Monday, June 30, 2008

Update on Elizabeth - the Power of Prayer

This will probably be my last update on my daughter, Elizabeth for a while. She's been back to the doctor twice and is making good progress. She is doing more for herself than I anticipated and wants to push her own wheel chair around.

My biggest news is that my biggest fear (that she would get addicted to the pain medication) was completely unfounded! God answered our prayers in that Elizabeth didn't experience more pain than she could bear. In fact, she was completely off the pain medication within 10 days!

Thank you all for your prayers for Elizabeth. They have been a blessing to us and to her.

It'll be a few more weeks before she can put any weight on the foot and I'll try to remember to update you all then.

Phil Snyder

The Presiding Bishop's "Emission" - My first "Fisking."

The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA has issued a statement about the GAFCON statement. My intent in this post is to point out the errors in her statement and not to be as dismissive of her as a person as she is to the people who developed the GAFCON statement.

(edited to add the whole statement) - First is the statement and then I will "fisk" it line by line or section by section.

Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON.
Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement
does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a
centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only
true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve
the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships
with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the
influence of the gospel. We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth
Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational

Now the section by section response (end of addition to new post):
Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from

On the face of it, this is a true statement or at least not a demonstrably false one. I would guess about 5% of the Anglican Communion "laments" the GAFCON Statement. I also wonder about the title "emission." Why not talk about the "statement" from GAFCON or the GAFCON Declaration. ISTM that +Schori is belittling the statement from the beginning.

Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable.
While it is true that Anglicanism is "broader than some find comfortable," it is also true that it has boundries. Traditionally, those boundries were found in the Book of Common Prayer and in the 39 Articles. Also, the boundries were found in the Creeds, Holy Scripture, and the first 4 (or 7) Ecumenical councils of the Church. while TECUSA has not yet officially crossed these boundries, many of the Clergy (including +KJS) have crossed them and no discipline has been forthcomming.

This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another
chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider
themselves the only true believers.
First, the statement does not pretend to represent the "end of Anglicanism." That is a rather nasty red herring. Second, the delegates at GAFCON do not think themselves the only "true" believers. They are not struggling for dominance. They are witnessing to the historical and universal teaching of the Church, catholic. It seems odd that +KJS would say that others "consider themselves the only true believers" when she is quite willing to depose bishops without following the canons, replace standing committees without canonical authority and call for diocesan special conventions that don't follow the canons or constitution of either TECUSA or the diocese in question. +KJS seems to be willing to risk a large portion of the wealth of TECUSA on lawsuits and does not seem alarmed at the drastic fall in TECUSA's ASA or the crisis in the Anglican Communion - so long as she and those that agree with her are allowed to continue on their path. These are the actions of someone who is assured of her own rightness and righteousness and that everyone who disagrees with her is wrong. These are the actions of a person who things she (and those like her) are "the only true believers."

Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry
and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others
across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of
the gospel.
I notice no mention of making disciples for Jesus Christ. There is nothing about being made new in Jesus Christ. There is nothing about submitting to God's will or trying to learn God's will. From what I can see, the GAFCON leaders are broadening the influence of the Gospel because they are changing their societies with its message and power. TECUSA is the one narrowing the "influence of the gospel (sic)." They are narrowing their influence to a small and shrinking subset of society. They are presenting a gospel of self acceptance and self actualization, not one of dying to self to be raised to New Life. Bishop Schori - to see who is narrowing the Gospel's influence, look in the mirror.

We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive
conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.

I too look forward to Lambeth and pray that God's Holy Spirit will come with great power on the Bishops assembled. C.S. Lewis once said that it is harder to convert those who think they know the truth than those who recognize that they do not. It is harder to convert a Sunday only Christian who thinks he's got a pretty good life than it is to convert a person who realized that he is in a bad way and needs help. I pray that God will work to convert those who don't recognize their need of Him at Lambeth.

Phil Snyder

Reorganizing the Anglican Consutative Council

The Episcopal Church, USA claims to have a unique polity being, at the same time, democratic and hierarchical. They claim that the laity as well as bishops, priests, and deacons should have a say in the governance of the Church and I agree that the laity should have a voice in the governance of the Church. I do not believe that the voice of the laity should be as strong when it comes to the teaching of the Church (other than to object when the clergy go astray) but that's another post.

Anyway, TECUSA claims that the only really authoritative voice in the Anglican Communion is the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) because it is composed of laity as well as clergy.

The problem is that the ACC is not representative of the Anglican Communion as a whole. It's membership was determined in the 60s based on wealth and on perceived influence. Today, the whole picture of membership in the Anglican Communion has changed. Whereas in the 60s, the average Anglican was a white european person living in either England, Australia, or North America, today the average Anglican is a poor black woman living in Africa. We need to update the structure of the ACC to account for this.

Therefore I propose the following. First, we split the ACC into two houses (like the USA's General Convention). The first house will be composed of bishops, priests, deacons, and laity appointed by their provinces by what ever means the province chooses. That is the way it is done today, but that we change the apportionment of delegates from a constitutionally fixed number to a number based on Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). Thus, the largest provinces in terms of ASA will get the largest voice in matters that pertain to communion governance. To start with, I suggest that you get one member for every 800,000 ASA or portion thereof. Thus, TECUSA will have two members. Nigeria (with 18 million members and, with the assumption of 30% ASA, 5.4 million ASA) will get 7 or 8 members. Uganda (8 million members, 2.4 million ASA) will get 3 or 4 members.

The second house will be composed of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and will serve to either ratify or veto the resolutions of the ACC delegates. For matters that pertain purely to governance (budgets, province membership, etc) it will take 2/3 majority of the primates to veto a proposal of the delegates. For matters pertaining to the faith or practice of the Church (e.g. can homosexual unions be blessed), it will take only a simple majority of the Primates to veto the delegates.

Surely TECUSA cannot object to this proposal as it makes the ACC a much more democratic institution and mirrors our own General Convention and our the republican structure of our own government.

Phil Snyder

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Baptismal Covnent – Proclaim by Example

In my last post on the Baptismal Covenant I discussed the promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” with particular emphasis on proclaiming by word.

Today I would like to discuss the need to proclaim our faith by our deeds. St. Francis of Assisi said something like “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” As a person who likes words (and particularly my own words J) this is something I struggle with. But God is good and faithful and He keeps putting me into situations where I have to use my actions.

Yesterday was a Kairos weekend reunion. There were about 7 “Brothers in Color” that met with about 100 “Brothers in White.” During these weekends, I spend a lot of time proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ by doing something that doesn’t happen much in prison – listening. I listen to the brothers and pray with them and demonstrate God’s love to them by being there for them.

