Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jesus Was A Male

Fr. Dale Matson

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, how is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2: 48-40)

Much is rightfully said about the divinity of Jesus and also the humanity of Jesus but it is also important to see Jesus as a man. He is both Son of man and only begotten Son of God. A son is male.

Feminists, especially liberationist feminists find the patriarchal focus of Scripture to be misogynist. They have introduced gender neutral terms in reference to God (the Father) and even (God) the Son. Now they are calling for feminine terms for the Three Persons of the Trinity.  In fact many Christian feminists including individuals who would refer to themselves as transgendered Christians see Jesus as androgynous. The problem with a Jesus that is not male is that it is an attack on an orthodox Christology of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. It is also a denial of the statements in the Council of Chalcedon (451) accepted by the Roman, Orthodox and Anglican churches.

The problem with an orthodox Christology of Jesus, who is male, for feminists, is that He can’t save women. As feminists see it, it is also a Christology that has been used by the patriarchal church to diminish women and keep them in subjugation. “Jesus, who was indisputably a male human being, is interpreted as the incarnation of the Logos, an ontological symbol connected with rationality and thus, according to Greek philosophy, with maleness. The Word made flesh is then related to human beings defined according to an androcentric anthropology that sees men as normative and women as derivative. (Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Redeeming the Name of Christ,” in Freeing Theology (ed. Catherine Mowry LaCugna; San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1993), p.118)

Professor Johnson has stated the truth in her complaint. “…men as normative and women as derivative.” That is what the creation account tells us to be the case. Additionally, the redemption of humans was a logical reflection of the order of creation of humans. There is an excellent piece on this by Father Dale Brown.

The feminist concerns about salvation by a male are misandry at best and agnostic revisionism at worst. Are they saying His work was not finished unless they can make Him into someone who better reflects both genders? What about ethnicity too? In attempting to make Christ less male, they have made Him less human also. Isn’t it really the symbolism that matters to the feminists?

This is not even the end point in feminist theology. Others like Rita Nakashima Brock state, “The feminist Christian commitment is not to a savior who redeems us by bringing God to us. Our commitment is to love ourselves and others into wholeness. Our commitment is to a divine presence with us here and now, a presence that works through the mystery of our deepest selves and our relationships, constantly healing us and nudging us toward a wholeness of existence we only fitfully know. That healed wholeness is not Christ; it is ourselves.” [my bolding]  Rita Nakashima Brock, “The Feminist Redemption of Christ,” in Christian Feminism: Visions of a New Humanity (ed. Judith Weidman; New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 69.

And so we come full circle. Feminists have determined that Jesus cannot save them so they have to save Him. The attempt to make Jesus a symbol or a metaphor detracts from His humanity. In detracting from His humanity they are also diminishing our humanity; male and female. The feminist spirit is not new. It began with Eve doubting what God had instructed and trying to become more than she was created to be; wanting to be equal to God. There is an element of symbolism here. Feminism is giving birth to a new Christ and with this new Christ, a new gospel is needed also. In order to make their new narrative work, they must change the Christology of the church. This is the spirit of this age and it has infected the true church however, Jesus has not changed. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

“Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  Jesus came to reveal the Father. It is a major work of the church to reveal the Son. To obfuscate the person and work of Jesus Christ is to confuse His revelation of the Father, confound soteriology and grieve the Holy Spirit.  

Note: There is a more extensive treatment of this topic by Micah Daniel Carter “Reconsidering The Maleness Of Jesus” available here: . 
There is also an excellent book on “Feminism In Christianity” by Deborah Malacky Belonick. (1983)  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Prayer Of Intercession: Innocent Victims

Fr. Dale Matson

Lord, watch over the victims who perished at the hands of others. Deliver them from earthly care and distress. May they enjoy eternal felicity in Your presence.

Lord, intend for good the actions intended for evil. Restrain those who would seek to profit from the pain of others. Restrain others who would be attracted to form their own script for evil. May they not view violence toward others as justice or a balm for their own suffering.

Lord comfort and console the survivors. Let them heal from the trauma of the events that have harmed their sense of security and trust. May they be surrounded by love and human warmth. May any physical wounds heal quickly. Let compassion abound and may they laugh and experience joy once again. May each passing day diminish their grief and soften the pain of their memories. May they not experience false guilt for surviving when other did not survive.

Lord help those who are relatives of the victims put their world back together. Let them eventually see some purpose, realize a greater meaning. Do not let hate and anger replace hope and faith in what is left of their lives. Let them only remember the good in those they have lost. Let them cherish and share what memories they have. May they find thankfulness for the time they did share with those who were taken from them. Please help them transcend a terrible grief and seemingly endless nightmare.

Lord help the community come together and recommit to caring for and supporting one another. Let other communities that have suffered as well, reach out and offer their knowing compassion. Let them offer ways to cope.

Lord let us who have suffered from afar not look away from what has happened. Let us see this as our family also. Help us to not defend ourselves with denial, insulate ourselves in our homes, and drug ourselves with distractions. Help us to examine our own lives and private thoughts. Convict us when we fail to care. Let us better understand the toxicity and contagion of violence.  Help us to continue to love and trust others. Let the lessons of this violence yield honesty and humility, not cynicism. May our prayers ascend for peace, mercy and forgiveness.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy amen.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Knock On Wood: Avatar

Fr. Dale Matson

There is probably no one reading this posting that hasn't used the expression, “Knock on wood” after making a statement about their good health, financial well-being or any string of positive experiences. It is intended to mean that one is not taking things for granted and things could still ‘go south’ at any time.

The derivation of the expression possibly came from an account in the life of St. Boniface who was an Anglo-Saxon apostle to Germany in the 700’s. The Germans were essentially pagan and believed that spirits inhabited trees. “Now at that time many of the Hessians, brought under the Catholic faith and confirmed by the grave of the seven-fold spirit, received the laying on of hands; others indeed, not yet strengthened in soul, refused to accept in their entirely the lessons of the inviolate faith. Moreover some were wont secretly, some openly to sacrifice to trees and springs; some in secret, others openly practiced inspections of victims and divinations, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rites.”

