Monday, November 24, 2008

Inside Looking Out - Outside Looking In

Recently, The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner published an essay entitled "A New “Province” in North America: Neither the Only Nor the Right Answer for the Communion" in which he states that the new province is not the best way forward because it doesn't meet all its aims and the solution is not a communion wide solution.

Dean Robert Munday of Nashotah House wrote a response the core of which argument I find here:
While some may argue that the best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican
Communion is to preserve the unity of the American Church (or, failing that, not
to recognize any group that splits off from the American Church), I would argue
the exact opposite. The best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion
is to allow the American church to divide (which is happening anyway, whether
anyone likes it or not) and to recognize two North American provinces. Some
overseas provinces will relate to one of the North American provinces more than
the other. But there will not be the present level of vigorous advocacy (and
border crossing) that now threatens to divide the Communion.

Now for my own feable attempt at reconciliation. I believe that the majority of the leadership of TEC is heretical and becoming apostate. I also believe that TEC is, itself, not apostate. The official positions of the church are, for now, Christian (with a few exceptions, such as membership in the Religious Council for Reproductive Choice). However, I live and worship and work in an orthodox diocese under orthodox bishops and an orthodox priest. It is easy to remain in TEC here in Dallas.

What I am more interested in, for this post, is the reasons than people pursuing an inside strategy (by remaining in TEC and working for reform within the structures of the Anglican Communion) and those purusing and outside strategy (by breaking from TEC and forming partnerships - particularly this new province) have so much animosity towards each other.

Those who are "outside looking in" seem to think that we who are on the inside are cowards who want only to keep our pensions and our pretty buildings and our jobs. Likewise, those on the "inside looking out" also have called those on the outside "cowards" because they have left the fight for TEC. The insiders point to the leftward shift of TEC since the 1970s when the Anglican Continuum left (and fractured even more).

Here is my take on the subject. Many of the outsiders and insiders are correct that the church in which they were raised and that they love and that nurtured and uplifted them through many bad times is gone. The majority of the leaders in the church have become unfaithful to the faith that was given to them. They have subsituted the god within for the God that created the universe. They have searched for self-fulfillment rather than self-death.

One of the images that God uses for Israel and the Church in Holy Scripture is that of marriage. Read Hosea or Paul's letter to the Ephesians or the Revelation to St. John if you doubt me. So, with an unfaithful wife we have two alternatives. One is to live with the unfaithfulness and the other is divorce. What we are witnessing right now is the emotional baggage that come with a divorce or from a marriage that has been destroyed by an unfaithful spouse.

We have two groups of people who agree with each other on what has happened. We don't agree on what to do about it. So, with our hearts wounded by our Church leaders, we often act out of anger and injured pride.

So, then, what should we do? I believe that we should recognize that we are fighting a common enemy - the spirit of the age - and we should work together where we can and we should not condemn each other nor should we hinder each other's efforts. I believe that TEC will not be a full member of the Anglican Communion for long (say 10 years). I also believe that God is in charge and that He will act when He deems it best, not when we deem it best. For those of us fighting the inside strategy, we should continue that fight and be ready to move when God gives us a clear sign. We need to consider that we might be wrong and the outside strategy is what God calls us to. For those of us fighting an outside strategy, we should be faithful and consider that we might be wrong and the inside strategy might be best and what God desires.

When it comes to discerning the will of God, we are all still clouded by sin. All too often, the voice of God sounds like our own voice and urges us to do things we want to do anyway. We need to guard against that.

In the end, we should look towards the whole communion for a solution. As Americans, we are all to often ready to serve God and the Chruch as adivsors only, not as servants.

To the Bishops and priests who lead the orthodox Anglicans, I call on you to remember that you are first, and foremost, deacons - servants. Lead as servants, not as masters.

Phil Snyder

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back to Prison for me and an assignment for you all!

Tomorrow I return to prison for the first time since the statewide lockdown back in early October. The "Brothers in White" (inmates) haven't been able to group or have chapel since then and they will be very hungry for spiritual nourishment. Please pray that the team will show up in force and let them know that God has not forgotten them. Also, please pray that the Brothers will show up in force and share God's unbounded love with us. Every time I go to prison, I always come out having received much more than I ever gave.