Every Christian should have a minimum of two ministries that build up the Body of Christ. One should be a ministry within the Church. This can take the form of teaching Sunday School, serving as an Acolyte or in the choir or as a Lay Reader or Lay Eucharistic Minister. The service in the Church proclaims the Good News by serving others within the Church. It builds up the Body of Christ by helping others worship or learn about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

The second ministry is a ministry from the Church. This is a ministry to those who are not yet members of the Church. Prison ministry can take this form (although many profess Jesus Christ in the prison, there are those who don’t yet know Him). Ministry to the homeless, to hospitals, to the poor, mission trips to other countries all take this second form of proclamation by example. I like to think of this proclamation as “covert evangelism” where we are spreading the good news but not doing it overtly.

This brings me to an important point. We don’t “save” anyone and we don’t “convert” anyone. We don’t even bring people to faith or get them to make a commitment or to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. All those tasks belong to the Holy Spirit, not to us. We may have the joy of being there when someone is moved by the Holy Spirit to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. We may be there when God acts on that persons heart and we may be an instrument of God’s action, but we are not the actor – God is. A friend of mine once said: “Conversion is a Management responsibility. I work in sales.” We all work in sales and a large part of sales is building a relationship. Proclamation by work and example are part of the sales process.

Another part of proclamation by example is how we live our lives. Are we filled with God’s joy or are we depressed and cynical? Do we overcome obstacles and endure suffering well or are we complainers who whine that the world is not fair? How we live will say a lot about our example.

My father was an Air Force officer. When I was in college, I was in Air Force ROTC with the goal of becoming an Air Force Officer myself. My dad asked me if I wanted to lead by example and I said: “Of course I do!” My dad said: "Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news. The good news is that you will lead by example. The bad news is that you have no choice. The men and women you lead will follow your example - not what you say."

Like many things my father told me, I find this to be true. We all lead by example. What does your example say about the Good News of God in Christ?

Phil Snyder

GAFCON - My Take

Well, it seems that, despite the prewritten and preconceived notions of the progressives and the mainstream press, the GAFCON conference did not split from Canterbury. The statement from GAFCON was very straight forward and correctly diagnosed the issue – not as one of lax or differing morality, but as one of authority: “
This false gospel undermines the authority of God’s Word written and the
uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the author of salvation from sin, death and
This problem of authority in doctrine and the teaching of doctrine contrary to the source of authority has led to a problem of authority in the political organization of the Church. This is seen with the congregations and dioceses that have left TEC and asked for Episcopal oversight from Africa, Asia, or South America.

Those of you who know me know that I am what is termed a “communion conservative.” I believe that the best solution to this crisis of authority is for the Anglican Communion as a whole to exercise its authority to discipline those provinces and bishops who are acting against the expressed teachings of the Communion. But, it seems that there is no agreed on way for this to occur. I was deeply disappointed when Archbishop Williams invited the American bishops who have defied the Communion by ordaining +Robinson or by allowing same sex blessings in their dioceses. I have less hope for Lambeth, but there is some hope there. I was saddened when Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda refused to go to Lambeth. I am heartened that +Jensen, +Venables, and others are going to Lambeth and will stand for the Faith that has been entrusted to us by the Church triumphant and by the Triune God.

If the Common Cause Partners are acknowledged as a legitimate province of the Anglican Communion (and I pray that they will be), that would be an excellent solution to the problem. How TECUSA will deal with that reality is a different issue (and another blog post).

I believe that GAFCON offers us a way forward – perhaps the best way forward.

In my next post, I plan to propose a new organization for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

Please pray for the Anglican Communion and for its leadership. Pray for +Williams, +Schori, and all the Bishops who meet at Lambeth. Pray that the Holy Spirit will break stone hearts and free minds trapped by their own ideas and our secular society.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sin, Inclusion, and Distraction

Many progressives are asking for "full inclusion" in the Church for persons with homosexual orientation.

I ask, what excludes you now? I don't know of any Episcopal Church that excludes homosexuals simply because they are homosexual.

What we are seeing now is a distraction. It is one of the oldest tricks - both rhetorically and by magicians.

We start out with a true premise. "All people, by virtue of their baptism, are full members of the Church and should not be excluded from the sacraments." That is true. I affirm that and so does every other reasserter I know.

The next statement, those, is false. "Therefore, we should bless homosexual unions." This false because homosexual sex is sinful. The Church has maintained this stance for all of its history and it is still the official teaching of the Anglican Communion and the Church catholic. TECUSA lacks the authority to bless homosexual unions. It lacks the authority to recognize homosexual "marriages" as sacramental and it shows poor judgement in ordaining men or women who disagree with the teaching of the Church into positions of leadership in the Church.

The problem is that the Church cannot bless anything on its own authority. Priests do not bless or absolve or consecrate on their own authority. Priests are conduits of God's grace and authority, not arbiters of it or originators of it.

So, I affirm the full inclusion of homosexual men and women into the life of the Church. I welcome them to join us in the struggle against sin and the fight for a right relationship with God.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who are the Schismatics?

In my previous post on GafCon, I speak of the necessity of avoiding schism. This leads us to a big question: Who are the schismatics?

In TECUSA, those who have placed themselves under the leadership of bishops answerable to Africa or South America are labled the schismatics and, from TECUSA's point of view, this is true.

But lets consider the whole Church - or at least the whole Anglican Communion. I doubt very much if we will attain sacramental union with Rome or Contstantinople any time soon (particularly on our current theological trajectory). Anyway, when we consider the whole communion, the ones who are walking apart from the rest of the communion are the ones who have changed the faith and practice of the Church.

Consider this anology. In the US Civil War, the state of Virginia voted to leave the union. It was a slave state and didn't like the Federal Government telling it what to do. However, several counties in Virginia voted to remain in the union. They formed the new state of West Virginia. This state remained separate even after Virginia rejoined the union. So, who were the "schismatics?" From the unions standpoint, the schismatics are the people of Virinia who insisted on their own autonomy and the people who formed West Virginia were loyal American citizens who desired to stay in the union. For the people of Virginia, those in West Virginia were the schismatics who would not support their fellow Virginians and wanted outside intereference in their daily lives.

The majority of bishops and clergy in TECUSA want to bless same sex unions and call homosexual sex "holy" in certain cases. This is against the teaching of the Communion. To act on this teaching against expressed will of the communion and against the knowledge that the actions will tear the fabric of the communion (and "schism" means to tear the fabric) is not to act prophetically. It is to act schismatically. The true schismatics in the Anglican Communion are those bishops and priests (and deacons and laity who support them) who bless same sex unions or participate in the ordination of men and women involved in same sex unions.

Phil Snyder


I haven't written much on GafCon or on the inside v outside strategy for the crisis in the Anglican Communion and TECUSA's part in that crisis.

First, I support the "inside" strategy. This strategy says that we should reform the Episcopal Church from within. I have the luxury of that strategy for a few reasons.