Much to the dismay of the local pagans St. Boniface began cutting down their holy tree. A mighty wind came up to finish the felling of the tree. This tree and others were linked to a world tree (Yggdrasil). Seeing the tree felled with no retribution visited upon St. Boniface by the resident spirits, the pagans became Christians. Boniface later "Christianized" the tree by having it made into a small chapel dedicated to St. Peter.

St. Boniface was eventually martyred in 754. His feast day is celebrated by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans on June 5th.
So, what does this story have to do with the movie “Avatar” (2009)? Avatar is really a modern story of paganism (neo-paganism) with an incarnational protagonist named Jake Sully. Jake reminds me of the character Neo in “The Matrix” and Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” etc., etc., etc. It also reminds me of a Star Trek episode, “The Way To Eden”. In fact it reminds me of so many stories, that it is what could called "Sampling" if the movie was music.

In Avatar, Jake Sully is initially an invader and eventually a savior of the residents of Pandora (an Eden- like planet). The Na’vi. are a peace loving, Eywa “All Mother” worshiping culture who live in harmony with their environment. “Hometree is an important gathering place for the Na’vi but an impediment to human exploitation of the minerals beneath it. (Think of Donar Oak here). It is eventually destroyed. The “Tree of Souls” (Think of Yggdrasil here or pagan spirit) is successfully defended because Jake prays to Eywa as an intercessor for the Na’vi and the rapacious humans are expelled from Pandora forever.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Second week in Advent.     

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Feminism And The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

And Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48 KJV)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

"Women have compelled their legislators in every state in this Union to so modify their statutes for women that the old common law is now almost a dead letter. Why not compel Bishops and Revising Committees to modify their creeds and dogmas? Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (2012-05-17). The Woman's Bible (p. 13).  Kindle Edition. Again there are some who write us that our work is a useless expenditure of force over a book that has lost its hold on the human mind. Most intelligent women, they say, regard it simply as the history of a rude people in a barbarous age, and have no more reverence for the Scriptures than any other work. So long as tens of thousands of Bibles are printed every year, and circulated over the whole habitable globe, and the masses in all English-speaking nations revere it as the word of God, it is vain to belittle its influence. The sentimental feelings we all have for those things we were educated to believe sacred, do not readily yield to pure reason." Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (2012-05-17). The Woman's Bible (p. 14).  Kindle Edition. The Woman’s Bible is actually a commentary on selected verses of Scripture.

I believe feminists (even those who actually believe the creation account as a real event) have taken Eve as their role model for women to their own detriment. Their goal has been to get even (equal with men).

“Mary's surrender destroyed the illusion of power embodied in another woman who had refused to be handmaid, and who instead had reached for control and clarity. In the primordial garden a Serpent's fateful words had rung out. "Eat of this tree and you will be gods," the devil had quietly urged, hiding the intensity of his excitement as the first woman toyed with the idea of "forbidden" knowledge and power. Eve grew suddenly suspicious that God might be withholding some tantalizing special something to which she might have a right. She grasped the tempting promise, only to rupture the fabric of God's eternal giftedness in self-giving love poured into creation.

In Mary--the Woman--the Church learns that every act of grasping, control, pride, and ambition distorts the feminine Body which is the Church. These principles anchor our turbulent emotions when wrestling with what are perhaps inaccurately called "feminist" issues in the Church. There are women of our own century who symbolize in their own feminine self-donation the essential Marian image of the Church: among them Mother Teresa, the angel of Calcutta and visible sign of the healing Christ to people of every religion and no religion, and Mother Thecla, co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul and, in her life, always in the forefront of evangelization, communicating the word, the essence and the heart of the Church. Amidst the clamoring of labels, insults, speculation, politicizing, and arguments that burden the simplicity of faith today, they are women who embody Marian faith that is handmaid and womb.” (Sr. Kathryn)

I am not here to argue against the feminist assertion that Adam and Eve were created by God as equals. In fact, some feminists use Scripture to argue for the superiority of women over men. “Phyllis Trible, Professor of Sacred Literature at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, for example, holds that far from being a secondary or dependent being, Eve is in fact the ‘culmination’ of creation.”

Feminism is part of the new gospel of the Episcopal Church included in the justice of equality and inclusion. The highest regard for Elizabeth Cady Stanton is evidenced by her inclusion in the “Lesser Feast and Fasts” (Now called “Holy Women, Holy Men”) She is viewed as a “Saint” by the Episcopal Church (TEC) yet listed under “Atheist Feminism” in Wikipedia and elsewhere.
Since when does a feminist who is an atheist, deserve inclusion in the list of Saints?

Am I being unfair to feminists? What about those who refer to themselves as Christian feminists?
“Christian feminism is an aspect of feminist theology which seeks to advance and understand the equality of men and women morally, socially, spiritually, and in leadership from a Christian perspective. Christian feminists argue that contributions by women in that direction are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. Christian feminists believe that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics such as sex and race. Their major issues include the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, recognition of equal spiritual and moral abilities, reproductive rights, and the search for a feminine or gender-transcendent divine. Christian feminists often draw on the teachings of other religions and ideologies in addition to biblical evidence.”

With this lens, how will feminists offer a second commentary on Scripture or even a new translation?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Error Of Human Flourishing As Missiology

Fr. Dale Matson

By mission I mean two things.  First, it is the conscious engagement of churches at local, diocesan, provincial, national and global levels with the challenges and issues that diminish flourishing in the human race. Secondly, mission means taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ across that bridge, so that not only are we seen to be nice people doing nice things (there is a certain amount of British irony about that)  but, with the good wishes, good intentions and helpful hands, there is the love of Christ that constrains us, that drives us forward, and that, when allowed to reign and rule in our individual lives and in the lives of societies and communities, transforms structures and practices and permits human flourishing. (Excerpted from here:  July 2012 +Justin Welby)

Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia) is an ethical term used by Aristotle and others as the highest human good. Reading Dr. Welby’s article was my first exposure to the term. (For a thorough treatment of the concept, I have included the following link.