Now - for your assignment. The statewide lockdown came about because a correctional officer (guard) smuggled a cell phone into Death Row and one of the inmates used it to call and threaten a State Senator. In other states (and probably in Texas) cell phones have been used in the unit to order hits or conduct illegal business. This could be solved by installing a cell phone interrupter device. But, since cell phones use public airways, the FCC regulates this and has not allowed states to put them on Correctional Insitutions (such as prisons).

Please write or email or call your Congressman and Senators and ask them to either urge the FCC to allow for Cell Phone interruption within Correctional Institutions or to sponser and support legislation to do this.

Phil Snyder


Last post I talked about hiding in plain sight. Using religion to hide from God or, more accurately, to tame God and keep Him from changing you. I asked what, then, is the purpose of the outward disciplines of Christianity if they can be used to hide from God.

First, we must ask what the goal of the Christian life is. The goal of the Christian life is union with God - as the Eastern Orthodox call it, theosis. Athanasius said that God became man so that men might become gods. In baptism, God gives us a life qualitatively like His own. We are to grow in this new life and nurture it. This is what the disciplines of the Church are for. Centuries of Christians have found that we grow more in God's life when we discipline ourselves like athletes or soldiers (two images the Paul uses to describe the Christian life).

So, the disciplines are useful for growing as Christians. Cursillo taught me that the Christian life is based on three things - Piety, Study, and Apostolic Action. All three are necessary to life a Christian life.

So, if we are maintaining our discipline, how can we know when we are doing so to be closer to God or so that we can feel better about ourselve and resist God changing us?

I don't know that we can. As fallen creatures, our motovation is often (always?) mixed.

I remember about 8 years ago, I had just entered the discernment process. I had been very active in the Kairos prison ministry (and I still am). Each weekend, I got such a spiritual high that I couldn't wait till the next weekend. I was worried that I was becoming a "spiritual high junkie" and was involved in the ministry because of the great feelings I received and because of the praise of others when they found out I was involved in prison ministry. I brought this to the attention of my Spiritual Director and he ordered me to serve on a team, but ask the Rector (leader) of the team to assign me to a position where I was not that involved with the inmates or with the team. I did so and,while I enjoyed the weekend, I did not get that great spiritual high. When I came back my Spiritual Director asked me about the weekend and I told him it was OK, but a lot of work with little consolation. He asked me if I was planning on serving on other teams and I said that absoultely I would serve on other teams. He then told me to shut up about my motovations and leave that to God, but to continue to serve and to the work to which I had been called.

So, If you are concerned about your motovations for obeying the Christian disciplines, then my advice to you is to put that concern before God in prayer, meditation and contemplation. Let God worry about your motovation and continue in the discipline. But be aware. Opening your motovation to God and asking Him to purify you and your motovations can be very dangerous. You will end up changed and made new.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hiding in Plain Sight

Over at StandFirm, I read an excerpt from Bishop Skip Adams sermon on morality being a barrier to God (if you are interested in the sermon, here is the link.

This got me thinking on one of my favorite topics. Using religion to hide from God. I'm familiar with this topic because I've used religion (and still have a tendency to do so) to hide from God.

The Church can be a wonderful place where we can use our religion and our religious busy-ness to keep God at arm's length. So long as we are involved in Church - so long as we can perceive ourselves to be "good" people who love God and we can point to our religious activities as proof of our love of God, we can keep God away from interefering too much in our daily lives.

I remember when I was in high school and my early adult years. I thought being a good Christian was about being involved in Church. I was an acolyte (and had been since I was 9 years old). I was a lay reader, a chalice bearer, a Sunday School teacher, even a Lay Eucharistic Minister (now Lay Eucharistic Visitor). I felt that being a good Christian was about getting my ticket punched for different destinations - kind of like moving my "Jesus" piece around a board until I passed "Go."

I see many people who live like that in the Church. They are so busy with being religious that they don't take time for faith. Christianity is far more about a relationship with God - about participating in the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity through trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ than it is about obeying the rules and saying the right formulas.

What do you get when you read all the right books and say all the right prayers and live an outwardly upright and moral life? What do you get when you are at Church every time the doors are open and you can take pride in your tithe, your participation, and your level of commitment to the Church?

You don't get a good Christian. You get a good pharisee. What does it take, then, to make a good Christian? It takes faith - trust in God and the Grace of God actualized in our lives.

So, why do we have the rules and the morality and the outward activities of the Faith?

I'll ruminate on that tomorrow (hopefully).

Phil Snyder