Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Have Grizzly Bears Become More Important Than Humans?

Fr. Dale Matson

“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26, KJV).

In July of this year a man and his wife were hiking in Yellowstone Park when the man was killed by a female Grizzly who rangers determined was protecting her cubs. The park spokesperson Linda Miller stated that the bear was behaving normally in defending her cubs and would not be destroyed.

This month an Idaho man was arrested for shooting a Grizzly bear in his back yard where his children were playing because he believed they were in danger from the bear. He will be tried on October 4th and if convicted could face up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine for unlawfully taking a protected species. Idaho Governor Otter said that the man had the right to defend his family.

Why does a Grizzly bear have the right to defend her cubs against a perceived threat from humans and a human does not have the right to defend his children from a perceived threat from a Grizzly? Have we now bestowed human rights on animals? Do the rights of an animal even supersede human rights.

There are some additional concerns I have about this. Since the Grizzly sow was doing the natural thing and protecting her cubs, what would rangers do if they actually saw this event happening? Would they have allowed the bear to kill the man? I think not. I hope not. Will this same bear be more likely to kill a human in the future? Yes it will. The recent death of a Michigan man by a Grizzly may yet prove to be the same bear. Park officials say the recent attack happened eight miles from the July attack.

When was a policy of justifiable homicide put in place for Grizzlies? Does this mean that black bears and mountain lions can kill humans if rangers believe it was justified? Since when do park rangers and park officials make this determination? It is easy to blame this on human encroachment but predator populations are also on the increase. In Yellowstone Park Grizzlies are not even on the list of threatened species let alone endangered species.

I am sure there are those who are happy about the bear not being destroyed but most of the same individuals eat meat. What does that ultimately say about their priorities? The real issue here is not properly valuing the life of animals but in valuing the life of animals over humans.

Friday, August 26, 2011

You Are God's Temple

Fr. Dale Matson

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, which the Excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)

“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice…” (BCP HE Rite I p. 336).

Perhaps my comments should be addressed first to clergy about self-care including diet and exercise because the clergy as a group are worse than the U.S. Population as a whole. There is a link between physical health and spiritual life. Taking care of the body God has given you demonstrates that you take your commitment to God seriously. Before ordination the candidate lays prostrate before the Bishop signifying with a prostrate body, a total commitment to God.

In this age of virtual experience, it is only too easy to lead a sedentary life but our bodies were not designed for this kind of life. Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden to “Dress it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) Our bodies are not machines and were designed to be active with internal mechanisms that respond to activity by making us more robust. If we do nothing, we will suffer from “lot rot”.

Developmental Psychology text book data on human aging was developed on a sedentary population showing a considerable loss of physical capacity as the cohort aged. It was accurate data gathered on a skewed sample. It does not have to be this way. Although we are no longer agrarian cultures who keep our bodies sound and fit through work, almost all have the opportunity for recreational activity. For those that do, exercise is a priority.  Even those with most mobility impairments can implement a modified exercise program.

Regular exercise can prevent or improve obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, back pain and osteoporosis. It can also help with psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression. There is also a social emotional component since group exercise tends to facilitate the formation of friendships. Additionally, there can be a meditative aspect to exercise. Much can be sorted out while swimming, bicycling, skiing, running or even weight training. Sweat comes from places a shower never reaches. Finally, there is a sense of self efficacy and discipline that comes with adopting and maintaining an exercise routine. One can even see personal progress when the rest of one’s life seems to be in the pits.

After I quit smoking over twenty five years ago I gained more than twenty pounds. Having transitioned from a blue color job to student and human services I needed to address the weight gain and attendant problems of hypertension, hypoglycemia and stress induced irregular heart rhythms.

I began a program of aerobic and isotonic exercise that I have maintained to this day. While I am heavier than I would like to be, my numbers are lower today than twenty five years ago. I have introduced more variety into my exercise program, which helps guard against overuse injuries. If you believe God is asking you to begin a program of exercise, I would check with your family physician and get an ok first. There are two resources that I have personally used and included in Wellness classes taught over a period of many years. Covert Baily has an excellent book with sophisticated techniques for the beginner called The Ultimate Fit or Fat, 2000. The other text is by aerobics guru Kenneth Cooper, Aerobics Program For Total Well-Being: Exercise, Diet , And Emotional Balance, 1985. Both books are still available and still some of the best readings on exercise.

