Friday, December 26, 2008

Who is Distracting Whom?

One of the arguments leveled against reasserters (those who hold traditional teaching on sexual morality among other things) is that our focus on who is sleeping with whom detracts from the work of the Church.

First, we have to ask what the work of the Church is? Basically, the work of the Church is to make disciples - students - apprentices - of Jesus Christ and to prepare those souls for eternity with God. The Eastern Orthodox refer to this as "theosis" and it is growing in the new life that the Holy Spirit gives us in Baptism and which we receive in Holy Eucharist.

Whether this work is done within the Church by building up those who already follow Jesus Christ or if the work is done outside the Church by bringing those who do not follow Jesus Christ into a relationship with Him, both are important and part of the Work of the Church. And, just as an aside, every Christian should be involved in some way both in work within the Church and work outside the Church.

Works of corporal mercy - caring for the poor, the sick, the homeless, visiting those in prison, empowering people in society through things like ESL (English as a Second Language) or GED courses or other charitable works are important and are part of the work of the Church, but they, themselves and by themselves, are not the work of the Church.

After we have determined the work of the Church, we need to determine if the fight about sexual morality is distracting from that work or not and then who is distracting whom.

I would say that fighting in the Church today is distracting from the work of the Church and reasserters play a part in this. But the majority of the guilt from distracting from the work of the Church can be laid at the feet of the reappraisers.

My reasoning is two fold. Before General Convention 2000, the Church had discussed and debated blessing same sex unions and awlays said that it was not appropriate or that we would not move forward on this until the communion as a whole changed its mind. In 1998, all the bishops of the Lambeth Conference said that blessing same sex unions and ordaining those involved in same sex unions were outside of the teaching of the Church. The 1998 resolution was not a new teaching - it simply affirmed and codified the existing teaching.

So, it is not the reasserters who kept bringing this issue forward for debate. It is the reappraisers. So after two or three General Conventions, we who think this "new thing" violates the teaching of the Church should simply fall into line?

Second, the debate is not about sex or who sleeps with whom or about homosexuality vs hetersexuality. The debate is about the nature and place of authority in the Church. Does a single person have the authority to change teaching on something that the bible and the universal church so roundly condemned? How about a diocese? A province? Does even the Anglican Communion as a whole have that authority and still be considered a church based on "Scripture, Tradition, and Reason?"

Now, I am a reasserter. I believe that God does not bless homosexual sex and further I believe that He considers it sinful. I base this belief on what I read in Holy Scripture. So, if you want to convince me (and other reasserters) that God does bless homosexual sex, then you have to make your argument out of what our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, as said to be our primary source of authority - Holy Scripture. Show me where God blesses homosexual sex within the Holy Scriptures.

Phil Snyder

Brevity Break

One thing I am known for is bad jokes. I love bad jokes - shaggy dog stories if you will. My favorite came to me from my father who got it from his father and I still love it.

The Spirit with the Purple Tail
There was a family of ghosts - Pappa Ghost, Mama Ghost and little Johnny Ghost. Each ghost has somethin unique about him or her that sets him apart from all other ghosts.

Johnny's unique feature was his purple tail. It was long and scintillating and would flow behind him as he ran through the house he loved to haunt. He would often take his head off and put it on backwards just so he could see his tail flow behind him.

Now all good ghosts have to be in by 6:00 in the morning or something terrible would happen to them. And, like all young ghosts, Johnny kept pushing the time. One night, he was having so much fun haunting this one house - he would run in the front door, through all the rooms and walls and then out the back door - that he lost track of time. As he passed the back door, the first stroke of six struck and he said: "I've got time for one more run!" and proceeded through the house again.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! As the last stroke of six struck, he flew out the back door which shut on him and cut off his purple tail!

Johnny was inconsolable. He did nothing with his friends and just mopped around the attic all night.

Finally, his mother said to her husband: "Dear, you have to do something about Johnny! That kid's going to be the life of me yet. Please, do something.