I have two concerns about human flourishing as I understand +Welby’s use of the term. First, I do not believe human flourishing is the end to which the mission work of the church should be directed. My second concern is that it embraces an unscriptural concept of human nature that perceives humans as basically good. I will get back to this after mentioning another high profile individual who also advocates this missiology.

The Millennium Development Goals seek to end the deep poverty that limits human flourishing. Achieving them would provide concrete examples of the abundant life Jesus insists is the reason he came among us – ‘I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10).”
+Katharine Jefferts Schori

Is this why God came and dwelled among us? Is that the Gospel that we are to proclaim? I believe the abundant life for Christ is life in Him. That is what He refers to when He states, “ What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) The Kingdom is not about comfort. It is about conformity to God’s will. Sanctification is not self-actualization, it is self-denial.

Human flourishing is not the end toward which the Gospel is directed. Human flourishing may be a byproduct but it is human focused and not God focused. By proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are God’s messengers who help quicken to life those who are spiritually dead. “When you were dead in your sins and in the Uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13) We are not ashamed of Christ and we proclaim Him as the only way and the only name whereby we are saved. We are not “Jesus followers”. We exist in Him and with Him and by Him.

Human flourishing embraces a false concept of the basic nature of humans. We are not all born basically good. This is humanist doctrine and popular amongst many social scientists like the late Abraham Maslow who believe humans are unfairly exploited by systems that dehumanize them and restrict their access to the abundant life. All we have to do is provide the basics of a quality life and they will choose what is right. The problem is that humans are born broken, contaminated with original sin and their natural direction is self-centered and self-destructive. Our behavior may be influenced by but is not contingent on our environment. Anchorite saints like Julian of Norwich lived an abundant life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our missiology. The Word of God is our means. The building of the Kingdom begins with the Cross not human flourishing.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Church of England: Lessons for ACNA

Fr. Dale Matson

“For those pushing for women bishops in the Church of England, there is after all only one real theological argument. And it is that the office of priest and the office of bishop are fundamentally united, and that there should not be a class of people ordained to be priests who cannot be bishops:” Post on Stand Firm blog

I agree with this and believe it is the crux of the issue. Women priests are already a break from tradition and scripture. Once this is allowed, the measure is no longer scripture and tradition but consistency. The cloth begins to unravel.

“Archbishop Duncan has appointed the Rt. Rev. David Hicks, Bishop of the REC Diocese of the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic to lead a Theological Task Force on Holy Orders. The Task Force will lead the College of Bishops through a thorough study regarding the ordination of women to Holy Orders.”

How the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood is resolved in the ACNA may be their most important decision theologically. It is not a second order issue. A theologically sound decision must be made. One issue is an existing provision in the constitution and canons of the church.
  1. “The Province shall make no canon abridging the authority of any member dioceses, clusters or networks (whether regional or affinity-based) and those dioceses banded together as jurisdictions with respect to its practice regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate or presbyterate (Constitution, Article VIII)
Does this mean that even if the ACNA decides as a church that women should not be ordained as priests, that the bishop in a diocese may still ordain them to serve in that diocese?

A great deal of ink has been devoted to the issue of reconciliation. What this really has come to mean is the reluctant acquiescence of one group to the incessant demands of another group. To what extent has the Anglican Church sought the counsel of the other two main Christian denominations; the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches? Even dialogue with our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has them concerned about our foggy policies on the ordination of women in the ACNA.

What does it mean to be a part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church? I am simply weary from the empty arguments of relevance, context, and justice as inclusion. It finally comes down to God’s Gospel or a humanist gospel that claims inclusivity but has demonstrated only exclusivity.  The majority of those who voted in the CoE, voted in favor of women bishops in the Church of England. Did this mean that God’s will was thwarted? What about the majority of Christians in the world today? They accept only male priests and bishops. What about the tradition of the church universal?

The issue of women’s ordination will be researched by the ACNA task force, headed by +David Hicks. One comment that caught my eye: “...the first major conversation will be a study of hermeneutical issues, specifically looking at how the Church’s tradition and culture influence interpretation of Biblical texts.” I am concerned that there may be a tendency to portray early Christian culture as contextual and androcentric. Another concern is that in the context of our modern culture males are diminished by both male and female feminists with gynocentric perspectives.

One question the task force must address is whether their conclusion will lead to greater unity in the Christian church or it will be just one more, lengthy, politically correct, agenda driven document. I believe the ACNA has the opportunity to shape the future of World Wide Anglicanism through their decisions and ecumenical perspective.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

+Justin Welby: Reconciliation or Irreconcilable Differences

Fr. Dale Matson
* Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

+Justin Welby has been selected as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I am relieved that I will soon no longer be praying for ++Rowan Williams as ABC. It has been a long ten years.  I have some concerns regarding some of +Justin Welby’s statements. His central focus in his ministry is reconciliation. Reconciliation is one of the main goals of the church of Christ but like many words today, reconciliation has a contemporary meaning. The contemporary intent is not the reconciliation of sinners with God. The intent now is to resume a conversation between liberal and conservatives within the Anglican Communion. Conservatives are weary from years of listening to liberals that press forward a false gospel of inclusion as justice at the expense of leaving behind the transforming love of Jesus Christ that requires repentance and adherence to Scriptural and historical norms. This amendment of life is the response to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.

++Rowan Williams triggered suspicion early on with his professed willingness to respect the mind of the communion while openly disagreeing with it on GLBT inclusiveness. We are at a point in some provinces now where the mantra of “All the sacraments for all the baptized” has become a reality under the approving eye of ++Rowan Williams. +Justin Welby has already signaled a willingness to “listen” to the concerns of the GLBT community. Reconciliation for liberals really means willingness to compromise Scriptural standards. A willingness to listen really means collaboration and being co-opted.

As head of the Anglican Communion, +Welby should be considering true reconciliation. He could be considering reconciliation with the historical, holy catholic and apostolic church. He has already stated his advocacy for women bishops in the Church of England. His myopic view was shared by his predecessor ++Rowan Williams and my concern is that we are looking at ++Rowan Williams phase two.