“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Purgative Stage And The Carnal Christian

Fr. Dale Matson

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25, NASB).

I believe St. Paul is describing what can be called “The Carnal Christian” here. While an individual may have given himself or herself to Christ, I believe there is a stage for the newly converted Christian where there is a struggle with the ingrained behavioral consequences of prior sins. Sinful behaviors become more than wrong actions. They become ingrained as wrong attitudes; changed belief patterns and even our concept of who we are.

Let me use smoking as an example. Through practice (behavioral repetition), I went from someone who smoked cigarettes to being a smoker. That was an actual change of identity based on repeated behaviors. When I became a Christian again (It is not once saved always saved) twenty years later, I knew in my mind that my body was God’s temple and that I was desecrating it by smoking. Yet, while I was repentant and felt guilty about it, I did not possess the will to quit smoking. I needed to pray for two years for God to give me the will to quit.

When I did quit on January 10th 1983, I spent the next three weeks with my hand coming up to my shirt pocket as if reaching for a smoke. The smoking behaviors were also enmeshed with other habits like the cups of coffee throughout the day and the drinks of alcohol at night. Removing one sinful habit helps break the web of bondage to other habits too.

So much of the reformed Christian life is enabled by what psychologists would call replacement behaviors. St. Paul would call this “Putting off the old man and putting on the new man. This is especially true for those who suffer from addictions. With what behavior will you replace the addictive behavior? I replaced smoking with running and became a runner. Listen, as St. Paul offers replacement behaviors.

When you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:21-32).

The moral and theological virtues are replacements for the seven deadly sins. From a behavioral sense if you are engaged in doing good works, you are not engaged in sinful works. As we live so we believe. Amen

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Favorite Central Sierra Nevada Hikes

The Cover photograph is McClure Meadow along the JMT in late June
The back photograph is of Sharon and me sitting near the San Joaquin River

Fr. Dale Matson

One of my friend Morton Kelsey’s last books was Prayer And The Redwood Seed,(1991, Element Press). There are so many ways our lives connected and now I think of him again as I published my latest book My Favorite Central Sierra Nevada Hikes. He used to walk daily near his home among the Redwoods in Northern California up the hill from the Pacific Ocean. It was an ideal setting for prayer, contemplation and writing. He and Barbara were blessed. I am also reminded of Luther’s comment about the Eucharist. “He is present in, with and under the elements”. This is also true in nature with God as creator and sustainer.

For me, the granite, trees, wildflowers and water are restorative. Most of my hikes now involve others too. I have always enjoyed sharing these experiences. I cannot offer the prose of a man so gifted by God as Morton Kelsey but I included many Black and White photographs that also speak volumes. The book is primarily a narrative description of the hike routes with photographs along the way. 

I am blessed to live in a city, Fresno California that provides a central location for day trips to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks and the Sierra National Forest. One can even travel to the Pacific coast for the day too. The Central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is stitched together with a thin golden thread called the John Muir Trail. It is a trail of indescribable beauty and I have been fortunate to travel most of it in sections over the years. When I close my eyes, I have images that pass in front of my mind’s eye that return me to those places. Sometimes, like today at the altar, time stands still, God is vividly present and I am at peace.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sanctification III: The Doctrine Of The Three Ways

Fr. Dale Matson

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The above graphic is from the book Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development by Benedict J. Groeschel, 1993, p. 118, Crossroads Publishing Company.* You may click on the graphic to enlarge it.

This graphic by Fr. Groeschel depicts what he refers to as the doctrine of the Three Ways.  The idea of three stages of spiritual development was first mentioned in the church in the late 5th century in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the mystical theologian and philosopher.

This graphic depicts the path of sanctification for the Christian. The graph has limitations because spiritual growth unlike physical growth is more a cyclical than linear process. The three categories Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive are not mutually exclusive and an individual may be in more than one state of growth at the same time.

What is incredible about this developmental process is that spiritual growth also yields a transformation of the personality including the emotions, sensual, intellectual and the will.

In the Purgative stage, individuals resist sinning especially sexual sins and cultivate love. They are at war with themselves. It reminds me of the struggle described by St. Paul in Romans chapter seven. I once heard this person referred to as a carnal Christian. It is a time of shedding of the old ways and a struggle that leads to humility. This process is both active based on the efforts of the individual and also passive based on the encouragement of God’s consolations. This is primarily a behavioral stage and the individual is helped by the rituals of the church.