  1. Neither my living nor my pension depend on TECUSA. I receive no pay and very little in the way of expenses to serve as a deacon.
  2. My parish (St. James, Dallas) is a very orthodox place with biblically based preaching and teaching. There is no confusion where we stand on the issue of authority.
  3. My diocese (The Diocese of Dallas) is a very orthodox diocese with a wonderful Bishop and diocesan staff. As a diocese, we send no money to the national church. Individual parishes do that, (but mine doesn't) but the diocese does not and has not for several years.
  4. I am in no way persecuted for my beliefs. It is not hard to be an orthodox Anglican in this parish or diocese.
However, I can understand the need for an "outside" strategy where people in theologically progressive dioceses or parishes may need to break out to combat the heresy. These people need clergy to support and lead them and the clergy should be well trained and understand the issue.

If we take the Global Anglican Future CONference at its word, they are not working to create a separate Anglican Communion. They are working to reform the communion from within. I can support that. I can also support the Common Cause partnership that includes both TECUSA as well as "Continuing Anglican" congregations. The goal is the same - a theologically orthodox, unified Anglican witness in North America that is part of the global Anglican Communion.

But there is a large problem with the "outside" strategy. Those that leave have not left for a unified outside strategy. There are congregations and dioceses associated with Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South East Asia, and South America. That does not even include the "Continuing Anglicans" that formed several different churches during the 70s and 80s in response to Women's Ordination. Those who engage in the outside strategy need to make it clear that these congregations and dioceses will reform into one witness by a date certain and that any parishes or dioceses that refuse to from into one witness with one house of bishops and a single primate will no longer be supported by their current bishop or primate. There needs to be a plan for the lifeboats to get back together and either build their own ship as part of the Anglican Fleet (ideally) or rejoin the effort to rescue or raise the good ship TECUSA.

As I said before, I believe that one of the largest problems with the outside strategy is that it arises from our individualism and lack of patience.

Anthony didn't start a new church when he found the church too corrupted by society.
Athanasius didn't start a new church when he found the church's theology to bring death and not life.
The Capadocians didn't start a new church when the church declared itself Arian.
Ratramnus didn't start a new church over sacramental theology
Dominic didn't start a new church when the people and clergy grew to lax
Francis didn't start a new church when the people and the clergy grew to rich and indolent
Luther didn't set out to start a new church, but to reform the existing one (and it took a long time, but he was basically successful).

We need to be very careful to be sure to create a way forward for all those who wish to continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship. Breaking fellowship is a very serious step. Almost all heresies have been successfully fought off (over time). To the best of my knowledge, no schism has.

Phil Snyder

Monday, June 23, 2008

Freudian Slip

I'm in the middle of writing some specifications for a program that I need to write for my customer in Tampa Florida.

There is a database word, "schema" which can indicate many things (normally, it indicates the overall layout of the tables in the database). In this case, it indicates the owner of the database tables. The customer is unsure in which schema I will be creating the tables I need for the program.

So, in the specs, I'm writing "SCHEMA.TABLE_NAME" (e.g "SCHEMA.RUN_CONTROL") so I have a place holder for when the customer determines in which schema the table will be created.

However, when I looked at the document, I noticed that I wrote "SHEMA.RUN_CONTROL." "Schema" is the Jewish word for "hear" and it is used of the phrase "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One."

I guess this is one of the hazards of writing technical specs with a religious education.


Phil Snyder

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part 4

Continuing in our discussion of the Baptismal Covenant, we come to the third question:

Q: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
A: I will with God’s help.

I’m not sure if we all realized that we promised to be evangelists! Each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant (and we do that at every baptism!) we promise that we will tell others about the Good News of God in Christ! We also promise that our lives will show forth the Good News of God in Christ! Note that is promise is not an ordination promise. It is not the bishops, priests, or deacons who are to proclaim and live the Good News; it is all baptized Christians!

So, this brings up a good question. What is the Good News of God in Christ? Just what is it that we are supposed to proclaim by word and example? Well, that is not really a suitable subject for a blog post, but I’ll take a crack at it.

God loves us so much that He became incarnate (as the Second Person of the Trinity) to free us from the powers of sin and death. God loves us so much that He became one of us to both pay the penalty for our sins - to pay a debt we owe – and to defeat death and sin by subjecting himself to their power and then defeating it. God desires us to have a life qualitatively like His own Life. God doesn’t want to make us better; He wants to make us new. God wants to give us the divine life that we try to grasp by our own sinfulness.

That is the good news! God wants to give us, freely give us, something that is infinitely better than anything we can ask or desire for ourselves. God wants to give us Himself. We were not created to be individuals who are concerned with their own welfare or their own rights or their own good. We were created to be persons whose common life together reflects the inward life of the Holy Trinity and, even when we run from that kind of life or try to bring about that life through our own power or our own strength, God continues to pursue us to invite us into communion with Him, with the Holy Trinity and – thus – with each other.

Now, an interesting point, is that we only know what the Good News is by continuing in the Apostles’ teaching. The best example of that is found by remaining in the Apostles’ fellowship. Breaking fellowship is not living a life that reflects the life of the Holy Trinity..

So, if that is the Good News of God in Christ, how, then, are we to proclaim it? Well, we proclaim it in two ways – by word (speaking) and example (living). In order to keep our Baptismal Covenant, we need to be evangelists in word and example.

So, let’s discuss word first. Just about every Christian I know is afraid of evangelism. Why is that? Well, I think it is for two primary reasons. First, there is the natural fear of rejection. What if we offer ourselves and we are rejected? What if people laugh at us? What if they ask questions that we can’t answer? What if we are wrong? What if we really blow it?

All these are real fears and we need to be aware of them. People don’t like answering the door when the evangelists come by, so they are afraid that being an evangelist will force them to go door to door asking people if they died are they sure they would go to heaven.

First, let me make one thing clear. We do not save anybody. We don’t bring people to faith. We don’t convert anyone. That’s God’s job. Our job is to simply share what God has done and is doing with us. Something every Christian should do from time to time is to write a “spiritual autobiography.” This is your story of your life and how God has acted in it. Try this, if you haven't already. Look at your life and see where God has acted to save you from yourself. Share this with Christian friends at first and then with non-Christian friends. You don’t have to get them to commit or to sign or to pray. You just have to proclaim by word the Good News of God in Christ.

The second major reason is that the worst sin our society tells us we can commit is the sin of hypocrisy. We are afraid of being (or being called) hypocrites. When I go to prison, the men there tell me that they hate hypocrites more than anything else. When I share that I am a hypocrite, they are somewhat taken aback. We are all hypocrites! We all want to be thought of as better than we are! If you are sharing what God as done in your life and how God wants us all to live and realize that you don’t live up to that yourself, then aren’t you a hypocrite? Well, in one sense you are. We propose a standard and can’t live up to it. But, on the other hand, you realize that and to pretend to live up to the standard. As long as you are honest that you don’t live up to that standard even when you recognize it to be the standard, you are not really being a hypocrite.

