Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Church: Manning Up

Fr. Dale Matson

 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, KJV)

It has been said often enough that the innovation in theology and decline in membership in parts of the church is a failure of the bishops in the church to be bishops. They did not do their duty to “…banish and drive away from the church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word…” (1929 BCP)  They failed to protect the sheep.

Reflecting on this further, it seems to me that bishops are first and foremost called to be men of God. But what does this mean? What is a Godly man? For that matter, what is a man? At the most basic level, much of the church has become feminized and matriarchal. Is the church, still even a place for men?

I have asked a few of my male friends, ranging from from midlife to old age, this question. “How many men have you known in your life”? Without exception, there is a long pause and in some cases a candid, “None”. Even older friends from law enforcement were hard pressed to name one person they could call a man. No one including me thought of their fathers as an example of man. Few men are fully developed and individuated.

Sometimes it is easier to describe what a man is not. A man is not what a feminist tainted with misandry would want him to be; a dancing bear. A man is not a Hollywood self-absorbed metrosexual preening in front of the cameras. A man is not a hard core gang member that is only one dimensional; a man-as-warrior. A man is not a sports ‘hero’ who is tested only in a stadium praised by sports groupies and aging ex-jocks on ESPN. How many athletes have disappointed the hopeful and adoring fans, so willing to put them on a pedestal only to see them come crashing down once again. How many athletes have fueled their performance with drugs or were convicted of crimes? They were athletically gifted but morally corrupt. A soldier is only one aspect of manhood. Soldiers are the Wildman and Warrior needing a leader and a mission.

Just as a bishop is required to ordain a priest, it takes a man to bring males to full manhood. It is like an apprenticeship in a guild. A fully developed man is a master craftsman in the field of man making. Real men are not just needed, they are necessary. It is a matter of testing, trial and time. The hero journey of Telemachus is the story of a boy becoming a man but he had a wife and children also. They were a part of his man making. So much of man making is sacrificial. Family or church or country requires sacrifice.  It is not acquisition as much as divestment. It is not leading as much as serving. It is not being strong as much as it is being strong for those who lack strength.

Even though men are a rare and threatened species, they do not need protection. Real men may become martyrs but are never victims. They are not clamoring for their rights because they are concerned about the rights of others. Real men are godly men. Christ is our ultimate model.  He was fully man. The bishops that turned aside from evil, compromised with heresy and participated in innovation, not only failed to be bishops, they failed to be men.

In my next posting, I will use Dr. Bob Wilson (1927-1999) my mentor as an example of a fully developed and individuated Christian man. We must never forget who real men were that we may know who real men are.    

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Consultant’s Advice For The Episcopal Church

Fr. Dale Matson

In addition to my teaching and director duties during my professional life, I was a university program reviewer for the state of California. The most important criteria for program survival in the accreditation/continuing accreditation process, was the need to answer the following question. “Is the program doing what it claims to be doing?” Putting it another way, “Are you who you claim to be?” Actually, this is not just a question for a program or an organization. As a person, is our action consistent with who we claim to be? There are related questions also. “How well is the philosophy of the program understood and articulated by leaders and participants?” This was especially looked at in satellite programs in other locations. There was a tendency for mission drift the further we went from the flagship school.

I am a priest in the ACNA and was on the TEC website recently (I forget why) and read through the "What We Believe" section. It seemed rather robust and orthodox. It is consistent with my understanding of how things were for my family in the eleven years we spent in TEC but it is not what TEC has become/is becoming. It needs updating to conform to the current theology. It doesn't even have gender neutral language for the Trinity! But what is the current theology? It would be useful for the leadership to review it, which reminds me of the song, "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand.

I think the 'random' sample of TEC folks in the “Who We Are” section  better typifies the current ideology of TEC than the core doctrine that is probably met with a wink and a nod by the leadership. More of the core doctrine could be put into the historical documents section of the next prayer book.

One problem for TEC is that in an effort to be relevant in a contemporary society, it is chasing the social trends in an effort to catch up, embrace and include them. The orthodox theology has really become an impediment. Doctrine that once served as an anchor has become a millstone. That is why the theology, currently mushy (some within TEC would say evolving) is of necessity more malleable. TEC really does need new vision and mission statements. It could divest itself of the Anglican label with its attendant constraints and form its own worldwide organization. It has already adopted the millennium development goals (MDG) of the United Nations. TEC thinks of itself as a global church but has forgotten that it has actually downsized. It used to be part of the cosmic church.