In the Illuminative stage, the passions of the individual are more controlled and the focus is more cognitive. There is reflection and self-examination. Since the struggle against the flesh has been reduced, the mind is free to entertain Divine thoughts. There are still internal and external trials to be endured. In this stage the individual is helped by exercising the theological and moral virtues.

In the Unitive stage, the struggle can even be greater. There can be a dark night of the soul as a part of this stage, with a spiritual thirst that cannot be quenched. It is a time with no consolation and a state of desolation. I believe Mother Teresa discussed this darkness in her private memoirs in the biography Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk, 2007, Doubleday. In this stage the soul is united to God by love.

In Fr. Groeschel’s graphic, he introduces the ascending and descending wavy lines that indicate as people progress spiritually, they experience less anxiety and more peace and freedom. Notice also how the focus of the prayers change in each stage and the foci and experiences differ also.

I also find it interesting that in the unitive stage that there is a loss of all defenses. I believe this is a divestment of ego. The only other individual that experiences this loss of defenses is the psychotic.

I have used this graphic in many wellness classes. I know of no one who even claimed to be in the unitive stage and I only know one person, my mentor, who existed in the illuminative stage. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and accepted God’s will. He lived another twelve years with it in remission. I hope you will find it useful as a way of helping you understand your own spiritual progress. Amen

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Twelve Steps Of AA In The Liturgy Of The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

Service Of The Word

Collect For Purity
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may
Perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
I believe the collect for purity corresponds to step 6. “We were entirely ready to remove all these defects in character.”

Gospel Lesson  The Gospel lesson followed by the sermon based on the lessons discusses the human condition and the fact that man cannot rescue himself from this original state of brokenness caused by rebellion. Man is estranged from God and needs to reconcile with God. There is an intermediary Jesus Christ who shows man how to be a human being, how to relate to God and through his death and resurrection ransoms man from captivity to a self-destructive life destined for death and eternal damnation. By accepting his actions and believing that he is who He says He is, accepting Him as savior, you are freed from sin, death and hell and a self-destructive life. Often there is an altar call for people to give their lives to Christ in Protestant services. Here I believe you will find steps 1-3.  “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction-that our lives had become unmanageable. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

Prayers of the People  

Here the church petitions God to intervene in the affairs of the world, government and includes the needs of individual members of the church. Those who have passed on are also included. These intercessions redirect us from a self-centered and self-directed life. I do not see a corresponding step for the AA model.

Let Us Confess Our Sins Against God And Our Neighbor

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.” Steps 4,5 and 7 are addressed here. “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings”

Absolution [by priest or bishop on behalf of God]

“Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.  Amen”. I think the church offering forgiveness following confession is not just what God does but a necessary psychological step in a cleansing process.

The Peace [Here parishioners greet one another in the name of the Lord and make amends/ask forgiveness if needed] Steps 8 and 9  are addressed here. “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”  This is also covered in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance following that.

Service Of The Table

The Eucharistic Prayer and Communion [Here the celebrant offers a prayer of praise to God and a remembering (anamnesis) of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ who’s atoning death and resurrection, reconciled God and humans. During this time the parishioner reflects on his own sinfulness and unworthiness and God’s grace and mercy. At the conclusion of the prayer, the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood are given to the communicants that they may be in Him and He in them. They are not just reconciled to God, they are united with Him] Here, steps 10 and 11 are addressed. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. (In the life of the Christian this can also be conviction by the Holy Spirit) We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Concluding Prayer

“Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom. And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen” Step 12. “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

We are working the program too. Amen

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Choosing Life: Working The Program

Fr. Dale Matson

Twelve Step programs are used to treat both addictive and dysfunctional behaviors and began with Alcoholics Anonymous. All programs are based on the AA treatment model, which most individuals see as primarily a spiritual treatment. In fact, God is mentioned six times in the twelve steps.

The individual begins by repenting and submits to God’s will. It is a kind of conversion experience with an initial and ongoing component like religious conversion. Bernard Tyrrell S.J. thought of this as conversion from addiction. He also wrote about moral conversion and conversion from neurosis Christotherapy II (1982, Paulist Press).