This post has gone on a little longer than I planned. What we have to recognize I that we must be evangelists to fulfill our baptismal covenant. Evangelism is not optional nor a calling for professionals or clergy. It is the task of all baptized Christians.

In part 5, we will talk about proclaiming the Good News by example of life.

Phil Snyder

The Baptismal Covenant - part 3b

I'm sitting here in the Tampa airport and contemplating my next post and I realized that I didn't get something into the last post on perserving in resisting evil and repenting and returning to God.

The question of evil is a very difficlut one. We often think of Evil as a force opposed to God. Often we think that there are those who are out to serve "evil." (whatever that is.)

As I said earlier, evil is twisted good. it is a good twisted out of proper proportion. It is something created by God as "good" but put to ends that do not serve God, but serve the creation (generally ourselves) instead.

We've all heard the phrase "perception is reality." To that I say "Wrong!!!!!" Perception is not reality. Reality is reality. God (the author of reality) alone determines what is real and what is not. We participate in reality when we are in union with God. The problem with evil or sin (and sin and evil can be strong synonymns) is that it is an action or thought based in unreality. It is based on the lie that we know ourselves better than God and that we know better for ourselves than God does. So, sin and evil is unreal living. It living in a lie. Perception is not reality. Reality is Reality and the difference between our perception and Reality is commonly called "sin."

On the other hand, we can only know reality through our perception. If our perception is sufficiently twisted by sin, we end up worshipping a false God - that is idolatry. And here is the worse news. Left to ourselves, we all worship a false God - and that God looks and sounds and thinks very much like we do.

One of my "guilty pleasure" movies is a 1980s movie called "Yellowbeard." It stared Cheech and Chong as well as Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Marty Feldman, and Madeline Khan. In the movie, Tommy Chong is a Spanish Conquistadore Captain who plunders a rather rich treasure. His ship's chaplain says that the King of Spain will be very proud of the Captain when he receives the booty. Tommy Chong replies that such a treasure is to great for the King of Spain. It is meant for God along. After all, "who is more important? The King of Spain (pointing away) or God (pointing first to himself and after a moment, pointing upwards)?"

We all ask that same question and point to ourselves when speaking of God.

We are trapped in our perception. We need to be broken free from our perception so we can get a clearer glimpse of Reality. This what repentance does for us. Repentance is begun by God acting in our hearts and minds to let us see that our perception is hurtful to ourselves and to others. Our perception is twisted and sick and needs to be put right - to be justified.

Repentance is not possible without God's spirit working in us.

So, the question for this weekend is "how is your perception twisted? How is the reality that you perceive different from God's Reality?" And, after you have asked God to help you answer that question, the next question is what are you going to do about it?

Phil Snyder

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part 3

First, I am sorry this is so long in coming. I’ve been extraordinarily busy at work, at home, and in my church life. Thank you all for your prayers for my daughter. She has been without any pain medication since Sunday and she even returned to Church on Sunday. She is evidence of the power of prayer.

In Part 1, we learned that the Baptismal Covenant included trusting in the statements of faith in the Apostles’ Creed. This includes the Virgin Birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus (and us as well), that Jesus was human, born, died, and descended to the place of the dead (hell). Those who do not believe in the physical resurrection or the virgin birth or the Trinity have broken their baptismal covenant. An additional note is the this creed is still in “I” form. The language is first person, singular. I’ve heard priests say that the Nicene Creed (in the “We Believe” language) speaks of the faith of the Church, not necessarily the celebrants’ or speaker’s faith. To which I reply, if you don’t believe what the Church believes, then why do you seek to lead the Church in its statement of belief?

In Part 2, we promise to continue to teach and live and believe what the Apostles taught. We also promised not to split the Church. What do we do when the Church refuses to discipline itself? That is a thorny issue. But I believe that the action of splitting to find pure faith is misguided because you will not find it. We also promised to continue in the Breaking of the Bread and in the prayers. The First Promise is first for a reason. It underlies all other promises.

In this part, we will look at what we have to do when we don’t keep the First Promise. The second promise is “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

This brings up two questions. First, when what is evil? How do we know what to resist? That is why the Apostles’ teaching is so important. We know what evil is by knowing what the Apostles taught about it. We know evil because of what the Church has passed on to us. To put it simply, evil is good out of proportion or twisted. Food is good. Eating too much or eating out of proportion is evil. Sex is good, too much sex or sex outside of marriage is evil. Strength is good. Using our strength to impose our will on someone else is evil. Material things are good. Acquiring material things to the detriment of prayer or charity or spending time with others is evil.

The problem is the evil has a very negative connotation. We don’t want to think of ourselves as “evil,” but we are. We, in our “natural” state, desire to be like God ourselves. We want to make the decisions and have the world revolve around us. If you doubt this just watch a small child that doesn’t get his way or watch a teenager when the latest “crisis” hits. We really believe, in our heart of hearts, that we deserve the best and are good people who should get our way. We are, all too often, self-focused.

But we promise to persevere in resisting evil. It is a struggle and we must develop the spiritual muscle to continue it. But when we fail, what then? When we realize that we have given in to evil – when we have sinned (and note, the question is not if you fall into sin, but whenever you fall into sin), what do we do? We promise to repent and return to the Lord.

This means that we have to repent. The Greek word is metanoeo and it means more than to say “I’m sorry.” It actually means to turn around – to acquire a new mind. Repentance is both a journey and an event. It requires us to turn from the evil that we are doing and to ask God to show us the way back. It can be painful because true repentance requires confession – not just to God, but to those whom we have harmed (if possible). It also involves a willingness to make restitution for the sins we’ve committed against other. At first glance, repentance is hard work – and it is if we try to attempt it ourselves with our own strength and power. But there is good news! God is there with us when we start to repent. All He needs is for us to say “I will leave this place and go to my father and say…” At that instant, God is with us, helping us to complete the statement and willing to aid us in actually leaving the far country of the younger son.

So, first we promise to continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, but we know we won’t because our second promise is to repent and return to God when we break the first promise. When we fall and God helps us back up, we are empowered more to keep our third promise, but that’s yet another post.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Bit Slow

I realize that my posting here has been a bit slow. First, I'm teaching a class at my parish on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. (who's actual name was Inigo - I can imagine him speaking to the demons: "I am Inigo Loyola. You killed my father's soul. Prepare to die!")

As I mentioned yesterday, I had to prepare a memorial service and sermon for a coworker. On top of all this, my sister came to visit over the weekend and I had to spend time with her.