While there is meager background evidence available on +Welby because of his brief tenure as a bishop, what is available in interviews and speeches indicates his liberal leanings. There are those who will condemn the public expression of my misgivings so soon after the selection of +Welby. My response is that after ten years of covert betrayal of conservatives, the burden of proof is on Canterbury. Will Canterbury reflect the established and enduring truth of Scripture, Tradition, the vast majority of the membership of the Anglican Communion and the church universal?

I am not the only one watching. While +Welby was congratulated by some conservative primates, he was also put on notice that they were holding him accountable to the enduring standards of Scripture and the teaching of the Apostles. It is past time for the ABC to be primarily the head of the Church of England and secondarily the head of the Anglican Communion.

 * Epistle lesson for Feast day of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury first American bishop.   

Friday, November 9, 2012

Christians With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Fr. Dale Matson

“The components of OCD may be divided into two main categories: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessive thoughts produce a compulsive response in the form of frequently performed actions or rituals. People with OCD perform rituals, such as repeatedly washing their hands, as a way of suppressing or responding to these obsessive thoughts. Unfortunately, the obsessive thought -- in this case, that one's hands are dirty -- is nearly impossible to get rid of, despite being not being grounded in reality. Some rituals involve physical action while others only occur in the mind, such as counting stairs or the number of words a person says.”

There are various explanations for the origins of OCD including, genetic, cognitive, behavioral and biological. Treatments are generally a mixture based on the underlying assumptions of the causes. What can the Christian perspective offer to those who suffer from the debilitating condition of OCD? Let’s take the worst case scenario as a possibility. Some may worry that they may have inadvertently and unknowingly harmed someone. What if you had made a mistake? There was no malice intended. God is quick to forgive our mistakes. Why not treat this possibility as an opportunity for a blanket confession to God. “Dear Lord, please forgive me for the things I have done and the things I left undone. Forgive me of my known mistakes and those I don’t know about. God will quickly forgive you for the sake of His son Jesus Christ who has paid the price for all of the sins/mistakes that you have or ever will commit.

This confession is a healthy replacement behavior that substitutes for the ineffective repetitive rituals (compulsions). The belief that we must be perfect makes Christ’s death on the cross for our sake, ineffectual in our lives. Satan wants us to believe that we must be perfect because he knows that we can’t. Christ was perfect so you don’t have to be perfect too. As Christians, we are clothed in His riotousness.   Confession is an admission that we are not perfect and interrupts the closed loop vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive rituals. These rituals are unconsciously intended to pay the price (penance) or undo the guilt and anxiety of the obsessive thoughts. Confession leads to forgiveness and forgiveness absolves us of guilt.  Do not overrule God by NOT allowing yourself to be forgiven because you believe you are unworthy. Christ makes us worthy. This is where trust is so important. I once offered to pray for a hospitalized individual for healing. She declined the offer because she felt that she didn’t deserve healing.

Sometimes I cringe when I remember a past misdeed yet it may be a sin or mistake that I have already asked to be forgiven for. I even know in my heart that I have received forgiveness. Who do you think is reminding me? It is not God because He has forgiven and forgotten my sin (Hebrews 8:12). Satan is called “the accuser” and the Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter”. Satan would love to keep us in bondage. Christ said, “The truth will make you free.” “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly” The answer is obvious. Take charge of these thoughts and in the name of Jesus, command them to depart. Also think about this every time you receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:20).

For those struggling with OCD, know that Christ wants us to live a life free from anxiety and guilt. His death, resurrection and Lordship in our lives provides the avenue of deliverance from this problem from which we cannot extricate ourselves on our own. May you find yourself in Christ.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DJ The Landscaper And Repentance

Fr. Dale Matson

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age  and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:4-6).

I was thinking about a man I helped lead to Christ as I read this passage.  I met him through my construction work. He was a landscaper and contracted with me to do some heavy equipment work for him. Later I contracted with him to build some railroad tie retaining walls on the ends of my recently constructed earth sheltered home. His company’s name was simply DJ’s landscaping. He was a rugged ex Green Beret and a veteran of Viet Nam.
We established a real friendship and I witnessed to him about Jesus Christ. Over weeks and months I was able to get him to take a Catechism course in our Church in East Troy WI. I attended the course with him and was amazed how this hardened and cynical man became almost childlike as he asked questions that poured from his heart.

At the conclusion of the course he was offered the opportunity to join our church that he had attended faithfully during his time of instruction. He declined to join and it was almost as if Satan again entered his heart. His heart seemed harder than even before. Not long after that he was arrested for selling marijuana. His term was increased because he continued to try a sell over the jail phone. The phone was monitored.

There are those that would say that he was never truly saved but I would say that he gained and then lost his salvation. I do however believe that he could be brought to repentance but not by me or other men. I believe God could bring him once again to the point of true repentance and to salvation.

I stated that I helped bring DJ to Christ. It is really God the Holy Spirit that beckons to us and converts our hardened hearts. It may be impossible for me to bring DJ back to Christ, but that doesn't mean that God cannot do it. St. Luke stated, "Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.' ‘’ (Luke 18:27) A saved person can leave God and return to God. I was led to Christ as an eight year old boy by my Sunday school teacher. I later lost my faith, left the church and lived a life of self-centered and self-destructive sinfulness.

God the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart through the Gospel of John. I met Jesus once again and gave myself to Him as Lord and Savior. I’m sure those around me were mystified by the changes that followed in my life. I say this because I know that DJ is somewhere out there and God the Holy Spirit has been courting him once again.    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redemption for Lance Armstrong

Fr. Dale Matson

This is a photograph I took of Lance in the Tour of San Francisco in 2002

“With stunning swiftness, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday night it will strip Lance Armstrong of his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles after he dropped his fight against drug charges that threatened his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists of all time.”

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the sneaker industry leader said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

Trek offered a similar reason for cutting ties with Armstrong. “Trek is disappointed by the findings and conclusions in the USADA report regarding Lance Armstrong,” a statement from the bike company reads. “Given the determinations of the report, Trek today is terminating our long term relationship with Lance Armstrong.”