So the dad gives his son 20 dollars and sends him to the liquor store.


wait for it


That's where they "re-tail" spirits!

Feel free to add your suggestions for penance, you own shaggy dog stories, or your own bad jokes in the comments.

Phil Snyder

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Into the Barn

I heard this story from Paul Harvey several years ago. It is a wonderful Christmas illustration.

John was a man who lived on a farm with his family. While his wife was religious and attended church faithfully, he never went.

"I don't believe all that religious stuff." he said. "I mean that stuff about virgins conceiving or dead men coming back to life or God becoming man. It just doesn't make any sense."

One Christmas eve, the wife had take the children to church while John stayed home. Later, it began to snow heavily.


John looked out the window and found bird had hit his living room window in the snow storm.

Thud. Thud.

A whole flock of birds were landing in his yard.

"They'll die if they don't get under some shelter" John thought. So he put on his boots and coat and went and opened the barn door and turned on the light in the barn.

"There. They can go into the barn and that will save them" he thought. But the birds kept landing in his yard. So he put on his boots and coat again and tried to shoo the birds into the barn. But everywhere we went among the birds, they just fluttered up out of his way and landed back on the yard.

"Stupid Birds" he thought. "I'm just so big that all I do is scare them. They're too frightened of me to follow me into the barn. If only I could become a bird - for just a moment, then I could lead them into the barn and they would live."

At that moment, the church bells rang to announce the birth of the Savior. John was overcome with emotion and fell to his knees and said: "Lord, I now know why you had to become a man. You had to lead us into the barn."

May you all have a blessed feast of the Incarnation.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mary, Did You Know

We love Christmas. I love Christmas.

But Christmas is nothing without Good Friday and Easter.

The only reason that the Incarnation makes any difference - let alone any sense - is because of the work of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection.

Mary, it is said, kept all these things in her heart. I wonder if, during the Three Days, she remembered the shepherds and the Magi - Simeon and Anna. I wonder if Simeon's words to her: "and a sord will pierce through your own soul also." ever came back to her during Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Sometimes we make too much of Mary - there are those who treat Mary as some form of co-redemptorix or as some minor diety. Sometimes we ignore Mary too much. In reaction to giving Mary a place beside Jesus we over react by not giving her enough honor. There is no saint or other person (outside of Jesus) that has done as much for us and our salvation as Mary did. Her "yes" to God was the mirror image of Eve's "Yes" to herself. Mary's willingness to "let it be to me according to your word" is what gave the world God incarnate and what continued the plan of salvation. For this, she should be remembered and honored.

If you have time before you celebrate the Incarnation, please view the video below. It brought me to tears as I pondered what Mary did for us - how she allowed us to be freed from sin and death by delivering her son so that He could deliver us.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace! The Lord is with thee!
Blessed art thou among 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.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me - a sinner.

Phil Snyder

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let it be to me according to your word

We've said that advent is a time of waiting and a time of preparation. We are waiting for the coming of Jesus - God made man. We are preparing to receive our Lord in the manger, in our hearts, and when He comes in glory to judge the world.

I think one of the greatest sentences ever said to God comes from Mary: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word."

Now most of us like to think we would respond like Mary if faced with an archangel's request. But I don't believe that is the case. As evidence for my belief, I simply point to all of history.

We spend too much of our lives saying (or living as if we had said), "Behold, I am no one's slave. Let it be to me according to my word." By the way, the Greek for "handmaid" is the feminine form of "doulos" - slave.

We want to think of ourselves as the captains of our own ship. The master of our own destiny. We want to sing, with Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way!" That is very self-satisfying. But it is also self-defeating. "My way" is not the same as God's way.

My way focuses on getting my needs met and my desires fulfilled. God's way is the way of self-emptying and the turning of desires into desire for God.

So, how can we ever say "Behold, I am God's slave. Let it be to me according to your word." I believe that is the purpose of Advent.

