Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another Conversation With Philip

Fr. Dale Matson 

It was a great phone conversation as usual yesterday. I found it interesting that you claim to be a man capable of ‘Hope’ but not ‘Faith’. I have thought about it more and am reminded of St. Paul’s great chapter on love. I believe you are a man of ‘Love’ also. Read first Corinthians, Chapter 13 and pay particular attention to the final verse. He cites the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Love. If you turn to the New Testament book of Hebrews (Chapter 11 verse one), you have the following definition for faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Based on that definition, it seems to me you are also a man of faith. Does that make you a Christian? No. Most Christians don’t understand that having faith in Christ does not mean just that He is who He claims to be and that they want His salvific work to apply to them. It is not just a case of Christ living in us. We also live in Him. In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28a).

Faith is positional. Positionally, Christ is in us and we are in Christ. We died with Him on the cross, arose from the grave with Him, ascended with Him and are seated with Him eternally. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:3-6:11). We also have this from Ephesians. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (2:6). It has already been accomplished but has not yet happened. This is the mystery of the Christian brand of faith. This makes Christianity and Christ Himself unique as a faith and Him unique as a savior. This makes Christianity a faith based on hope because it is an already accomplished yet not yet accomplished reality.

Our baptism is a public expression of this and our being placed into His body the church universal. The church is our spiritual family where we are nurtured and sanctified. The Eucharist (Communion) is our remembering (actually anamnesis) of how God the Father’s love is expressed to us in the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Baptists claim that the liturgical churches (Orthodox, Roman and Anglican) don’t have an ‘Altar call’ (an invitation to come forward and accept Christ as savior), yet we have an altar call every time we celebrate the mass (Eucharist) and people come forward to literally receive Christ Who is physically present in the bread and wine (another mystery). The ‘reformed’ Christians like Calvin, Luther and Zwingli were rationalists who threw the baby out with the bathwater. Christianity is a mystery religion. I personally believe the Gospel stated and demonstrated in the Eucharist will speak to you even more than the Gospel in a homily.


Your brother Dale+

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Gospel As The Fisherman’s Net

Fr. Dale Matson

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:47-52) *

            It amazes me that often, people see the kingdom as only consisting of the saints. In fact the kingdom contains the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the good fish and the bad. Wouldn't it be great if the kingdom only contained the saints? Wouldn't life be easier? We know that the world contains those who are perishing. Perhaps we would be better off seeing ourselves as the tares, the goats and the bad fish. We are both saved and working out our own salvation. We are attempting to run the good race with Christ’s help. The church has both wheat and tares.
            When the Gospel is preached, it is a wide net cast out upon the sea and each time some fish escape the net. This Gospel net is harvesting people from all over the world. We have been fishers of men for 2,000 years. The church is a part of the sorting process. It is the presorting in this world. We bring them in, instruct them, baptize them and offer Christian fellowship and discipline. Sometimes the Gospel seed is sewn on rocky soil. Sometimes it is sewn among thorns. Sometimes people have itching ears for a more fashionable gospel somewhere else. The final sorting process will be the last judgment for all of us. At that point the church will give the keys back to the bridegroom Jesus the Christ. There is a hell waiting for the posers and the disinterested. There is not universal salvation and there is hell.
            The last part of this excerpt from Matthew is addressed to the apostles and to clergy. We are the masters of the vineyard. We are tenders of the Living and Written Word of God. When we preach the Gospel, we are bringing out the good china. We are serving up both the New and Old Testament, proclaimed, preserved, planted and protected for future generations. Thank You Lord for This blessed vocation you have bestowed upon us.

* Gospel reading for the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas (January 28th), priest and theologian 1224 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Secure Attachment And The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Secure attachment is the desired outcome for young children. It is a healthy emotional bonding that takes place from 6 months to 2 years of age, between the caregiver(s) and the child. It is also that period of a child’s life where a consistent, loving and secure environment gives the child a sense of trust. There are other less desirable outcomes that can set the child on a troubled life course with interpersonal and intrapersonal difficulties.  So what does attachment theory have to do with the church?

My wife and I recently attended a Goodbye Party for our associate priest. The large gathering consisted of church members mixed with homeless folks. The homeless people attend the Wednesday church service with a meal following the service. Our table, like most tables was a mixture of church members and homeless people.  One of the individuals at our table (I will call her Sarah) is a long time church member who has struggled with episodes of depression for years. Two of the homeless people, a male and female (John and Mary), are Wednesday regulars but not church members. Those three were in their mid-fifties.
Suddenly it struck me how bright eyed and engaging Sarah was compared to John and Mary. Sarah had that same patina I have seen so often on the mature saints of the church. I have seen it in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, in hospitals and even hospice. Qualities that come to mind are empathy, compassion, engagement, vulnerability, joy and hopefulness. Sarah has had a difficult life with frequent family difficulties yet there is a confident swagger in her walk as she approaches the communion rail.

Could it be that those in Christ’s body the church experience secure attachment as members? Does membership provide the consistent loving and predictable environment adults need also? Is the church a possible continuation/replacement for the family of origin? Can members find purpose, meaning and interconnectedness in this community of faith?