As I sat around the coffee table with my cycling friends last week. I asked them what they thought about Lance Armstrong. Words like “grieved”, “duped”, and “heartsick” expressed the sentiments of our group. It was sadness and disappointment for men who saw Lance (and we called him “Lance”) as a gifted cyclist, a team player, a philanthropist, a cancer survivor and someone with an unsurpassed training ethic. We are all triathletes and were saddened that he would not be participating in Hawaii Ironman. He has been banned from more than just cycling events. We simply did not want the accusations to be true.

When I read his book, “It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back To Life” (2000), I was moved by how much suffering he experienced in his fight to survive. In addition to his physical struggles, his ego was diminished by experiences like children passing him while he rode his bike. Lance was a man who experienced the dark night of the soul. He did not inflict this on himself but he was stronger for it and claimed that he could NOT have won the Tour without experiencing the cancer.

There are two things that concerned me when I had finished reading this compelling story. He referred to his father as a “sperm donor” and had rebuffed attempts by his estranged father to meet with him. Perhaps this anger toward his father helped fuel his performances. The second thing that bothered me was his unmerited sense of self-reliance. What about the many prayers of friends and family including his Roman Catholic Wife? He was surrounded by many caring individuals who had little to gain. They were not the sycophants who are deserting him in droves now.

Now we are looking at a downsizing once again. As I look at a photograph of Lance from Outside Magazine (01-05-12), I see a bare chested Lance with a Christian cross on a chain around his neck. If only the proximity of the cross represented his relationship to Christ. Unfortunately it is not a crucifix and the empty cross is more symbolic of a fallen Lance than a risen Christ. It is time for Lance to revisit the purpose of suffering because he is experiencing a crucifixion of sorts too.

I have a behavioral prescription for Lance and it is one suitable for all of us with clay feet. I find it to be a reliable antidote to an ego that insists on being god. Perhaps reading Job and the passion narrative from the Gospels would speak especially to Lance as it has to so many of us. I also believe that Lance would profit from reaching out and reconciling with his estranged father. The anger is not useful any longer. I believe confession is also good for the soul. There is no more reputation to protect and no more inflated ego to be served. Perhaps an apology to all those he has misled and those “teammates” he manipulated.

Finally, I hope that this second dark night has Lance searching with the same determination for a cure for a false self who is impersonating the real Lance Armstrong.

“It’s not about money for me. It’s all about the faith that people have put in me over the years. All of that would be erased. So I don’t need it to say in a contract, you’re fired if you test positive. That’s not as important as losing the support of hundreds of millions of people.”

“That which I feared most has come upon me.” (Job 3:25)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Should The New ACNA Prayer Book Include The Filioque In The Nicene Creed?

Dean Carlos Raines

If we begin with the question forming the title of this article, I suspect the response from most Clergy and nearly all Lay people would say, “What??”  When told what the filioque is, they most likely would then respond, “Who cares??  What's wrong with you??” 

The so-called filioque is simply a Latin combination word that translates into English as “and the Son” and is found at the end of the line in the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed that runs as follows:  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son. 

It's a simple and very familiar phrase; many of us have said it literally hundreds of times and are familiar with it.  Why change it? The simplest answer is that anything that is wrong should be changed and at the earliest possible date! So why are those three words such an offense that they should be eliminated from the next Prayer Book?

First of all, they are NOT part of the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed, as shocking as that might seem.  Anyone can look it up; you will not find the words of the filioque there.  What you will find are the following words derived from the concluding text from the Third Ecumenical  Council (Ephesus: A.D. 431) that gave final ratification of the Nicene Creed:

WHEN these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (<greek>eteran</greek>) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea.  But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized.     

In other words, the Nicene Creed was formally closed and any addition or subtraction would amount to a “different” Faith and result in a formal Anathema from the Fathers. So how did the filioque get into the creed?

Briefly, it was added in the late Sixth century in Spain as a result of a conflict with Arian Christians who conquered and settled there as barbaric tribes holding to that faith.  Orthodox Nicene believers found that adding the words “and the Son” to the creedal faith helped them to propagandize against the Arians with a simple definition that helped the orthodox dispel their beliefs from the popular mind.  This “circular theory” of the Trinity was developed from Augustine (though he never taught it as such) and the double procession was part of that theory (The Father loves the Son who Loves the Father and that Love is so Divine that it is actually a Person who is the Holy Spirit.)  This usage, thought to be Augustinian, began to spread across the Western Church.  As late as A.D. 800 we have a letter written to the Pope in Rome and asking permission to sing the filioque while singing the Creed in the church of the court of  Charlemagne.  The Pope's answer: it is not done in the Roman mass, so, permission denied.  However, within the next century it was added to the Roman mass with no council's authority.  This, of course, did not escape the notice of the Eastern Church (still a unified part of the undivided One, Holy and Catholic Church at that time!).  The East strenuously objected, pointing out that no church could unilaterally change the Creed of an Ecumenical Council without at least the authority of a new Ecumenical Council (the last one had been in the 8th Century; the 7th Ecumenical council).  Now here is what should deeply concern Anglicans about the filioque:  the Western Roman Church defended its right to change the creed because they claimed the Pope had the authority to do so...a claim that was an utter novelty.  This insistence was one of the main causes of the Great Schism in A.D. 1054 and is a major block in the road to unity to this very day.  The filioque itself is an historical monument erected to the doctrine of Papal universal authority.

  A couple of things might be noted here that give some nuance to this debate.  First, the East has always been open to discussing the filioque with the possibility of accepting it if it is done so in a truly ecumenical council and a definition given that is true to the theology of the original Nicene faith.  The problem is that whenever discussion has been made as to the calling of such a council (including the sad attempts at the Council of Florence in 1438), the Roman church has insisted that only the Pope can call such a council (accepted in the East) and only the Pope can ratify the canons of the council (strenuously opposed by the East for obvious reasons...).  Second, the East has been walking in a kind of admission of brokenness since the Great Schism, never naming any of their councils “Ecumenical” if the Bishops of the West can not be in attendance.  So they claim only 7 Ecumenical Councils; every council since then has been synodical.  Yet the Western Roman Church has continued happily along, writing off the Eastern Church and calling all councils composed solely of Roman Bishops “Ecumenical Councils.”  Which of these parties are closer to the spirit of Anglicanism?