It would serve TEC well to reexamine their ecclesiology and missiology. Work it backwards if you must. What are you doing? Where are you investing (spending) your resources? The words that come to my mind are social justice, equity, fairness, human flourishing, GLBT etc. issues, feminism, pluralism, diversity, inclusion, preservation of legacy, reproductive rights, and environmental sustainability. How do the existing doctrines of the church justify and organize these efforts? You still refer to yourself as Christian church. To you however, Christ is not divine and only one model among many. The presiding bishop rarely mentions Him in her talks. How do the budget lines reflect what you believe?

As you examine this list, it is really about the kingdom of this world for you. Do you even need theological underpinnings? I have no hard feelings toward TEC. The adversarial relationship has helped us to reassess our priorities. TEC does not need a task force on marriage as much as it needs a task force on organizational identity. If it does not do this it will not survive as an organization let alone a 'church'.
Pax et Bonum, 
Dale Matson Ph.D., Consultant

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Church Needs Warriors: Warriors Need The Church.

Fr. Dale Matson

“He [Sampson] found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it.” (Judges 15:15) “Your servant [David] has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied [disrespected] the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36) “ One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one; he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11-12)

The world does not lack warriors today. You can find them in prisons in gangs like the Mandingo Warriors or the Aryan Warriors. They are the “one percenters” like the Hell’s Angels or the Mongols. They are in street gangs like the Bloods, Crips or M-13.  These individuals have become warriors to the exclusion of the other male archetypes within them such as Wildman, King, Prophet or Shaman.

So much of the gang life is designed to cultivate the warrior archetype to the exclusion of everything else. These are not individuated men. Gangs are tribal and members have submitted to the authority of other men. They submit to the gang leadership.  The gang provides the core meaning and rules of conduct for their lives. The gang is family, security, structure, brotherhood, and mutual respect. The level of commitment to the gang is to the death and each member understands the level of commitment.  Previously, the warrior was an archetype that was respected, civilized and nurtured by society and the church. The only warriors that society still honors today are soldiers. Many motorcycle club/gang members are former military men.

Gang members are warriors shunned by society and initiated and nurtured by other warriors. They are initiated into a manhood that is one dimensional and why is this? Why are gangs so commonplace today? It is because gangs serve a purpose. Many warriors are displaced because being a warrior is no longer honored by society. The church has also driven men away with a gender neutral and increasingly feminine god. Yahweh has become Gaia. Being patriarchal is pass’e. Gangs are fraternal organizations ruled by men. Churches so often have become matriarchal. No man, especially a warrior will allow himself to be ruled by a woman. As a man, he has overthrown the rule of his mother. How convincing is the bumper sticker, “Real Men Love Jesus”? There are plenty of ‘hang around’ men and boys that love Him also.  Having guns, knives, affiliation patches and being covered in ink may go along with being a warrior but does it make one fully a man? Does it completely fill the gnawing hole inside? Ask Nicky Cruz.

So what does this have to do with the church? How is a church different than a gang? So much of what we do is like gang business. We deal with righteousness, taking care of business, respect for one another. Church is about looking out for one another, truth and recruiting new members too. Isn't baptism about being “jumped in” by the church with an oath of loyalty after a period of initiation? It is the job of the church to equip and send. Have gang members often been used by their leadership? Yes, and so have church members.

Lord, I pray that the church would be a place for many of these displaced warriors. I pray that they would see what the full stature of a man can become and is, in Jesus the Christ. Give them a new place with new meaning. Let them find true freedom in being a slave to Jesus Christ. It is not about the gang life. It is about eternal life. Let them be empowered by the Holy Spirit and awaken to the love of their Father in heaven.

Finally, I offer this passage which continually speaks to my heart about my level of commitment to the church. I believe gang members would understand it too.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) That should be the commitment of the Christian man to his church. It is the level of commitment of gang members to their gangs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Boys and Bicycles: Every Ride Is A Mission

Fr. Dale Matson

Yesterday Grandpa Dale, Grandma Sharon and grandsons Jamo (age 6) and Max (age 4) went for a bike ride. Grandma (didn’t get the memo) was on a road bike. I was on a mountain bike and the boys were on ‘dirt bikes’ (they were on mountain bikes too but the boys preferred the name ‘dirt bike’).
We headed through the neighborhood toward the San Joaquin River passing the homes of the Sierra Sky Park airport. Grandma took the lead because she knew the route. Jamo was 2nd, Max 3rd and I was in the back. The ride also took us past huge dirt mounds that needed to be conquered a few times like moguls on a ski hill.

