of those along the lakeshore would know that the great hunters were engaged in the primary work of boys; exploration, adventure and subduing wildlife. School was an unwelcome seasonal interruption in our real vocation. In the fall, we would harvest some of the cattails, soak them in kerosene and use them for torches.

The pond is still there but Jake’s house is gone. In its place are big fancy houses. I hope those families have children who explore Jake’s pond too.

If you paste the following location in Google earth or Google Maps, you will see Jake’s pond.

42 43 2.9 n 83 41 12.97 w.     

Friday, July 8, 2011


Fr. Dale Matson
"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you? aThe King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, b to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.' (Matt. 25:37-40) 
 Our Cathedral campus is spacious, unfenced, and kind of like a landscaped mall with several buildings including a school.  It is located in an area of Fresno California surrounded by aging apartments. Because it is a large corner lot by an intersection, many folks cut through the campus as a shortcut to somewhere in the neighborhood.  These folks also shop in our second hand store and come on Wednesdays for our food pantry.  Some stop in to our Parish offices to ask for rent money or for Pastoral counseling. We also constructed a gymnasium for the neighborhood children for recreation. This discourages, to some extent the strong pull into the gang lifestyle. Because it is a transitional neighborhood, there are various ethnic gangs competing for turf and we are a part of that real estate.
Last Wednesday I was in my cassock and surplice on the way to conduct Evening Prayer in the chapel when an older man (actually he and I a probably about the same age) approached me and asked if I had seen a shopping cart. I answered that I hadn’t. He had hidden a cart in some shrubbery earlier in hopes that it would be available for our food distribution and it was no longer there. After conducting services I was walking to my car when I realized I had left one of my (20 or so pair) of reading glasses in the chapel. As I walked out after retrieving them I came across the man again. He was pushing another cart with food in it. I was led to offer to pray for him also and he was initially reluctant but acquiesced and said, “let’s sit down on the wall”. I introduced myself and he said his name was Robert (not his real name) and he lived on the streets. I asked what he would like to pray for and he said that it didn’t matter, that when he was in the Army he had dog tags that indicated that he was an atheist.  I told him my Army dog tags indicated “no preference”. So I guess at that time we were in a similar situation. As I prayed for him, I asked the Lord to bring Robert a sense of peace, hope and a sense of belongingness.
Robert is a man my age that is down to life’s basics of food, clothing and shelter. There are lots of Robert’s and Rita’s that cross our campus every day. The Gospel we offer rarely gets past the creature comfort level but this is Kingdom work and it is often done one person at a time. That one person is Christ every time. The mission work begins in our homes, in our church and our parish neighborhood.   (This was included in a book of meditations published previously but until now not included on the Soundings Blog)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Church And The Homeless: Questions For Our Time

Fr. Dale Matson
“And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” (Luke 9:58).

I was once impressed by a local church that had a sign reading, “The mission field begins at the edge of our property.” The reality for our church is that the mission field begins on our church campus. Part of our church outreach is to the homeless in our community. We offer dinners twice weekly, operate a thrift shop, limited financial assistance and minister to the homeless. Our deacons direct this ministry on campus and there is additional involvement by our parishioners in the Poverello House a privately funded ecumenical facility in another part of Fresno.

Perhaps the thing that rends my heart the most is the erosion of human dignity and personal freedom that results from a life lived on the streets. They are more likely to be the victims of crimes, less likely to receive adequate medical services and like fast food wrappers thrown from a car window; they too are blown into the gutters.

Most research on the homeless includes lack of affordable housing as a major contributing factor. The problem with this phrase is that it can be misleading. For most homeless individuals who generally have no employment, they would at a minimum need rent subsidies and at a maximum need free housing.
Even though they are a part of our church, they generally self-select for the “outer court”. They are a family unto themselves with only a few participating in our main services. During Morning Prayer I can look out the window and see individuals sleeping in our shrubbery. During Evening Prayer, I have seen men gather outside the chapel on a circular bench and pass a bottle around but they do not attend the service. They are not passing through our campus. It has become their home. Some receive mail there and make calls from our receptionist’s phone. Do we add a Portable Potty and hire a security guard for overnight? What is the range and scope of our assistance?

I believe they feel secure on our campus but as their numbers increase the staff and volunteers feel less secure. How do we incorporate them into the life of the church? How we help them is as important as the fact that we offer help. How do we say like Jesus, “Get up and walk”? How do we teach them to fish not just hand them fish? How do we reach them spiritually so that they may be transformed by the love of Christ?

Like the Good Samaritan, how can we dress their wounds, accompany them to a destination, pay for their lodging and care but leave them at some point? Like a good parent, how do we help them to become independent and capable of self-governance and self-support? How do we equip them as any other of the Saints? I believe it has become an ever expanding issue for us. Is this an issue for your church also?

How we respond is a measure of our understanding of the grace given us. Amen  

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Fisherman

Fr. Dale Matson

“And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.” (John 21:6, NASB).

Some of my earliest memories of my father are the kind shared by my brother Don, a fellow conscript. They are war stories nearly of the magnitude of “Two Years Before The Mast” with my father in the role of Captain Thompson. I can still see his unshaven face, his nearly bald head, topped by his requisite fishing cap (he had a special cap for each occasion) and his white fake Meerschaum Kaywoodie pipe projecting from the corner of his mouth. You could hear a periodic crackle of hot spit as he puffed away on the Bond Street Tobacco.

My galley slave name on these expeditions was “Right Oar”. My Brother was eight years older with the compliment of my name, “Left Oar”.  My dad called out for two right oar strokes for every one left oar stroke to keep from going in circles.  This was called “trolling”. I would eventually tire and say to my dad, “Can’t we ‘still’ fish?” He would reply, “We’re still fishing”. When we eventually did still fish, it seemed like the 14 foot aluminum boat became a solar cooker with us in it. “Dad the fish aren’t biting, can’t we move on?”  He would always retort, “That means the “Big Ones” are moving in, we’re going to land a lunker Bass any minute. Of course my dad would get “Buck Fever” (I know this is usually reserved for deer hunting but he always used the phrase when anyone got nervous) when a lunker got on and usually found a way of losing the six pound fish by breaking twelve pound test line.

For lunch, we had sandwiches made by my father with a handful of “padada chips” and a semi cold “Pop” (that’s what we called soft drinks in Michigan). Eventually we would convince my dad to allow us to row to shore and he would finish the day by himself. Everyone else had at least a 3 HP Evinrude outboard motor but dad said you couldn’t sneak up on the lunkers with an outboard motor. Lots of Bass in Tipsico Lake knew enough to take cover when they heard the loud unlubricated oar locks squeaking with each oar stroke or the banging of his Kawoodie pipe on the side of the boat to knock out old tobacco. I still have the pen knife he used to scrape the inside of his pipe.

He would return after dark with his lantern flashing to warn other boats and then clean his “mess” of fish under the same lantern light, brushing away mosquitoes from his face. The “victory” garden was the repository for the waste. He once gave my mother a fly rod for her birthday which was unnecessary since she didn’t fish and refused to be shanghaied with my brother and me. We had a plaque on the wall with a skeleton holding a fishing pole over the side of a boat with the caption, “stubborn cuss”. That was my dad.

And where did we go on vacation? Well, of course we went fishing at a cabin. I can hear my mother now, “Milton this is not a vacation for me, just a more primitive place to cook and clean.” To this day because of my father, I have more stories than you can shake a stick at. Life was much simpler and funnier back then. I wish I could tell him how God has blessed me the past few years it would be so much better if he were here. I miss him so. Amen

And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19, NASB).