Following this conversion, the individual works his own ongoing program of removing defects of character assisted by God. It reminds me somewhat of St. Paul’s statement, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13).

Step five, “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. Here I am reminded of the passage from James. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (5:16) In steps six and seven, I’m uncertain of the subtle differences intended involving God removing defects of character and shortcomings but It reminds me of 1st John. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:9).

Step eight is setting the will to make amends and step nine is making amends. This reminds me of a passage from Matthew. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (5:23-24). In step ten there is ongoing personal inventory and admission of wrongdoing. “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults”. (Psalm 19:12). In step eleven “Praying for God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

In step twelve, the individual is to carry the message to those who still suffer. “And He said to them, "Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15).

This is the basic outline of a Twelve Step Program of recovery and my Scriptural references that indicate that this is consistent with a “Christian Program” also. I was involved in an Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOA) program for about a year as a Christian member of a Church. I did not continue in the group for a few reasons. First, I found there to be more community (Koinonia) in the church. At ACOA, it seemed like parallel play.  There was also a sense that you would always be broken and that coming to meetings and working the program only kept things in remission. I also found that most of the group members did not attend church; that this was their church. Put another way, it seemed like a generic spirituality. Was it effective? For those who abuse substances, I believe the treatment has as much efficacy as any treatment.

What is missing? Jesus Christ is missing and He is the person Christians are becoming. He is more than our sobriety and sanity. He is wholeness and holiness. He is also our brothers and sisters to whom we lovingly respond. It is in His body the church that we worship, serve, and fellowship and mature.

In the years I have had membership in churches that also hosted AA chapters, I do not know of many AA members who became members of our church. I am sure some were Christians but I believe the focus of the treatment can also become a kind of idolatry itself. If sobriety is all you aspire to then AA will work for you. Are there Christians that aren’t working their program? Yes. However, it is not enough for me to be dry and sober.  If one wants more, then they need to move on from a generic god to a Trinitarian God.  In my next post I will discuss the first Christian treatment program, the liturgy.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sanctification II: The Work We Are Called To Do

Fr. Dale Matson

As both a Psychologist and an Anglican Priest, I ask myself questions about what constitutes the attributes of a Christian, how are Christians different than those who are not Christians and are new Christians different from older Christians? Is there some kind of emotional patina evident to others as we age?  From the perspective of Science, does Christianity offer a method or treatment with observable outcomes? Does regular church attendance, Scripture reading, service to others makes a difference? Do we become what we practice? Is there a change of personality sometimes referred to as conversion of manners? Is what we call the fruits of the Spirit evident in Christian lives?  Do Christians respond differently to the events in their world? Are they more resilient than others?

The United States has traditionally been considered to be a Judeo Christian Culture but there is an observable process of erasure occurring. We no longer have blue laws. There is no longer prayer or Christian music allowed in public schools. The Ten Commandments and Christian symbols like crosses have been banned or removed from public settings. Reference to God on coins and the pledge of allegiance have been challenged. President Obama stated in 2008 that we were no longer a Christian nation. We can no longer expect our culture to favor or foster our Christianity. Christmas break is now winter break and Easter Break is now spring break in schools. In fact we may be eventually again persecuted for our Christian faith. Here is my question. “Is our faith, imbedded in our culture since the beginning of our nation, dependent on our culture for its survival?”

England recently experienced several nights of rioting and mayhem, the government of David Cameron responded by saying that it would have to build programs to address the years of moral collapse. The Bishop of Manchester the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch stated, “I suspect there may be little recognition of the relentless erosion of Christian values in this country that has taken place during the lifetime of successive governments. The result has been a moral deficit in private and public life that has spawned acquisitiveness and dishonesty. It is evident among all levels of our society. Over the past few decades, we have nurtured confusion among people of all ages and backgrounds over what is right and what is wrong. This week we had an unpleasant glimpse of the default position to which society inevitably returns when its moral imperatives have been sidelined.” My question again, “Is a faith embedded in English culture and an established religion dependent on those institutions?”

