Thursday, June 27, 2013

Following Christ And Serving His Church

Fr Dale Matson

The Sunday readings for proper eight are a call and a challenge to us who are followers of Christ. Do you still have that zeal, that fire in the belly? Or are you pleading with God, “Lord, restore a right spirit within me.” What does it mean to follow Him without question; to follow Him without reservation? How much should we be doing for Him and for His church?

*I think the Old Testament lesson while being similar to our Gospel lesson, tempers it to some extent. Elisha was given time by Elijah to put his affairs in order. In our Gospel lesson, there is a sense of Christ’s call being imminent and unyielding. Essentially we hear Him saying put everything aside and follow me immediately.  “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Wow! There is not any compromise in that response.

What does He mean when He states, “No one who puts his hand to the plow can turn back.”? As someone who has plowed fields, it means that you need to focus on what is ahead. If you turn back, you will not plow a straight furrow. You will get off course. In this sense, it is a metaphor for the Christian life. So much of the Christian life is about moving on; putting the past behind us. Our baptism is a fresh start and a new beginning. Those of us who were baptized as adults put our hands on the plow at that time.

It is about forgiveness and forgetting. How am I so certain about this? Satan continually wants us to dwell on the past. He wants us to live in the past and reminds us of our past failures and the times we have been self-destructive or hurt others. Was that just a random thought emerging into consciousness about when I said hurtful things to my sister or brother or parents? Satan is called the accuser. The Holy Spirit is called the comforter. When these thoughts occur, I simply say, “Lord please forgive me.” What Satan intended for evil, God intended for good. Satan is the accuser, we repent and Christ is the restorer.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? What is the cost? First of all I believe service in the body of Christ is a fruit of our relationship to Christ. Faith without works that flow from that faith, are evidence of an immature faith. But how much is enough? Would God say that you should be serving your church 24/7? I believe Satan would say that, for he likes it when Christians tire of good works. He likes it when they become discouraged and resentful in their service. He likes it when Christians burn out and leave the church. Each one of us knows someone who worked with great zeal for a time, flamed out and eventually left the church. Many of us know members in leadership positions and on the vestry who no longer even attend church.

St. Paul has excellent advice for us who serve the church. This passage is great advice on stewardship of both funds and time offered to the church. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." If you are not a cheerful giver of your money and time, then it is time to reflect on why this is. For each of us, there is a different kind and level of stewardship God requires of us. The level of resentment is to service as temperature is to health. If you are taking on more and more duties and your level of resentment is increasing then it is time to learn a new word, “No”.

In Morning Prayer one of our collects states in part, “To know Him is eternal life and to serve Him is perfect freedom.” Keep in mind that we are serving Christ in others. We are not serving others. We are led by the Spirit to exercise God’s gifts. Serve God and be free and find rest.

* 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21,Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Difficult Conversations

Fr. Dale Matson

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)

I traveled to Kentucky recently for the baptism of my newest grandson.  Unlike my father who refused to discuss uncomfortable things with his sons, I took the bull by the horns and used the opportunity to try and clarify the past. The three of us were seated in a hamburger shop for a meal prior to attending the new Superman movie.  My younger son stated, “Dad I’m a control freak. That is what comes from being raised in chaos.” After a few moments to catch my breath and reflect, I said defensively. “Could it have been worse?” He replied, “Yes, we could have been physically abused.” Somehow, I wasn't comforted. My older son looked uncomfortable as if he had an acute and sudden onset of indigestion. The conversation would not be on a safe topic. He would rather have been waxing eloquent on the NBA final series between the Spurs and the Heat.  “Dale, you could have done more things with me. You could have taught me more things. It was always tense and harsh at home.” He sometimes calls me dad but ten years or so ago he began calling me by my first name. It grates on me but there is not much I can say that hasn't come across as critical. It would just be one more criticism in a lifetime litany of criticisms.

Developmental psychologists talk about differing parenting styles but each child is different from the other. Each child requires a different parenting approach. As their father I adopted a father role in reaction to my father. I was critical of my father and used him as a negative role model. It was a big mistake. That approach yielded a man just as flawed and distorted as my father. He was uninvolved and emotionally distant. I was overinvolved, harsh and punitive. My father was ashamed of me because I was emotional and I was ashamed of my sons because they were not emotional. There did not seem to be a fire in the belly.

I have asked for their forgiveness more than once and depending on their moods, I have been absolved or sent back to purgatory. I think how long it took for me to forgive my father. I do remember telling him on the phone that I loved him and his response was, “You’re not going to kill yourself are you?” He wrote two letters to me at my insistence and the first was signed, “Yours Truly.” The second was signed ‘Love”. It is hard for a man to say to his sons that he loves them. It was even harder for his generation. At about age fifty I chose to love him too. It unlocked a lot of good memories held captive by anger. He has passed on and all that is left are the good memories of my father.

It has been difficult and painful as God has reminded me gradually of my failures to love my sons for who they were and my stubborn unwillingness to honor their life choices. That was how my dad was with me too. I was never able to measure up in his eyes and eventually stopped trying to please him or be him. That does not mean that I don’t look for “atta boys” from others to this day. It is hard to hear it when my older son says, “You think you've changed but you’re still the same.” If only he meant it in a good way.