Finally work has stepped up. I'm travelling to Tampa FL this week and next to help a customer with a programming issue. If anyone in the Tampa area is interested in getting together, either leave a comment (with an email address) or email me at Philip_L_Snyder atsign yahoo dot com.

I will try to continue my posts on the Baptismal Covenant on the plane today and post it tonight to the blog.

Phil Snyder

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Liturgical First (for me, anyway)

On June 6, a co-worker of mine, Kevin, died as a result of a terrible car accident. He was just shy of four months older than me. Kevin lived and worked in Utah. Last Monday, my boss, Rosemary, said that the CIO for my part of Perot Systems (my employer/day job) wanted someone to do a memorial service and asked me if I would be willing to do one. I indicated that I would be glad to put something together, provided that I could make it a Christian service and not hold back from mentioning the Christian approach to grief and the Christian Hope. Kevin was a strong Christian and his faith (and the faith of his wife) was evident in the Caring Bridge posts that I read about Kevin. I also asked for and received the permission of my bishop to do the service. One thing about deacons is that we have very little authority of our own. All our authority is derived from another source. While I did not think there would be a problem, I wanted to be sure, so I checked.

The service was held today. About 10 members of Kevin's family showed up. These family members live in the Dallas area and could not make it to Utah for Kevin's memorial service at his home church.

I spoke with Kevin's wife and a few other people about Kevin's favorite songs, his favorite scriptures and other things. I then put together a service that honored Kevin's faith and would be a "basic" Christian service. We sang Amazing Grace, read Romans 8:28-39, John 10:11-16, and I preached about a 8 min sermon about where God is in grief and tragedy, what the Christian Hope is, and about giving thanks to God for letting us know Kevin.

All that is pretty normal and happens all the time. But the interesting thing was that this happened at a Fortune 500 company with the approval and participation of senior management. Furthermore, and this is the really odd thing, about 30 people joined us for the service via conference call and netmeeting. The service wasn't webcast (that's been done thousands of times), but we had a conference call circut and people from India and across the US participated in the service - particularly when I asked for people willing to share their stories of Kevin.

Please pray for the soul of Kevin and for his family in their grief.

Phil Snyder

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part Two

In Part 1 on the baptismal covenant, I mentionted that the covenant was in two parts and discussed that the first part was a subscription to generally orthodox faith by answering the Apostles' Creed affirmatively. We mentioned that those who do not believe what the Apostles' Creed asserts are not living in the baptismal covenant. This includes the Virgin Birth, the physical Resurrection of Jesus and us, the Holy Spirit being fully God and the communion of saints.

The second part concerns praxis - how we live the faith we attested to in part one. This essay will talk about the first question.

Q: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers.
A: I will with God's help.

The question comes straight from Acts 2:42. There are four promises
1. To continue in the Apostles' teaching. We will teach and believe what the Apostles taught and believed in essentials. So, how do we know what the Apostles taught and what is essential and what isn't. First the teaching of the Apostles is contained in two sources. The first is Holy Scripture. The New Testament contains what the Apostles taught. The second is Holy Tradition. This is passed on by the successors of the Apostles - the Bishops. Today, there are thousands of bishops who exist in Apostolic Succession - the idea that bishops are made bishops by those where made bishops by bishops reaching back to the Apostles and then to Jesus Christ. So, what if bishops are in conflict? (Imagine that!) As +Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole truth. When bishops meet in conference to decide issues of the Faith, we need to listen to them. The larger the gathering, the more we should listen. If the Bishops' voice says that this is essential, then it probably is. If it says that that is sinful, then it probably is.
2. To continue in the Apostles' fellowship. Splitting the Church is wrong. It is farily common today to say "Schism is worse than Heresy." This is true (and like all falsehoods is only partially true). Why is that? It is because Heresy is schism. Heresy causes schism. In today's Episcopal Church, we have a dilema. We have a lot of heretics teaching heresy and acting on that teaching. What they are teaching and doing is contrary to the Apostles' teaching (see #1). They are not being disciplined by the Church and that is wrong. So, is the answer to leave the Church to find a more "pure" church? No! That way leads to a Church of one because you will constantly be splitting. As witness, see the plethora of "life boat" churches (Kenya, Southern Cone, Uganda, Nigeria et. al.) that seem to be drifting further and further apart. Also witness what I call the Alphabet Soup of the Continuing Anglican movement from the 1970s and 80s. What started out as a unified witness to classical Anglicanism, devolved into a host of small, disconnected churches. I'm aware of one congregation in the Dallas area that has three bishops and a priest. I doubt that the congregation is over 2000 ASA. So splitting to find purity is not the answer? What is? Well, that's another post, but our Baptismal Covenant forbids both heresy and schism.
3. The breaking of the Bread - this is commonly (at least in sacramental Churches) considered to be Holy Communion or Eucharist. We promise that we will maintian our vital link with Jesus through his self-giving of his Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
4. The prayers. Christians are to be people of prayer. Prayer is our vital link with God and with the whole Church. All too often we take up the worlds' weapons to fight the world. We rely on political strategizing, money, power poltics, "controlling the message" (spin) and other things to win. While these are often useful tools, the most important tool for the renewal of the Church is to get people in communication with God through prayer.

In my next post on this topic, we will discuss what we do if we cannot live up to the Apostles' Creed or to pomise #1.

Phil Snyder

Part 3 here

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Love or Hatred?

With a solemn bow (as opposed to a tip of the hat) to Fr. Jake I read this piece by Greg Jones about a mother who won't let her son be healed in Israel

Isaw an article about an interesting group. Brothers Together is a group working to help poor Muslim children get the special surgeries they need in Israeli hospitals, the best in the Middle East by far. Brothers Together has sent more than 80 Muslim children from Arab countries all over the Middle East to Israel for life-saving surgeries in the past few years.

Their motivation? A spokesman says: "Our work is motivated by faith and obedience to Jesus... We believe that the love of God is freely offered unconditionally to all people." He says a Muslim child dying from a heart condition should have the same access to medical care as Jewish or Christian kids.

Sounds so good. But there's a glitch. In the news lately there's been a focus on some 14 Muslim children who were on their way to Israel thanks to Brothers Together - who were ultimately not permitted to go -- by their own parents and nations. One mother of a six-year old Iraqi boy with a hole in his heart that needs repair said she couldn't let him enter Israel to receive the healing he was offered -- because she just hates Israel too much. She says she has an innate, inbred hatred of Israel -- she cannot let her enemy heal her son.

Now to our American eyes and hearts, we find this mother's actions to be reprehensible. When I first read this, I was angry at the mother and at the society that filled her with such hate.

Then I remembered much Thursday night and Friday morning at a normal Kairos weekend. We are greeted with suspicion about what we want from the inmates. They've heard about this group and what a wonderful weekend that they will have, but they still don't quite believe that we won't ask for something - anything in return.