Being a slave, in Jesus time, meant one of three things. Either you were born a slave, your people were defeated in war, or you had too many debts so you (and your family) were sold into slavery. In all three cases, it was possible to purchase your freedom.

Let's look at those three ways of being a slave. The first is easy - being born a slave. We don't mind this metaphor too much - after all, no one is responsible for his or her birth. We are all born as slaves to sin. We don't really mind being part of a race of people enslaved to sin.

The second, however, is more complicated. Being defeated in a war. We don't like defeat and we hate to admit that we have been defeated. We are in a spiritual war and, without God, we are fighting on the wrong side. Are you ready to admit that you can't win the battle on your own? Are you willing to admit that you are in rebellion against God and need to surrender? Are you ready to accept defeat at God's hands and become his slave?

The third path to slavery is also not pleasant - being sold to pay debts. Our sins are like debts that need to be repaid and we cannot pay them. We don't have the capital or income to pay the debts we owe. Are you ready to accept that you cannot pay your debts? Are you ready to accept slavery as the just reward for your debts?

Now, here is one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith. Slavery leads to freedom. The first path to freedom with God is to recognize your poverty of self. It is to realize that you have nothing that is not given to you from God and that you have mis-used and abused what God has given for your. By accepting slavery with God - by surrendering to Him, we become people who have been freed.

See, God wants free men and women, but they only way they can be free is to stop being slaves to themselves or to their desires or to their sins. So we must first become slaves to God. Then God gives us our freedom. We are given spiritual wealth beyond our imagination when we surrender to God. We are given victory in our battles when we let God fight for us. We are freed from self and from sin and from death when we allow God to guide us.

As we approach the Feast of the Incarnation, let us practice saying "Behold, I am God's slave. Let it be to me according to His word."

Phil Snyder

Friday, December 19, 2008

Update on Elizabeth

The Doctor just came out and said that this surgery was just like the last one. There were not complications and he expects a full recovery.

Thank you all for your prayers and please continue to keep Elizabeth in your prayers as she faces recovery and rehabilitation.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Advent is a time of waiting - waiting in expectation, but waiting none the less. Americans don't like to way. We think that microwave ovens are too slow and that we should not have to wait for movies to download on our PCs. We are all about faster. We want it. We want it all and we want it now. We can't even wait patiently in line at a store. There are stores that will open another register when there are more than three people in line - just so we won't have to wait.

This lack of waiting has infected the Episcopal Church on both sides of the issue. On the reappraising side, they were not willing to wait for the communion to change its mind on blessing same sex unions or on ordaining men or women active outside of marriage. Even when General Convention said that we wouldn't proceed until the communion changed its mind, we didn't listen to ourselves. We got tired of waiting and moved forward. "Justice delayed is Justice denied" is the watch word of the reappraisers and they framed this as a justice issue rather than a righteousness issue.

On the reasserting side, they were not willing to wait on the communion for discipline. They saw that the reappraisers were "winning" and moved forward to create multiple overlapping jurisdictions - some from Uganda, some from Kenya, some from Nigeria, some from South America, some from Rwanda and some just cut off from TEC. They talked of the need for life boats. I've heard laymen and women complain that the souls of their children were in danger because of the confirmation classes and sermons preached by clergy in TEC.

The inability to wait on the reappraising side triggered the inability to wait on the reasserter side. Let me be clear. The troubles confronting TEC and the Anglican Communion can be laid at the feet of the reappraisers.

What we need to recover - and not just for Advent - is the ability to wait. Israel waited several hundred years as slaves in Egypt. They waited 40 years in the desert before they reaced the promised land. They waited for 400 years between the return from exhile and the coming of the Messiah. Christians have waited for 2000 years (so far) for the return of Jesus.

Can't we wait a bit longer before we insist on our own ways? Can't we wait upon God and His solutions? Have we lost the ability to wait in silence before God?

For God alone my soul in silence waits
from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.


For God alone my soul in silence waits
truly, my hope is in him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.