In light of this, as an ordinary Christian, I would like to make a case for what it means to be a Christian in a culture that is increasingly pagan and sometimes openly hostile to Christians. What is the ordinary path the Christian is intended to walk as he or she matures in the faith? A man in Norway who self-identified as a fundamentalist Christian recently murdered over seventy innocent civilians. He was identified by the press and police as a Christian terrorist. I do not believe the words Christian and terrorist would have been connected thirty years ago but today Christianity has been purposely uncoupled from culture and recoupled to extremism. Where is our memory of genuine Christian behavior demonstrated by Marian Fisher the Amish girl who offered her life to save her friends from a gunman?

We cannot depend on our culture to be the good soil for the growth of the Kingdom of God nor should we. I believe it is our Lord’s charge to His church to feed His sheep and equip His saints for service. As Anglicans, I believe we must not allow ourselves to be coopted by the culture. As a church, we must not allow our work to be outsourced to our governments.  We must do what we have traditionally done and that is to prepare our sheep in this life as citizens for God’s Kingdom now and in eternity. The growth medium of the Christian is the body of Christ and it is time for the Church to awaken to her responsibility to her sheep. Amen     


Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary Mother Of God

Fr. Dale Matson

Anglicans express quite a range of opinions about Saint Mary and her place in the church. We have two portraits of her in our house and I often visualize her as portrayed by Da Vinci in his painting “The Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38). In it she is visited by the angel Gabriel who kneels before her. She is seated in regal composure receiving Gabriel. The painting is a fitting tribute to her stature. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is a part of our Evening Prayer Service and in it Mary expresses to her cousin Elizabeth and to us, both her humility and the glory of God.

I am certain that my understanding of and experience with Mary may seem superficial when compared with the systematic Mariology of the Roman Church. My understanding is a testimony of sorts and very personal at that. I hope others can relate to my story too.

My mother was an alcoholic who probably self-medicated for an endogenous depression. My father emotionally detached from her and I was at times her confidant. I was also the object of her rage when she was angry. I believe my mother loved me but did not respect me or herself. Although I had two sisters, my mother was my model of a woman and wife. I married a similar woman who was not an alcoholic but who also suffered from depression and rage. I married her because she is what I was familiar with and knew how to relate to, in my acquired and convoluted manner.  My wife and I later divorced after more than twenty years of marriage.

I underwent two years of counseling with an Anglican Jungian therapist. Among other things, she encouraged me to journal and to utilize what is called “Active Imagination”. During some of my journaling I began to dialogue with Mary. I was amazed that she would be so accepting of an ordinary person like me and to accept me as is. This went on almost daily for a number of months. I believe while Eve is our earthly mother, Mary is our spiritual mother. She is the model of all women. For men like me, she is the good mother and the good wife. I believe it was Mary who enabled me to see the best in women and to relate to them in a less neurotic way. What changed was me, not the world around me. I have not dialogued with her since that time.

A year later I met a woman whose middle name is Marie, a French variant on Mary. Both of her grandmothers were named Mary also. I don’t believe she would have been attracted to the earlier me and I know that she would not have been neurotic enough for me to find her interesting either. She accepted me like Jesus accepted me, as is.  In God’s timing and treatment, I met and married a woman who I would not even have had the courage to ask on a date.  I believed prior to that, like a variation of Groucho Marx, that no woman worth having would be interested in me. For women who need healing, I believe Jesus is the model of all men and spouses.

Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is my spiritual mother who I see in my wife and the true feminine within the church of Jesus Christ. Mary is indeed blessed. Amen   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sanctification: The Work We Are Called To Do

Fr. Dale Matson 

“Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom. And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 365).

Over the span of the last twenty years, I have been involved in the selection and professional preparation of individuals in both the secular and church settings. In the secular setting I was involved with training school psychologists and school counselors. In the church setting I am involved with those seeking holy orders, the deacons and priests in the Anglican Church.

During that time I have had an opportunity to participate as a practitioner myself working as a psychologist and school psychologist and as a vocational deacon and priest. I have also been involved in the macro aspects of professional preparation in helping to write the training standards for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing for the State of California.

What remains at the forefront for me is not just what constitutes the necessary requisite attributes and what the added value should be in terms of training outcomes but what happens after the individual has earned the necessary credentialing and entered the profession. A colleague of mine once told me, “What got you here won’t keep you here.”

At the first meeting I attended of the San Joaquin Counselors Association in 1992, I heard table talk that alarmed me. Many of these individuals were burned out after only a few years in the profession as school counselors. How effective could they really be in helping students when their main goal was simply to get through another day of work? Yet, how could someone like Mother Teresa work for years under the most demanding circumstances ministering to the destitute and dying in Calcutta?