The way of the World (which we renounced in our baptism) is to never give something for nothing. Even if we don't ask for something in return now we usually save the gift up to call in a favor in the future. So when some else offers us something free, we wonder what they are going to ask in return. We will even refuse small gifts because we are not prepared to pay the price of what we think will be expected in return for the gift.

Perhaps we even think that way about God. God offers us love without end. He offers us peace, joy, and a new life qualitatively like his own.

The mother in this story was afraid that the Christians in Israel would ask her to give up her hatred. Her hatred is something that is very close to her idea of herself. I don't know her circumstances, but I've seen this type of attitude all around me. She expected to be asked to give up her hatred - to let go and she was not willing to do that. She needed to hold on to her self image and definition of not being that which she hated so much that she couldn't open her hands to receive the gift.

So, what are you holding on to that keeps you from opening your hands to receive God's gifts? What are you unwilling to let go of? Thomas Merton said that we surrender to God last, those things we cherish about ourselves most.

God does not require us to lay aside these things to receive His gifts. But we will find that we cannot receive God's gifts while we cling to them. It is like swinging from one trapeze to another. The person on the next bar does not require us to let go of our trapeze bar. But we cannot reach the person on the second bar until we do let go of what we are clinging to.

As you read this, ask yourself what you are clinging to that holds you back from God and His gifts? What about yourself are you unwilling to let go of? Then, when you think you've found it, ask God to help you let go and reach out and receive His gifts.


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Political Compass

This is the result of my political compass. As I read this, I am not the rabid right winger that many think I am.
this is rather interesting. I first saw this on Brad Drell's website.
Phil Snyder

The Baptismal Covenant

We hear a lot from the progressive side of the Church that we need to uphold the Baptismal Covenant in the Church and that Baptism makes us full members of the Church with equal "rights" to all the sacraments of the Church.

Most of the reasserters that I've spoken with and blogged with and read are pretty tired of this line of thinking because it is commonly abused such that the Baptismal Covenant is operationally reduced to the last two questions:
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I say that the progressives have the correct line of thinking - except for the talk of "rights." Within the Church, we have no rights. We don't want our "rights" because our only right as sinners is to live apart from God. (But that's another post).

I say that the progressives are right that we need to live out the baptismal covenant. The Baptismal Covenant is divided into two parts. The first part is the Apostles' Creed. It makes the following claims about God

  1. God the Father created Heaven and Earth
  2. God the Son was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, was crucified, died, was buried, decended to the place of the dead (hell), rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  3. The Holy Spirit is also God
  4. There is a catholic church that is deserving of our trust and belief,
  5. There is a communion of saints (on earth and in heaven)
  6. Our sins can be are forgiven
  7. There is a resurrection of the body
  8. There is everlasting life.

Implied in the Apostles' Creed (and specifically stated in the Nicene Creed) is that God is a Trinity of persons in unity of being.

First, we subscribe to the orthodox faith by naming God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Part of the Covenant is to believe (the Greek is pisteuo) certain things. That doesn't mean simply that we intellectually assent to them or accept that is true. That is just surface belief. The Greek pisteuo actually denotes more than simple mental assent. It denotes trust and confidence. We don't just say that these things are true, we place our trust in them. We have confidence in them. We risk ourselves that they are true. So, if a member of the clergy denies the Virgin Birth, he is violating his Baptismal Covenant. If a member of the clergy denies the physical resurrection - either of Jesus or of us, she is violating her baptismal covenant. If a person uses names for the Holy Trinity other than "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or the older language of Holy Ghost), he is violating his baptismal covenant.

As I said earlier, one of the tasks of the deacon is to be a prophetic voice. We call the Church back to her covenant. Most often this calling back concerns reminding the Church of her responsibilities to continue to care for the sick, the lost, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and those in prison.

A Deacon is called to "interpret to the Chruch the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." I say to the Church that the world doesn't need yet another compromise with it (as much as the World wants us to compromise with it). The World needs the faith of the Apostles and it needs Jesus Christ. When a Church forgets its covenant with God by forgetting who God Is and who Jesus Is, then the Church cannot give the faith of the Apostles to the world and it cannot give the world Jesus Christ.

The second part of the Baptismal Covenant is a series of five questions and I will explore them in the next few posts.


Phil Snyder

Update - Part 2 here

and Part 3 here

Another update on Elizabeth

Hi all,

We all at the Snyder Family appreciate your prayers for Elizabeth's surgery and recovery. Her pain level is much less that it was 2-3 days ago and we have left the percoset for the less aggressive pain medication. Elizabeth's only real problem now is boredom. There is only so much TV that she can watch or only so many websites she can visit or only so much nintendo she can play or only so much she can read without going out of her mind with boredom.

Please continue to pray for her and pray that she will find enjoyment in her reading and other activities. Also pray that she will take the time herself to "be still and know."

Phil Snyder

The American Heresy - Continued

In part 1 I discussed Individualism as the American Heresy. While it is not unique to the United States, it is particularly rampant here. In this part, I will further explore what the heresy of Individualism causes to happen in the Church - particularly in our relationships with our fellow Christians.

If we accept that we are all individuals, then it follows that we all have different takes on the Truth because our lives are all different. It also means that we don't really know whose "truth" is better - mine or yours. This leads to the idea that we should have the freedom to explore the truth as we see it. So, if a person sees the truth that they married the wrong person, then he should be free to explore what live would be like with a different person or without that person in his life.

The logical conclusion of "You're not the boss of me!" is "I'm not the boss of you!" We don't want to hear criticism and so we are not willing to give criticism. We are obsessed, as a culture, with "do not judge." It used to be that the most common scripture quoted in society was John 3:16 (For God so love the world...."). Today, the most common scripture quoted is "Do not judge, lest you be judged." We are afraid to tell each other when we are doing wrong or going the wrong way.

This fear leads to a denial of the Church as the Body of Christ. I think it is a true statement that if you don't harm anyone, do what you want. The problem is that every sin harms someone - especially yourself. If we take the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, then when one part of the body is harmed, the whole body is harmed.

So, what is the solution? First, we have to be willing to receive crticism and be honest enough to understand that those who criticize us are doing so because they love us. One of the best things that my first Spiritual Director said to me was: "Phil, I love you. But when you do this you are hurting yourself and the church. Please stop." I learned from him to receive correction to my behavior and attitudes. Second, we have to examine ourselves when we begin to offer criticism. Are we reacting out of anger or love? Are we coming across as judgmental or caring?

When should we approach others? Well, I think that the best way to do this is in a small accountability group or in some other intimate setting such as Spiritual Direction or a mentor/mentee relationship. I believe that each Christian should have a group of friends that are not afraid to say what they are doing is wrong. Each Christian should have a Spiritual Director or Spiritual Mentor.