So here is the deep and fundamental question; Why would Anglicans want an addition to the ancient and Ecumenical Nicene Creed based solely on the claimed authority of the Pope to override an Ecumenical Council?  Why would we be on that side of the argument?  We may culturally be closer to the Pope and the Roman Church, but this ecclesiastical debate forces us to the Eastern side of the argument precisely because we too thoroughly reject the monarchical basis of the Roman claims.  Anglicans have from the beginning utterly rejected papal claims at infallibility and of ultimate authority even over Ecumenical Councils. 

In the late 1970's there was an Anglican-Orthodox dialogue that produced a remarkable document listing the impressive areas of agreement between our churches.  Partly as a result of that there were official pronouncements concerning the filioque that have, unfortunately, been lost in the more urgent concerns caused by the churches (such as the Church of Canada and the American Episcopal Church) that have recently and severely torn the net of fellowship withing the greater communion.  Nevertheless, it would be good for us to review what has already been done officially by Anglicans concerning the filioque. 
After the Orthodox-Anglican dialogues of the Mid-Seventies of the last century, two Lambeth Conferences concluded and published decrees that Anglican Churches rewriting prayer books should exclude the filioque. In 1978 the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference requested "that all member Churches of the Anglican. In 1978 Communion should consider omitting the filioque from the Nicene Creed, and that the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission through the Anglican Consultative Council should assist them in presenting the theological issues to their appropriate synodical bodies and should be responsible for any necessary consultation with other Churches of the Western tradition." In 1988 the conference "ask(ed) that further thought be given to the filioque clause, recognizing it to be a major point of disagreement (with the Orthodox) ... recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the filioque clause." These things are good to be reminded of because as recently as the report on current ACNA-Orthodox dialogue given at the Provincial Council meeting at Ridgecrest, North Carolina in June of 2012, it was recommended to the bishops that the filioque be removed from the new ACNA Prayer Book.  An objection was made that this would, once again, look like an American church was unilaterally forcing upon the Anglican Communion a liturgical revision.  The Archbishop concurred and the discussion basically ended without further comment or action (though perhaps and hopefully committee work continues on this very important question!).  However, the point needs to be made that not one but two Lambeth Conferences have urged the removal of the filioque from new Prayer Book liturgies!  That being the case, and seeing, for example, that the Global South keeps calling the churches in the north to obey Lambeth '98's call to recognize homosexual behavior as sinful, how can the ACNA possibly be found to  be rebellious or presumptive or disruptive by choosing to obey the call of two Lambeth Conferences to make this change? 

      It seems to me that the time is right to do what should have been done 500 years ago.  In this issue we need to stand with our brothers and sisters in the East and stand in our truest tradition to honor the Scriptures as faithfully exegeted by the first four Ecumenical Councils with respect to the procession of the Holy Spirit and return our Nicene Creed to that originally penned by the Fathers and given their blessing.  In the same way, in some small way, we add to the call for our Roman brothers and sisters to seek with us to undo the horrific and first and worst tear in the fabric of our universal communion (the 1054 Great Schism) by admitting the Orthodox rightful objections to what was then a novelty and now has become a scandal and a block to the healing of Christ's body. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where Disparate Minds Agree

Fr. Dale Matson

It is in this context that the attention of the Anglican Communion has again turned to Canterbury. The bishop’s chair there will soon be vacant, even as Rowan Williams takes full advantage of the months preceding his December retirement. And while speculation as to his successor runs hot, most observers place their bets on current occupants of English sees. That would be a mistake. As the Anglican Communion continues its growth in the non-Western world, I believe its nominal leader must reflect that change: it is time for an African Archbishop of Canterbury. (Episcopal Deacon Jesse Zinc)

Leave it to one of those pesky deacons to say publicly what I have said privately. This is not radical thinking since Rowan Williams has stated that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury is too big for one person. . This is a call for change.

The church in England was initially headed by an “outsider” Augustine of Canterbury appointed by Pope Gregory the Great. For those of us in the West, who have dominated the world stage and controlled the leadership of the communion, it is time to look to those in Africa who represent the largest segment of Anglicans, to play a much larger role in future of Anglicanism. It is our best hope of remaining a Christian church.

It is not just the demographic weight that argues for this. It is also the evangelical fervor that is so much a part of the Anglican Church in Africa. It is also a place where being a Christian could be a death sentence. It is a place where Islam competes for converts. Africa is a place where the shed blood of Jesus is often mixed with the blood of Christian martyrs. This is the seedbed for leaders who have arisen full of the Holy Spirit, who remain unwilling to parse truth and reconcile with those intractably professing a false gospel and a diminished Christology.

Those who see themselves in the reasonable middle see both the left and right as unreasonable. I am on the “Loony right” for those who place themselves in the middle however, Christianity to the rational mind, is itself unreasonable. Since when has the position of the historic one holy catholic and apostolic church become the realm of the loony right? The Anglican Church needs to present an unapologetic prescription strength remedy to the world. Anything less may yield less criticism from the surrounding culture but anything less is only a feel good placebo. A church that does not boldly present Jesus Christ as Divine, ultimate truth and the only means for salvation is not involved in the Great Commission. If we are not presenting this Gospel, we do not love our brothers either.  We are no longer a Christian Church.

I believe that our brothers and sisters in the Global South have been longsuffering and patient as they watched doctrinal error spread. They have worn out their knees praying for us as another gospel other than the Gospel of Christ Jesus became the gospel of humanism.  They now see a time when many who call themselves moderates or conservatives are only this because they are positionally there. They think they are reconcilers; they are unwitting collaborators. The conservatives have left and we were called schismatic.

In light of this I offer this suggestion. Perhaps the role of the new Archbishop of Canterbury could evolve into a more limited role of running the Church of England and a process could begin that would assign an elected individual to head the World Wide Anglican Communion. Colonialism is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion. It is time to honor our brothers and sisters by seating them at the head table.