My vantage point allowed me to see boys being boys and to recapture that for myself for a few miles. The pace line was more like a slithering snake. Curbs meant to channel water became jump ramps. Grandma frequently turned around to admonish and caution the lads. Parked cars were obstacles to be avoided narrowly and at the last second. Max taught himself to climb the steepest hill by peddling standing up after walking his bike up the hill the first two times. Jamo dismounted his trusty steed on the fly allowing it to continue rolling into the brush. He began to throw rocks at and over Max and gramps as they passed by on numerous laps. Jamo said, “They’re just dirt clumps grandma” when she scolded him for throwing rocks at us. She told me to be careful and I complained back, “I’m not a 6 year old!” Both boys enjoyed heading down the hill at top speed and hitting the brakes hard. It created a 20 foot skid mark with the bikes sideways to the hill at the end.

They didn’t avoid the mud puddles and had wet streaks on the middle back of their respective superhero shirts, created by the rooster tails of the fender-less rear wheels. Only grandpa had the chutzpah to descend the steep abandoned road down to the river. (my bike has hydraulic disc brakes) The rest parked their bikes in the bushes above.  Charlie, their dad showed up on a cruiser bike, fresh from a home emergency, as all of us reached the top of the hill again.

On the return leg, Max practiced riding one handed most of the way while Jamo decided it was time to challenge gramps to a drag race. We took off and he was with me until we reached 15 mph with Jamo’s pedal cadence about 140 rpm. I finally pulled ahead and passed him far enough to let him know who was the boss biker.  Soon he caught up to me again with the rest almost out of sight to the rear. He gave me the look that said, “Let’s do this again” and again we were off with the same results. I might not be able to beat him next year. I may have talked a little trash at that point but I don’t remember for certain.

This is written for many reasons but there is an underlying message about boys here. What boys do naturally is a part of who they are. They are not like little girls. In this journey… this pilgrimage, they are testing themselves and those they are with. They are fine tuning skills on this latest quest. They are simply not going through the motions. they are heroes in the making. This is not treated as an adult would see it. It is not a duty ride to burn calories.

And gramps was trail sweep and rear guard most of the time. He was making sure all were accounted for on this mission toward manhood. Thank you Lord. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lent As A Treatment For Excessive Self Esteem

Fr. Dale Matson

The season of Lent will arrive this week. It is a time for reflection, confession, repentance, penance, almsgiving and prayer. It is forty days of preparation for Easter where our Lord arose bodily from the grave. Lent is a penitential season. It is a time of confession of sins, self-denial, fasting, reading of Scripture and personal sacrifice. For Catechumens, it is a time of preparation for Baptism. In the Lenten season, the focus is on contrition and cleansing. It begins on Ash Wednesday where ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the penitent.

“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen”
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (BCP 265)

In 2000, I was a university preparation program director and consultant to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. We were creating new standards for programs that trained students for credentials in School Psychology, School Counseling, and School Social Work. The state of California mandated that a standard be included to address Self Esteem in school children.

"Pupil Services Standards of Program Quality and Effectiveness
Standard 8
Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility
The program provides candidates with opportunities and experiences to assess
their own self-esteem and to demonstrate an understanding of principles associated with the building of (a) self-esteem, (b) personal and social responsibility, and (c) their relationship to the life-long learning process.
Several national and California studies have indicated that a relationship exists between pupil achievement and self-esteem. Self-esteem and self-affirmation as well as a sense of personal and social responsibility are attitudes that contribute to the development of academically capable, active, socially responsible citizens in society. The building of self-esteem and personal and social responsibility are shared responsibilities of the pupil, school, family, and community.”