In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge

Put your trus in him always, O People,
Pour out your hearts before Him, for God is our refuge.

In this last 8 days of Advent, let's us wait up on the Lord and look to Him (and not to political wrangling) for our salvation.

Phil Snyder

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prayer Request

Many of you will remember this past summer when my daughter, Elizabeth, had surgery on her right foot and ankle to align them. Well, this Friday, she will have the other foot operated on for the same reason.

I ask your prayers for her healing. She is nervous about the upcoming operation. I ask that you pray for a full and complete recovery - for peace of mind and for courage to face the upcoming pain and rehabilitation. Also, this is finals week at her school. I would ask that you pray that she would not be distracted by her fear and be able to focus on her tests.

I also ask that you pray for the doctors and medical team that will be treating her.

Finally, I ask that you pray for my wife, Beverly, and I (especially Beverly) as we care for Elizabeth.

For the last operation, Elizabeth had several months to heal before she went back to school. This time, she has two weeks.

Phil Snyder

Who is Jesus?

We are in the middle of the third week of Advent. It is a time of waiting and preperation for the coming of Jesus - the promised Messiah - the Deliverer - God made flesh.

As part of our reflection for Advent, we need to consider just whom is coming. For whom are we waiting? Why are we waiting for him?

These questions can be answered by looking at what Jesus asked Peter - "Who do you say that I am?" There is no more important question that we can answer than "Who is Jesus."

There are two answers to this question that sound really good to us and that we like to hear. The first answer is that Jesus is like a guru that helps us to get in touch with the divine in our lives. We learn to look for the "christ consciousness" in our selves. This affirms the original good in us - our "Original Blessing" if you will. This sounds good and affirming. We all want to think that we are basically good people who have just gone a little off. This version of Jesus serves our need for transcendence in our lives. "The Kingdom of God is within you." We need the sence of the Holy and this brings us there - by looking in a mirror and marveling at the wonderful work of God manifest in our selves.

The second answer is that Jesus is a wonderful teacher of moral truths. However, his followers could not see what he was teaching and got his teaching wrong. This is Jesus as "life coach" who comes to us to help us be better people. This affirms the need to serve the poor, to be work for social justice. This version of Jesus calls us outside of ourselves to serve others. This Jesus helps us to understand that freedom is found in service.

Both of these Jesuses have some basis in scripture. Both are true - they just are (like all heresies) not true enough. Both of these Jesuses are like chocolate. They taste good going down, but there is very little nourishment there and the consequences of a steady diet of this Jesus is deadly to your long term well being.

There are two words to discribe Jesus and both are necessary. The first is "Savior." We don't really like the word "savior" - it implies that we need to be saved. Being saved means that we have to admit that we are going to die without our savior - we are not going to live. Having a savior means that we have to admit to the world and to God and to ourselves that we are not nice people after all. We are not "basically good" and we are not divine by nature. We are utterly lost without our savior. Who is Jesus? He is my savior. Without Him I will die eternally. He heals me from myself and calls me out of my self and selfishess.

If we don't like "savior," then we really won't like the second word, "Lord." Jesus is our Lord and we don't like that. It implies that we need a Lord - a person to rule over us. Having a Lord implies surrender.

During this Advent ask yourself - for whom are you waiting? Are you waiting for a person to awaken the divine within you? Are you waiting for someone to teach you the same moral truths that you already know?

Or, are you waiting for a Savior and Lord - someone to whom you can surrender and admit that you can't do it alone. Are you waiting for someone to make you new or just make you better? Are you waiting for Jesus - the Son of God - the Messiah - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? He is the only one worth waiting for. The other Jesus - the guru or the life coach or the moral teacher are a dime a dozen and can be found in any self help book. There is no need to wait for him.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransome our captive souls. Free us from the prison we have built for ourselves. Help us to die to self and die to sin so that we can be raised in new Life and live in the resurrection.