Thanks Deacon Jesse.   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Christian Response To Blasphemy

Father Dale Matson

“Today the blaspheming continues at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery on 57th Street, where the state-sponsored “artwork” Piss Christ [by Andres Serrano] goes on display for a month. The work, in case you missed the controversy that swirled around its debut in 1987, consists of a photograph of a crucifix floating in the artist’s urine.”

As a Christian, I am of course, outraged by this public and blasphemous exhibit. As a U.S. citizen, Serrano is exercising his first amendment right to publicly denigrate the most important Christian symbol, the Cross of our Savior Jesus Christ. For me, however, there is a larger issue. It is not just about the need for tolerance in a democracy. How does a Christian respond to this wretched display? How would Jesus Himself respond to this scatological representation?  “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10) A sinless and perfect Jesus, Who was innocent of the charges against Him did not utter one word in His own defense to Pilate. Christ even had the power at His disposal to prevent His own crucifixion. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) For Christ, It was never about Him and His reputation or glory. His power was used to heal others to reveal the heart of the Father. For Jesus, it was always about truth, forgiveness, love, the salvation of the lost and revealing His Father, the God and Father of all.

There is a certain irony presented here because to Christians, although the cross is so important and necessary, the cross is also an offense. The cross reminds us of the terrible cost of our sinfulness and the innocent suffering of Christ on our behalf. It was for each of us that He died and it was each of us who are responsible for His being on the cross. As St. Paul stated in 1st Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (1:18). The cross is offensive to our civic selves because Christ did not condemn or curse those who conspired against Him. He did not call out for vengeance or retribution. He did not call out for justice. He called for mercy. He asked God the Father to forgive them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34)  “ A greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

Jesus Christ is God the Son. He revealed to us that God is a God of love and compassion.  For Christians, the cross is the central point in human history. Christ died and rose from the dead. He defeated Satan and opened the door to eternal life for those who died with and in Christ.

So, how does a Christian respond? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Prayers For The World

Fr. Dale Matson

I have been deeply grieved about recent events around the world. The anger and rage expressed have diminished our humanity and kindness toward each other. There is a loss of good will. On Wednesday, I offered mass for the deaths of our diplomats who were sent as peace makers. At times like this, it is easy to use these events for our own purposes. For me, it is a time to appeal to God. Only God is able to heal the hurts, support those who grieve and restore hearts filled with hatred. Only God can give us eyes to see others as part of the same family.    

For The Human Family

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
Infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Page 815 Book Of Common Prayer)

For Peace

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen. (Page 815 Book Of Common Prayer)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another Model Prayer From Our Lord Jesus

East Lake - Kings Canyon National Park
Fr. Dale Matson

In our Gospel reading for today, we are given the High Priestly Prayer of Our Lord.
“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:11-22)

I want to offer some thoughts as I read this prayer. I think of the very different structure Jesus uses in this prayer than in the prayer he gave us to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), we have a vertical relationship with God the Father. In the Lord’s Prayer, we acknowledge God’s Glory and position. Our petitions are on bended knee. In the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, I am struck by the sense of unity with God the Father that Jesus expresses in this prayer. It is a work already accomplished for the elect by Jesus and the Father. They have a partnership and a loving collaborative relationship that is revealed in this prayer. It is a prayer of supreme faith since Jesus has not even been arrested. Jesus as God is calling things that are not (yet) as though they were. (Romans 4:17) He even prays for you and me. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” In the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying to God for ourselves. In this prayer, we are prayed for by Jesus. In this prayer we are prayed into unity with God. This is also a prayer of salvation. This prayer is a model for us also. While the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of praise, position and petition, The High Priestly Prayer is a model for us of intercession, faith and unity.  Our Epistle lesson from Jude states, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (Jude 21) What better verse to confirm the statement from Jesus that He is the way, the truth and the life. I especially like John Wesley’s explanation of this verse. “By these means, through his grace, keep yourselves in the love of God, and in the confident expectation of that eternal life which is purchased for you, and conferred upon you, through the mere mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I believe if we reflect on this prayer with the help of God the Holy Spirit, we will not only see Jesus in a clearer light, we will understand our relationship with Him and the Father in a much deeper way. Amen

Feast Day of John Henry Hobart Bishop of New York 1830

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Pilgrim’s Progress And The John Muir Trail II

Book description

I have completed the John Muir Trail in sections over the last decade. During this time I have been changed by the events of life in general and specifically the JMT. The JMT has unrivaled beauty, requires considerable effort and is a type of spiritual pilgrimage whether one is particularly religious or not. This book is a photographic record of the 211 mile journey from Yosemite National Park in the North to the summit of Mount Whitney in the South. I have also included 10 essays related to specific reflections on experiences in the wilderness and the journey along the JMT as a kind of metaphor for life itself. We are sometimes exhausted and can go no further until we rest. While our vista is beyond description, our path is narrow and the footing uncertain. It is also a statement that to a point less is better. One learns about possessions that the larger the backpack, the larger the burden.
Available now on Amazon with color photographs for those that have a color Kindle. and available as a paperback with B&W photographs.
Fr. Dale Matson

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Goals As New Benchmarks: A Means Of Moving On

Fr. Dale Matson

As we mature, we hopefully gain a sense of mastery and self-efficacy. From a developmental standpoint, we grow in many domains including intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual. There are certain necessary developmental end points such as limits on physical growth. As fluid intelligence diminishes, we compensate with acquired knowledge. Spiritually, we develop our entire lives. The Christian lives in the present with eyes looking toward the future. The three theological virtues of faith, hope and love do not look back. They do not dwell in the past.

My sadness and pain is for those I know who have become mired down and live in the past. They have established a developmental beachhead or benchmark by which they orient their lives. Often it is a mishap or a perceived injustice. They have not learned to view the experience through God’s eyes. They have circled the wagons and ended their development. They have chosen a life of victimhood. They are bitter and angry. They are hyper reflective and increasingly isolated. They have chosen the path of death. It is death on the installment plan but it is surely death. This is a no risk, no gain, dried up, and stuck existence. Sentences begin with, “I suppose I should but….” The point of orientation for their lives is in the past. The gravitational pull toward the past is a seemingly irresistible force. Like many Israelites, they have returned to the captivity of the past in Egypt. They are no longer pilgrims.