At the time we were crafting the standards, some of the panel members including me, felt that Self-esteem needed to be paired with social responsibility. Students needed to take responsibility for their actions. Actually, I believe Self efficacy was what we were really after but the State of California had mandated through legislation, a new training standard to be written to develop Self-esteem. I believe this encouraged an environment where competition was discouraged and everyone was a winner. I believe Self-esteem does not create good grades. Good grades created self-esteem. This emphasis on Self-esteem contributed to inflated grades. Recently, even using red ink for corrections on student work has been questioned, because it can be seen as punitive. (

What has this led to? Well, how about this?

“College students, we keep hearing, are different from prior generations. And not in a good way: In studies they've been branded as overstressed, unsympathetic slackers in comparison to their parents. Today, we can also add that they're "overconfident." The research arrives from Dr. Jean Twenge, who published new findings claiming that self-ratings of freshman confidence have noticeably risen compared with students in the 60's. Twenge explained her latest research to the Associated Press by saying ‘it's not just confidence. It’s overconfidence’ that defines the current generation.” (

So, my prescription for this current crop of students who have this inflated sense of self-worth, sense of entitlement and narcissism is the 40 days of Lent. This is actually a good prescription for all of us. It is a way of downsizing the ego.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jumbo Shrimp And Elongated Imminence

Fr. Dale Matson

As the season of Lent approaches, I am once again reminded that in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, there are also many things for which I need to repent. This is a season for personal reflection. This is also a season for national reflection.

While our nation seems to have an ever expanding list of personal rights, one of those rights seems to be in the process of being redefined. What it essentially means is that the individual right to life and liberty (due process) are secondary to the national right to self-defense. One thing at stake is the important element of trust. Americans are increasingly seen as a possible threat to their own government. The reverse is also true. Many Americans do not believe that they are being governed with their consent.

While much of the conversation during my lifetime has been over the meaning of the First and Second Amendments to our Constitution, it seems like much of the conversation today includes the Fifth Amendment.  The Fifth Amendment protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. The Fifth Amendment includes the due process clause. Due process deals with the administration of justice and thus the Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government outside the sanction of law. In addition a law may be ruled void if it is too vague. This means that the average citizen must be able to understand the laws he or she is governed by.

Our Bill of Rights was patterned partly after the Magna Carta (1215). The Magna Carta removed the absolute power of the monarchy and provided due process to freemen. In clause 61 it held the monarch accountable to 25 barons who could overrule the monarch. This made it enforceable and could be seen as an early version of the separation of powers. It was a system of check and balances.

In facing the terrorist threat to the United States following 9/11 the congress gave unlimited power to the president to prosecute the war against the terrorists with the resolution authorizing the president to use "all necessary military force" to fight al-Qaida. I believe this was an emotional response that has led to an abuse of power. This has led to proactive attacks on what have been termed by John Brennan as “High value targets”. Thus, humans have taken on the same meaning as railroad depots, munitions factories and bridges. There is a certain chilling reality to this. I am not just concerned about illegal drone flights over sovereign countries and the killing of American citizens without due process. I am also concerned about the use of the words “Targeted killings” which are really assassinations. This is worse even than the Bush administration calling torture “Enhanced interrogation”. Eventually these things are shortened to simply initials such as TK and EI which further obfuscates the intent and meaning of immoral actions yet the White House called these actions, “legal, ethical and wise.”  We have even changed the definition of imminent threat to mean “elongated imminence”. That is an oxymoron in the same vein as jumbo shrimp.

An executive order (12333) signed by President Gerald Ford prohibited the act of state sponsored killing. It was viewed at that time that it would not offer additional options but would undermine our moral status as a nation.An estimated 3,500 -4,700 individuals have been killed by drone strikes. How many were actual targets of the drone strike and how many were simply in the wrong place at the time? Those who were killed in addition to the targeted individuals are considered “Collateral damage”. This is another deliberate attempt to cloak manslaughter. It is rather myopic to only argue against the killing of American citizens without due process. What about due process for everyone else?

Finally, drone warfare is not legal, ethical and wise as much as it is simply convenient. Since we have increased the use of drones, we have only captured one individual. We perhaps have spilled less precious American blood but at what cost? The use of drones has helped fuel the next generation of terrorists. Are we simply buying time until we leave with the least cost of American lives? I am a Viet Nam era Veteran who can still see in my mind’s eye the last helicopter lifting off the American embassy in Saigon.

What are we becoming? Are we still a nation that lives by its own principles or a nation that is becoming what it has been fighting against?