What I have experienced in interacting with the homeless folks over the years are characteristics that often include mistrust and detachment. There is a woundedness and hopelessness. While there is occasional laughter, there is rarely a sense of joy. Some even had success early on. They seem to be a defeated people. How can the church help them to see that commitment to Christ and a faith community is a different and better kind of freedom. It is a better freedom than the false freedom of the streets where they are killing themselves on the installment plan.

Sarah and many others in our church have similar stories to those on the streets. What is the difference? Sarah is in Christ and His body the church. She has her church family and we have “her back”. She belongs to a spiritual HMO. She has secure attachment.  Lord give John, Mary and the others the will to commit to You.

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.” (Psalm 82:3-5)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dear NRA

Fr. Dale Matson

I am writing this letter for two reasons. First, I want to thank you for representing me and all responsible gun owners over the years and for your concern for our second amendment rights. I have been a member now for several years and find the fee of $25.00 to be reasonable. I also enjoy the magazine the American Rifleman.

I have a long history with firearms and hunted with my late father and my brother. Those are memories where my father taught me to handle and use guns responsibly. Firearms are a part of my history including service in the U.S. army.  I no longer hunt but do enjoy shooting targets with friends. I also have a CCW permit.

My second reason for this letter is my concern for what seems to me to be a non-productive and strident unwillingness on the part of NRA leadership to participate in the problem solving needed to help reduce firearm violence. More rhetoric is not needed. Why can’t the NRA form their own task force to generate ideas and solutions? Who knows more about firearms than the NRA? I do not believe that civilians, who are unfamiliar with firearms, should be determining what is prudent. Those crafting firearm legislation need input from groups like the NRA; however, The NRA must get beyond saying, “No”. I do not believe that I am the only member that feels this way.

Responsible gun owners want to reduce firearm violence as much as anyone else, especially violence such as the wholesale murders in Columbine, Aurora and Newton. I think the biggest concern for gun owners is that the real agenda for many gun control advocates is the confiscation of all firearms. I have two suggestions that seem reasonable for both gun owners and those advocating more gun control.

Outlaw all magazines for civilians that hold more than 10 rounds. This is more than enough ammunition for hunting and targets.

Require secured storage of all firearms and ammunition. This will reduce access to firearms by those who intentionally or accidentally should not have access including thieves.

I know that this does not address the culture of violence, alcohol and drug related firearm deaths, gang violence, the collapse of our mental health system and violent video games. These are others areas that requite scrutiny and reform.

Finally, I don’t agree that there should be armed security guards at all schools. I am a priest; retired psychologist and responsible gun owner who would like to see the NRA play an important part in the solutions we all want, not just NRA members.

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Epiphany During Epiphany

Fr. Dale Matson

When I think about the New Testament Church, it is evident to me that the focus was not on social reform yet that is the mission of both the liberal and conservative Churches. The question posed to Christ was, “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) His response redirected their agenda and became the marching orders for the Church. “And he said unto them, it is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 7-8)
            The contemporary Christian Church seems to be in either relevance  or recoil or mode. On the one hand, the relevant Church is pushing headlong toward accommodating a devolving culture. It has turned a blind eye to evil and called ‘blessed’, human conduct that was an anathema to past generations. It has jumped on the bandwagon headed to Hell; a place that it now denies exists. It has abandoned discernment as too judgmental. It is the Church with the social gospel. It is inclusive, gracious, and feminist. The color of the relevant church is green, not an ‘ordinary’ green. It is a false guilt-healing-the-earth-green. It is used by society but not respected. It is a dying irrational prostitute. It cannot say “No”. It is the Church of Pergamum. It’s theme song is “Imagine” by John Lennon.
            The recoil church is political with a social gospel also. It is smug and proper. It is a petition signing, get out the vote, fortress Church. It is a scared Church, no longer enjoying the favor and prestige once bestowed on it by a traditional society that is now pluralistic, hedonistic, narcissistic and pagan. The recoil church is not respected by society either because it is a prostitute used by conservative demagogues. It is not discerning but it is judgmental. It is a Church that is certain of its righteousness and reasonableness but like Ephesus is a loveless Church with no compassion. It cannot say “Yes”. It’s theme song is “A Mighty Fortress, AND Our God”.
            In returning to the marching orders Christ gave His church we find empowerment for mission by God the Holy Spirit. Without mission there is no warrant for empowerment. Without empowerment the Church is a Church in name only. Society cannot be convinced to reform itself. It is by nature self-seeking, self-serving and self-destructive. Society is neither emotionally mature nor cognizant. Society is limbic. Only Christ can change hearts and transform minds. It is not that society has rejected Him as much as it is His Church that has rejected Him. Is the hymn of Invocation still sung in earnest? He has not asked us to be saints. He has commanded that we be witnesses. Another name for witness is martyr. He has died for us and asked the same of us, the members of His body the Church. Epiphany reminds us that it is time for both the relevant and recoil churches to allow God to manifest Himself in Christ. It is my prayer that the veil will be lifted from our eyes. We must be willing to present ourselves as living sacrifices which is our reasonable service. Only then, will the Church rediscover empowerment and purpose.