What is the remedy for such a wretched life headed toward death? St. Paul often used the race as a metaphor for life. Each race however requires training, self-discipline, and incremental stages of progress. Training is “goal specific”. Muscle development is task specific. You cannot swim a mile by running a marathon and you cannot run a marathon without incrementally increasing a long run. Training for a goal is future oriented. It pulls us forward. This is not just true in the physical domain. It is also true in the other domains of life as well. Completing an interrupted college degree can be a new point, a benchmark for the future.  Goals are our pillar of cloud by day and our pillar of fire by night.

Have you or someone you knew lost a great deal of weight and are no longer obese? This is how God intended us to be. He gave us a heart, lungs, organs and bones for our skeletal frame. As a backpacker, I know what an obese person is carrying in extra weight. Our joints simply break down sooner with the enormous weight. Having a goal of weight loss can set a waypoint in our future which will become a new benchmark. It will become a new point of orientation. It will make us forward looking but this too must be an incremental goal.

God understands incremental preparation for the future. Yes, David faced Goliath but before that he had killed both a lion and a bear. There are few goals beyond the ordinary person who applies disciplined training. It is the realization and desire to employ the talents given us by God. It is a decision to leave the past hurts behind and to continue the pilgrimage. Rivers of living water are to come from the belly of the Christian. We are streams not stagnant ponds with no inlet and no outlet. God calls us forward and it is a call to life not death. Find a realistic, measureable goal and work incrementally toward it. It is a way out of the misery of the past and a way toward the Kingdom. “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Each day the choice is ours. Now is the acceptable time.       

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Pilgrim’s Progress And The John Muir Trail

Looking South from Forester Pass Elevation 13,200' 
John Muir Trail

Fr. Dale Matson
There any number of things that one can do as a form of deep and extended play. All of us need these avocations to help sustain and repair us. It is also possible to say that many of these things could be metaphors for life itself.  St. Paul used the metaphor of the runner and the race as a means of describing the disciplined, dedicated and steadfast life of the Christian.

“Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory describing the journey of life with all of the trials and tribulations of the Christian on a journey toward Heaven. Homer offered us “The Odyssey” which is both a journey of exploration and a heroic effort to return home. These journeys can bring a testing, overcoming and an occasional failure. It is seeking and self-discovery too. It is also a way to carve a spot in the ego to accommodate more humility, as we realize our limitations. It does not automatically mean that the journey with the hardships and triumphs of the pilgrim will form the pilgrim for the better. Swift’s Gulliver was embittered by his travels.

John Muir a self-taught naturalist, the founder and president of the Sierra Club, was an explorer and a seeker. He fully understood the redemptive value for “civilized” humans introduced to nature in general and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in particular. His goals were to educate and introduce the civilized to his gospel of the wilderness. For Muir, the wilderness was not only their elixir; it was their salvation. He was an evangelist for and the high priest of the wilderness. He was also an activist against careless exploitation of the wilderness. I believe he so identified with the Sierra wilderness that he put aside his Christian roots and viewed creation itself as God. He remained a spiritual man but not a religious man.

The magnificent and arguably the most beautiful trail in the world, was named in his honor. The John Muir Trail (JMT) was the vision of another seeker, Theodore Solomons, who at age 14 stood in a field near Fresno and envisioned a trail stretching along the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Many of the eight mountain passes on the JMT like Mather, Muir, Pinchot and Forester are named for important men who helped make the trail a reality. The Golden Staircase and Forester Pass in particular would not be possible without extensive human sculpting of granite and the use of dynamite. There are also bridges along the trail that affect the course of creeks and rivers. Would the current leadership of the Sierra Club file legal action against the construction of such a magnificent trail if it were proposed today? What started as a flexible vision and a desire to share the wilderness with others seems to have become a perceived obstructive legalism intended to protect the environment from human encroachment and influence. There has been a shift in the balance between human use and wilderness protection based on a shift in the understanding of humans and their role on this earth.
Pack it in and pack it out is the familiar refrain from those issuing wilderness permits for travel there. It is a good policy and a metaphor for life also. Our material impact should be minimal. Backpacking is a great reminder of how little we really need in life, even in the wilderness. Incarnate examples of this minimalist life are the back country rangers, who are genuine monks of the wilderness, welcoming and assisting the weary pilgrims.

John Muir loved both wilderness and his fellow humans. His goal was to reacquaint modern society members with the wilderness. This was the focal point of his activism and much of his political lobbying. Also through his efforts, national park and wilderness areas were set aside for this purpose and to protect these pristine areas from commercial exploitation. It was intended as a kind of legacy to be handed down to future generations to enjoy. Both Muir and Solomons were visionaries more than legalists. Like evangelists they wanted to share their discoveries with others and helped make that possible. I am only one of those beneficiaries and indirectly share the trail and their journey with them. Muir, Solomons and I are spiritual brothers on this trail. All are spiritual brothers and sisters who have or will travel it too. The journey can be transformative.
Thanks to visionaries like Muir, Solomons and others, I also have had the opportunity to experience the wilderness and to discover the JMT in bits, pieces and chunks over the last 20 years.  There are easy access points where the trail runs close to roads in Tuolumne and Red’s Meadows, Whitney Portals and Happy Isles. Florence Lake, Edison Lake, Happy Isles, Roads End require more effort. There are also access trails to the JMT from the East side of the Sierras that were originally “use trails” of Native Americans.  Each of the passes on this trail culminates in a moment of exhausted elation following the struggle against incline and thinner air. Each time the admission price was worth the view. Isn’t overcoming obstacles about gaining perspective anyway?

Like Muir, I have Scottish blood and lived in Wisconsin. I ran on the ice age trails of the Kettle Moraine area of S.E. Wisconsin, also named after Muir. Like Muir I came to California and fell in love with the Sierra wilderness. Like Muir the monastic side found peace in that wilderness. Each of the sections of the JMT that I have completed holds special memories for me and serve as unique benchmarks over the last 20 years of my lifes journey.  Unlike Muir who was the high priest of the wilderness, I am simply a priest who spends time in God’s wilderness.