Phil Snyder

Property Disputes - Common sense is not all that common

This post by Fr. Dan Martins got me thinking again about what to do with the Episcopal Church in the property disputes. It seems that eveyone is throwing around the title of "thief" and accusing each other of starting the lawsuits. It reminds me of my days in elementary school where crys of "he started it!" were all too common and the lazy teachers were the ones who wanted to know who threw the first punch (or kick or whatever).

The disputes on property are being handled just like a very acrimonious and messy divorce. Neither side may have a full claim to the property, but neither want the other to have any benefit from it. It's like a wife who cannot afford the house after the husband moves out but doesn't want to sell it and split the money with the ex-husband let alone let the ex-husband have the house. Likewise, the ex-husband "will be damned" if he'll let this woman have the house he worked so hard to pay for.

On all sides of this issue, we claim the title of Christian. When a congregation cannot see a way to remain within TEC, then we should be able to reach some form of compromise that honors the contributions of all involved and in both directions. The congregation did derive some benefit from being in TEC and in the diocese. Likewise, both TEC and the diocese derived benefit from the people in the congregation.

I propose that we let congregations share the property. Many congregations have multiple services on Sunday mornings. Let the congregation that has the most people attending pick their time and then let the smaller congregation have an alternate time. For major feast days that don't have multiple services (such as Maundy Thursday or the Great Vigil), develop some plan to share the space and have one service. Plan to do things such as mission or outreach work with both congregations.

Rather that buring the earth and sowing salt there, let's let Charity and forebearance rule our hearts.

Anger and hatred make great defenses against God's transforming love.

Phil Snyder

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dec 25th - Consumermass

We are a society of consumers. We are not materialists, but functionalists. We really don't care care about material things but we care about what they can do for us. This has two major impacts on our spiritual lives.

First, it gets us to spend a lot of time and money aquiring stuff in the hopes that they can make us happy. This is money that we cannot save and time we cannot be in ministry. The truth is that only God can make us happy.

Second, we spend a lot of time with our stuff trying to get it to make us happy. Again, only God alone is our source of true happiness.

It seems that Christmas has become more and more about stuff and less and less about Jesus. It seems that every year, "Christmas" (or, more accurately "Consumermass") starts earlier and earlier. We saw Consumermass items in Sams around Labor day this year!

Now, I am as guilty of running after the latest gadget and buying stuff as the next person. So, what is the antidote? I believe the best antidote is prayer and meditation. "For God alone, my soul in silence waits (Pslam 62:1)"

Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time of preparation. To aid the handful of people who read this blog in their preparation, I offer the following link:

O Come, O Come


Phil Snyder

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Evangelism within the Church

The dismissal at my home parish of St. James is a bit different.

We process to the back of the church and then I peel off and return to just before the chancel steps. After the final hymn, I then walk up the aisle reciting the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them: "All authority in heave and on earth has
been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always,
to the close of the age."

Oddly enough, one of the hardest places to make disciples is in the Church. We have a lot of people who are interested in becoming members but not too many are interested in being disciples. I find it odd that it is actually easier to make disciples in prison than it is among may church members.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that too many people in the "free world" (as the Kairos inmates call it) don't recognize their need for Jesus. They think they have it pretty good. They are like Job who guaged his relationship with God by his wealth, family, and friends. As Job said in his final statement to God: "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I dispise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6).

Too many people in our churches know God only through the "hearing of the ear." They love God and want to know that God loves them. But they don' t need God. They don't need to be changed - only improved a bit. They don't need a savior; they need a "life coach" who will help them to become their true selves.

How do we combat this attitude? I believe it is at the heart of the problem with the Episcopal Church. Too many people see themselves as good people who just need to do a little work to improve themselves. They need to 12 step out of their destructive behaviors.

As C. S. Lewis said, the reality is that we are not good people who need to improve. We are rebels who need to lay down our arms.

In prison, I meet many men who are ready to surrender. Their "true selves" have betrayed them and they are defeated. Like any defeated army, they have two choices - surrender or death. Is it any wonder they chose surrender?