It was then that I envisioned a training model for School Psychologists that would have a Wellness component embedded in it. The idea was that the formation process would be intentional in helping candidates learn more about themselves. They would also come to a greater awareness of and need for personal growth in all domains including the spiritual domain. We wanted them to see their work as working for God. The graduate mission statement of Fresno Pacific University claimed that our goal was to advance the Kingdom of God. I believe this focus lends resilience to those who work in the human service professions. It is all too easy to become discouraged, disappointed and even cynical if one hopes to receive encouragement from those who are troubled. Too often, troubled individuals have become adept at defeating help and improvement. As change agents in the schools, we were requiring the candidates to model in their own lives, what they wanted to see in the schools. It was an incarnational model meaning it was Christ like.

I believe that the same thing is true for those seeking holy orders. Seminaries emphasize mastering content. Having a rigid need to submit extra credit to your instructor may make you an excellent student but, will those same personal needs serve you well in the everyday chaos of a school or a church? It does not take long for the professional counselor to realize that the concerned mother who requested counseling for her daughter may be using this service as evidence in a pending divorce case.

What I have been saying is that the treatment for an individual or even a system is personal wellness modeled by the treatment agent herself. That is what produces genuine change. An individual who models personal wellness is contagious. They have healthy emotional boundaries that allow others to connect but not attach. Even touching the hem of the garment of Jesus could heal. But first, the person must be working their own program, for we are all broken from the beginning. And what is that program? It is the process of Sanctification.

Ultimately, the treatment agent is any Christian who listens to God and is willing to take on the assignment that God offers. It is a spiritual niche that will give purpose and meaning to life. As our collect for Morning Prayer states in part, “To know Him is eternal life and to serve Him is perfect freedom.”  This niche may change over time but it is an assignment that can make the sun stand still if necessary. It is an assignment of good works, the works we were called to walk in. Christians have treatment efficacy as they walk and talk and play and laugh……and become whole and holy themselves. This is not just about professionals helping others. It is about Christians as change agents in a world going to Hell.  Amen

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dying to Self

Fr. Dale Matson

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26, NASB)

Wednesday is the feast day of Laurence Deacon and Martyr at Rome. Our Gospel reading from John is intended to illustrate how the death of Laurence and other martyrs brought many into the church through the witness of the martyrs who were willing to die for Christ and His bride, the church. He was given an extra three days to think about his death following the death of Pope Sixtus II and six of his fellow deacons. Laurence finally presented the “treasures” of the church as Emperor Valerian demanded; the poor, widows, orphans, sick and aged. An angry Valerian rewarded Laurence by roasting him alive.
Witness to others also calls for dying to self and this is something that we have the opportunity to do daily. It is easier to do this for those we love. Sometimes it is as simple a gesture as getting up from a meal to get something for someone who needs it.

Serving Christ is not really serving Him or serving others as much as it is serving Him in others. It is not sympathy or even empathy. It is compassion which is a visceral response to human need and suffering.  It is kindheartedness; an internally motivated desire to help others. This good will is an expression and evidence of the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only informs our prayers, He conforms our prayers to the will of God, and He surprises us with our unexpected compassion for others. He helps us to extend mercy to those in need of mercy.

This dying to self is not suicide. It is divestment. Dying to self is not loss. It is gain. Pride is a greater burden than humility. Sometimes when Christ binds the strongman, it is not Satan but us who are the strongman. The goods He steals from us are pride, condescension, contempt, disrespect and self-righteousness. These goods are precious to us. They are keepsakes with emotional attachment. Like the good china, we like to take them out and show them off to guests in our home.

Losing your life for Christ’s sake has a metaphor for clergy as they prostrate themselves before ordination. Is this total submission? We’d like to think so, but I’ve been to enough clergy meetings to know that sometimes the real agenda is ego and turf protection. Those who couldn’t get enough power in one profession sought more power in another. Am I a part of this? Of course I am. My trophies may not be in the living room anymore but they are in the attic, just in case…well they serve as invisible ego collateral.

Being willing to die for Christ is easier for those who have truly already done so. It is not just the willingness to surrender the body but the gifting of our Soul to Him whom we serve. Amen