Toward the end of his life, I was a good parent to an aging and feeble father. I was sometimes impatient with his denial of his life destroying cancer. I believe and hope my sons will come to a peace about me and it will free up good memories for them too. They will laugh about how hard I made them work just as my brother and I laugh when we tell once again, the war stories of our youth.  They are good and honorable men. I love them and tell them so.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) 

Monday, June 10, 2013


The Palisades
John Muir Trail

Fr. Dale Matson

As someone who has searched for lost individuals off trails, I know how foreboding and difficult it can be to navigate the wilderness without trails. Trails are highways through the wilderness. They are a thin ribbon often called ‘single tracks’. Trails are the shortcut. They are the way into and out of the wilderness. They take us to a timeless time zone. Most often they are ‘use’ trails headed over a mountain pass, to a view or to lakes. Trails frequently follow the course of a creek or a river which is also good for necessary hydration. As you proceed, there are signs on trees called reassurance markers or blazes. When the trail is faint, they reassure the traveler that he is headed in the correct direction. On large stretches of open areas there are often cairns made of stacked rocks. There are other more subtle signs for the experienced traveler. Trails are also used by pack animals and their scat can help when the trail is uncertain. It is also common to see deer and bear track on human made trails.  The residue from soiled boots leaves a telltale travel sign on smooth granite. Trails through meadows are well worn, deep and certain. Trails on steep climbs and descents zigzag in what are called switchbacks to make the climb less steep. One must be careful on a descending trail not to follow the waterway diversion path, designed to keep the trail from washing away during spring runoff and thunderstorms. Ferns open as you approach and close like curtains on the trail behind you.

Trails lead us deeper into the wilderness and deeper into ourselves. Suddenly you are so small and insignificant. You are like the protagonist in the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. The surroundings are timeless and indifferent to your presence.  Your footsteps will be erased by the next storm. The granite in sunlight is warm to the touch on a cool windy day. The wind at high elevations blows continuously and makes a narrow knife edge trail a test of courage too. Our hearts pound like a drum in our chests in an uncustomary way as we climb in thinner air. Trails along water bring mosquitos in the early and late hours and deerflies and horseflies and gnats in the hotter part of the day. Thank God for Deet.

Trails bring surprises. All you have to do is turn around and your view can be even better than the slow motion wonderland you are walking into. A partridge flies up and startles you. The brush cracks and a deer bolts into the trees. A coyote (God’s dogs) barks and grudgingly gives ground. So often our ears perceive things before our eyes do.  Fresh bear scat steams in the cool morning air and you wonder if he is just around that big boulder up ahead. You see a stick and then it moves and then it is a rattlesnake and you give her the proper distance. After days on the trail, you hear an uncustomary sound at a considerable distance. It is a human voice and it is out of place. We expect the scolding jays and crows but not a conversation between other humans.

There are sections of trail that are not so pretty. A long ago fire turned a beautiful section of forest into a long lasting black skeleton. Switchbacks on the face of an open section of mountain are exposed, hot and dry at mid-day. There are sections of trail where the forest was flattened by avalanches and landslides. Downed trees across the trail force climb-overs and walk-arounds. Where did the trail go? They also give a renewed appreciation for an unobstructed trail.

Twenty years ago I ran trails and traveled fifty miles in a day. I was light and younger, fast and foolish. Today, the views most often require an overnight. An overnight requires a pack and a pack makes you heavy, old and slow but realistic.  As long as I am physically able to move on trails and have sound judgment, I will continue to use them to plan, dream and explore the wilderness.

Thank you Lord for the trails in the wilderness created by pilgrims before me and maintained those who follow after me.      


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Father’s Day II: Being A Parent And Grandparent

Fr. Dale Matson

Last year I wrote about my late father and his importance in the lives of his children.

As a parent and grandparent to adult sons and grandsons the shoe is now on my foot so to speak. This is about father’s day from my perspective. I must confess that my role is limited to that of a consultant with my sons. They do ask for advice but don’t consider themselves bound by what I offer. In fact they are as often consultants to me. It is those same boys who would have emptied our checking account buying ‘action figures’ (boys don’t have dolls) who are now investment consultants for us. They are making their own mistakes and I have to bite my tongue about it. At one time there would have been the reflexive, “I told you that would happen.”

I cannot say enough how blessed we have been to have sons who are independent. They have ‘launched’. Our daughters in law and grandsons are healthy too. So often we hear that this is not the case with our friends.

Where is God in all this? He is saying this to me. He is saying, “Be there.” Much about life is a matter of showing up. It is all too easy to focus on my own goals and objectives and not being intentional about getting their life events on my calendar. Attending baptisms, graduations and sports events are all a part of being both a supportive parent and grandparent. Kids remember who was there. I remember those times in my own life. I can remember my own mentor Bob Wilson simply sitting back during his family gatherings and watching with a big smile on his face.  My friend Morton Kelsey once said that he regretted not having enough time for his family and grandchildren.

This is a confession of sorts. So much of life in the latter stages is about the wise use of leisure time. It is all too easy for a goal oriented person like me to see others as a distraction, and interruption or an obligation.  I am a ‘checker’ and when I look at my answering machine, my first thought is, “I hope there are no messages.” It is too easy to turn inward. It is too easy to focus on one’s physical pains that are called “benign” by my “ologists” who are necessary entries on the calendar.

It is not possible as a parent and grandparent to avoid the pain of mistakes and mishaps in the lives of our children and grandchildren. They are so connected to us that a band aid on a scraped knee causes us to wince. Striking out in a baseball game is our strike out too.

The sheer energy, enthusiasm and endurance of the grandchildren wears me out. They keep coming like tidal waves against an old sea wall. They don’t talk, they shout. They don’t walk; they run and jump over and across furniture. I have to remind myself that this is a blessing to witness these times of healthy chaos.

Today is father’s day and grandfather’s day at our house. I gird my loins for the activities that lay ahead. There will be no nap today. They all know I will head to bed at 8 pm whether they are gone or not. The word is out that I am hoping for new “Darn Tough” merino wool socks XL.

Thank You for Father’s Day Lord.