So, do any of you have any suggestions on how we can move people from membership to discipleship?

Phil Snyder

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Inside "Strategy"

I have been fighting a battle within myself regarding the Episcopal Church and the fact that the majority of its leaders - Bishops and General Convention delegates - support unchristian acts such as blessing sins, sueing (other) Christians, and redefining the faith. I believe that the majority of the HoB ranges from heterodox, to heretical to actually apostate.

So, what should I do about it? I long for a Church where the Gospel is unashamedly proclaimed and where the faith is lived out courageously and where others are brought to faith in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But I won't find such a Church on earth. Every congregation and diocese and province has its problems. While the Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ (as we hear in that wonderful hymn) we also know that the Church has been "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed." Our great heroes of th efaith, from Anthony through Athanasius, the Capodicians, Ratramnus and Radburtus, Benedict, Anselm, Dominic, Francis, Aquinas, Luther, Cramner, Latimer, Ridley, Hooker, Jewel, Wesley, Pusey, and a host of others have all found the problem of heresies in the Church. The problem is not that the Church is beset by heresy. It has always been beset by heresy. The problem is that we lack the discipline to do anything about it in TEC. And because we lacked that discipline in the past, we are in a place where "discipline" is being taken against the orthodox believers.

The conservatives' fight for the soul of TEC has been lost.

So, part of me wants to depart of a place where this is not the case. To a place where conservatives win the day and where I don't have to say "I am an Episcopalian... but a different kind of one."

But, I am convince that God wants me to stay in TEC. I know that I cannot win the battle. Banding together with other conservatives will not even win the battle. But God has shown me that winning the battle is not my job! My job is not success. It is faithfulness. The battle is not mine. It is the Lord's.

The inside "strategy" is not a political one where we hope to overthrow the liberal/revisionist/reappraiser hierarchy. It is a strategy where we band together for mutual support in our faithfulness to the faith delivered to us. My strategy is to be emptied (=kenosis)
of my desire to win and to accept that God has other plans for me rather than victory in this life. The strategy is to be faithful to God and be a faithful witness to God's power to make new. Even when we lose politically and even when we suffer for the Gospel, we are to be faithful. Even in the midst of a people of unclean lips, we are to be faithful. Even when the whole house of TEC plays the harlot and worships at the altar of society, we are to be faithful. Even when God calls TEC "not my people," we are to be faithful.

My strategy is faithfulness in the face of opposition and faithlessness. I am not called to win. I am called to witness.

Phil Snyder

Monday, December 01, 2008

Buying a Sports Car

I read this post by Fr. Nathan Humphrey about remaining in relationship even when we think the other person is wrong. This post is in repsonse to that idea. If it were just that the reappraisers/liberals/progressives had wrong ideas, we would not be in this situation today. If all there were happening were listening and dialogue, then there would be problems, yes, but I doubt if the schism we are seeing today would be as big an issue.

Consider, if you will, the case of a husband and wife discussing the purchase of a new sports-car. The wife is dead set against it for several reasons, but is willing to be persuaded by the husband. She has several reasons, but the major reason is that they cannot afford the car. Still, they have been talking about a new car (and the husband suggesting a new sports car) for a long time.

One evening, while the wife is out doing something else, the husband purchases the sports car he wants. He tells his wife that he has been "in discernment" about this car for a while and doesn't undertstand the wife's anger.

Can you imagine the wife's reaction when the husband wants to continue to discuss the purchase of a new sports car?

Finally, if the husband has a habit of spending money that the family cannot afford, then the wife may have to divorce him to save the children - especially if the husband will not curb his spending and refuses to acknowledge that he is putting the family in danger.

I am not advocating schism, but a return to the status quo ante. If we are going to continue to discern whether God blesses homosexual sex or if the Church should ordain people who are engage in homosexual relationships, then we should first discuss it and then act when we have consensus. Don't buy the sports car and then ask for continued dialogue on the subject.

Phil Snyder