Too many of us see the Christian Faith as an individual faith where we go to Church to receive what we need to get through our week. Christianity is not an individual faith, it is a personal and interpersonal faith. It is a trinitarian faith where our communities reflect the self-giving life and love of the Holy Trinity. That is how God designed us to work, but we prefer to look after ourselves first and thus we miss the glory and joy and peace of the Holy Trinity.

Phil Snyder

Monday, June 09, 2008

More Humor

I heard this joke from a Rabbi (whose name I forget) on the way into work this morning.

In eastern Europe, there were many small Jewish communities scattered among the villages. It was the task of the matchmakers to arrange weddings between boys of one village and girls of another village. One of the matchmakers arranges matches between two boys of a village and two girls of a different village, but during the train ride, one of the boys got cold feet and returned home.

When the boy arrived at the village, there were two mothers fighting over whose daughter would marry this boy. They couldn't solve the problem, so they asked the Rabbi,

"Well," said the Rabbi "I can think of only one similar situation in the sacred writings. There is a story where two women claim the same baby and Solomon decides to cut the baby in two and give one half to each of the mothers. I propose we do the same with this boy."

The first woman is shocked and horrified by this solution and says: "That's barbaric and horrible and I will have no part of it."

The second woman says that this is a fair solution and that they should divide the boy.

The rabbi looks at the second woman and shakes his finger at her: "You.... You... You have the soul of a true mother in law."

Phil Snyder

Time, Eternity, Free Will & Predestination

One of my Catechism class students asked me the question of how can God be all knowing - such that he knows what we will do or knows the future as well as the past and at the same time how can we have free will. From a 12 year old, that is a pretty deep question. Theologians have been debating that for centuries. Here is my feeble attempt at a reconciliation.

I affirm that God is all knowing and we have free will at the same time. I affirm that God knows the future and the past and the present equally well. I also affirm that we have the opportunity to choose our beliefs and our actions.

So, how can both be true.

I believe it is a question of perspective. As human beings, we live in "time." We tend to think of "eternity" as just a very long time or time without end. I believe that is wrong. To live in Eternity, is to live outside of time. All time is present in eternity. So, God knows what we will do tomorrow because He sees us doing it. So, to see things from God's perspective is to affirm predestination and what some call "fate" or "destiny." This causes some people to believe in a detrimistic universe - everything works toward a certain outcome that is predetermined.

If, however, we look at things from the human perspective, we have the choices in front of us. We have not yet arrived at "tomorrow," so no one knows what we will do or how we will react. So, we have free will.

How do we reconcile these two truths? When working with inmates, I often try to help them learn to make decisions by draw a "decision tree" where they try to chart out how they will respond with different options and then to think ahead to what those options will lead to. I don't chart the options for them, they make the chart. I don't make the decisions for them, they make the decisions, but they can see the outcomes of different decisions (granted, with a less than accurate picture of the outcome).

I think that in Eternity, God sees the options of all the myriad of decisions all the people in the universe makes and He sees the outcomes with perfect clarity. S0, let's take a simple example for explaination.

Say you want to go to dinner, but aren't sure at which restaurant to eat. You have a choice of 5 or 6 you like but aren't sure which one to pick. Before you go, God see you eating at all 5 or 6 places (and even the odd place you don't normally frequent). But, it has not yet happened until you actually pick a place. So, God knows the outcome and you still have free will.

I hope this helps us to reconcile free will and predestination.

Phil Snyder

Friday, June 06, 2008

The American Heresy

Something that I've been thinking about for a while is that America has its own "native" heresy. I call it individualism. Fr. Dan Martin's latest post on the Diocese of Pittsburg got me thinking about this again. Both on the progressive side and on the reasserter side, we are obsessed with our own individual rights. This focus on our "rights" as individuals causes us to lose focus on God. We yell out to others "You're not the boss of me!" This individualism causes us to search for affirmation by listening only to those voices that sound like our own and causes us to be convinced of the rightness of our own positions.

It also causes us to believe that we are the captains of our own ships of fate. We take our fate into our own hands and we make our future. We have all fallen for that "if you can conceive it and dream it you can achieve it!" line of positive thinking and subsituted it for Christianity.

This heresy manifests itself by wanting the church to affirm us as we think ourselves to be. We want a divorce? Well, God wants us to be happy, so the Church should allow for divorce and remarriage (because God wants us to be happy). We want our sexual expression blessed (today it is mutually monogamous life long relationships (at least if the intent is life long at the time) or "serial polygamy." I've heard voices on the progressive side that say that marriage is a heterosexual construct and homosexuals should not be tied to it, but that their relationships should be blessed as well.

On the reasserter side, we see this manifested by the desire to leave TECUSA because it is totally left the Christian faith. We want to find our own solutions to the problem of TECUSA and chart our own course as individuals, congregations, and dioceses. We are not content to wait for the communion as a whole to provide a solution.

It seems that we, as a church, have bought into the lie that God made us as individuals who exist to acheive self-fulfillment.

My brothers and sisters, God did not create us as individuals to find ourselves. God created us as persons who are designed to live in community and that community should reflect the inner life of the Trinity. So long as we depend on the strength of our own arms or minds or wills to solve our problems, we will fail. We need to remember that the solution to our problems is to surrender to God and live the life that He has shown us in His Self-Revelation.

Phil Snyder

Friday Morning Joke Time

Time to lighten things up a bit.

Q: How do you make holy water?
A: You put it in a pan and boil the hell out of it!

A man dies and got to heaven. Peter meets him at the gate and offers to show him aroung. Peter opens the door to a large room and there are a bunch of people drinking and dancing and having a good time.

"Who are they?" the man asks.
"They are the Southern Baptists. They refrained from drinking and dancing on earth and now they are having fun here."

In the next room are a bunch of people in serene prayer. There is beautiful chanting going on in the background and you can feel the peace like a physical force.

"Who are these people?" the man asks.
"These are the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. They partied hard on earth and get to enjoy some peace and quiet here.

The last room is empty except for an old man sitting in a rocking chair with a quilt on his lap.

"Who is he? Is it????" the man asks.
Peter quietly rushes the man out of the room and says: "No. That's not Him. That's John from the Church of Christ. He thinks he's the only one up here."

Phil Snyder

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Unforgivable Sins?

I remember an Irish commedian, David Allen. He had a show that PBS broadcast called "David Allen at Large" where he would do a combination of sit down commedy and skits.

One skit I remember was a man walking into a church with two confessionals. The first was labeled "Forgivable Sins" and the second was labled "Unforgivable Sins." As the man approaches the "Forgivable Sins" confessional, he stops and thinks and then heads for the "Unforgivable Sins" confessional.

He steps in and then falls. Flames reach up through the confessional and you hear a satanic laugh as he catches another soul.

In my years of prison work, I often get asked what is the unforgivable sin or what is the "Blashpemy against the Holy Spirit" that Jesus talks about. The men who ask this question are very serious because sin and forgiveness are not "nice things" to them, but are life and death. Too many of them think that what they have done or who they are is beyond redemption. They are certain that they have committed unforgivable sins.

To the best of my research and prayer and experience, the "unforgivable sin" and "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" is to say that God cannot forgive this sin. The only sin that God cannot forgive is the one that you won't let Him.

In reality, saying that God can't forgive this sin is a type of pride. It is saying to God that the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, was not enough to pay for this sin. To which I answer "what more could God do to forgive your sin?"

As sinful creatures, we need to realize that God wants to forgive our sins and waits for us to begin to say "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you." God waits for us to lay our sins at the foot of the cross so they can be (and will be) forgiven.

Phil Snyder

Four Years Ago

Four years ago today (at about this hour), I (along with 3 others) was ordained to the sacred order of deacons in Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

So, how has my understanding of the diaconate grown in the last four years? I'd understood the deacon as servant and servant leader who raises up others in ministry. I'd understood the need to minister on the edges or margins of society - particularly among those in prison. Ever since Kairos #13 at the Beto unit in Texas (November of 1995), I've had a special place in my heart for visiting Jesus Christ in prison and introducing others to Jesus in prison.

On if the biggest things I've come to understand in the four years since I've been ordained is that the deacon is (or should be) the prophetic voice in our Churches today. By "prophetic" I don't mean telling the future or leading the Church into some new future, but I mean reminding the Church of her covenant with God. The prophets in the Old Testament always called Israel back to her covenant with YHWH and deacons are to do that today. We see this, liturgically, in the deacon's responsibility for the Prayers of the People. Deacons remind the Church of her responsibilities to those who cannot speak for themselves and that the Church's members will easily overlook. Deacons are not just to care for the poor, the sick, the lost, those in prison, or "the least of these." Deacons are to remind the Church to care for the poor, sick, lost, prisoners, and "the least of these."

I don't fully understand what it means to be God's deacon and I don't know what God has in store for me, but I do know (I faith) that God has better in store for me that I can wish for and that He will continue to teach me what it means to be His deacon.

Phil Snyder

Update on Elizabeth

Good morning all,

My daughter's surgery yesterday went well. The Dr. came and said that the thinks that the surgery well be more effective than he had planned and that (after the left foot is done in December) she will be better than new.

The biggest issue now is pain managment and comfort. Please continue to pray for Elizabeth's recovery and that she be kept comfortable and pray for her mother and I, that we will be given the patience and grace to care for her and bring her to complete healing.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who is Jesus?

In our society, we love celebrities. We’ve all seen the oceans of ink and days of airtime devoted to Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, or any of a hundred different celebrities. Why is that? I believe that we all long to be connected to someone or something, but don’t want to risk being hurt. Perhaps, they think, they can have a relationship with these people, but at the same time not risk any real hurt. We will know a lot about them, but we will probably never know them. They will remain personalities to us, not persons. They will never be more than what we want to project on to them. They will never be real to us.

Unfortunately, to many in the Church, Jesus remains a personality, not a real person. He seems unapproachable, and unknowable. Too many people, Jesus is an impressive figure that can’t be known. Like today’s celebrities, too many people project their own hopes and ideals onto Jesus and want to have a “relationship” with him that based, not on Jesus’ Personhood, but on his personality or celebrity. They want a relationship where they can’t be hurt (or changed) by Jesus. Perhaps that’s the condition some of us are in? We know about Jesus. We love and respect Jesus. We even worship Jesus. But do we know Jesus? Do we want to know Jesus? How can Jesus cease being a celebrity or personality and become a person for us? Well, to answer that question, let’s look at how Jesus became “real” to some of his disciples.
First, it might surprise you, but many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize him as anything other than a political leader – a personality. There is a good story about the Disciples’ inability to recognize Jesus in Luke. The story takes place on the Sunday of the Resurrection, after Jesus had appeared to the women, but the Apostles still doubted.

Luke 24:13-17
“That very day, two of them (the disciples) were going to a village name Emmaus, about seven miles form Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad.”

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t recognize him. Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept form recognizing him.” Why is that? Probably because they hadn’t recognized the real Jesus before the crucifixion. They were too caught up in Jesus as the political leader or Jesus as the crusader for justice or Jesus the one who would free Israel from Rome or Jesus the fill in the blank.

Aren’t we like that too? Isn’t the ability to see the real Jesus the cause of today’s trouble in the Church? There is a story about a successful businessman who had just become a Christian. On a business trip from New York to Los Angeles, he sat next to a person from India. He began to tell his new neighbor all about Jesus and what Jesus had done. At the end of the businessman’s tale, the Indian man said: “Excuse me, sir. I was under the impression that Jesus was a first century Jew. You make him sound like a 21st century businessman.” How well do we know Jesus? How well would we recognize him? “Well, he’s not with us the same way he was with the disciples?” you might say. Well, the Risen Lord was walking with the disciples and they didn’t recognize him! They had followed him and seen him and listened to him teach and they still didn’t recognize him. Remember the disciples “stood, looking sad.” The Personality Jesus had let them down. Instead of overthrowing Rome, he had been killed by Rome. These disciples had spent their time on the road talking about Jesus.

There is a danger in the Church that we will spend too much time talking about Jesus and not enough talking to Jesus. Just as Jason said in yesterday’s talk on Piety, we need a connection with Jesus. So, how does the story continue?

LUKE 24:18-25
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, ad crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

One of this signs that a person is real to us and not just a personality is his or her willingness to listen to us. Listening is a gift to the speaker - and in listening, both the speaker and listener become a little more real to each other. Jesus, more than a great teacher or a wonderful debater or magnificent sage, was a master listener. He could listen to people and know what they needed to hear (if anything). In the story of Zacchaeus, the only words Jesus said to Zacchaeus was “Come down, I’m having dinner with you!” With Mary and Martha, Jesus listens to both of them in their grief and treats each one differently according to her needs. With the children, the lowest of society, Jesus rebuked his disciples so that the children could come to him. Picture the children swarming up to Jesus, reaching out to touch him and to talk to him. Can’t you see hundreds of questions coming from the children and Jesus laughing and answering them? Jesus listened to the disciples on the road as they poured out their hearts and frustrations. He then patiently responded and opened the scriptures to them showing why these things had to happen. The story continues:

LUKE 24;28-29
“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.”

Jesus could have come and just said, “Here I am!” But he didn’t. He was patient and waited until the disciples lost their focus on themselves. Note how they now invited Jesus to stay with them. They were beginning to understand what had happened. They had to risk something of themselves before they could see Jesus. If Jesus is to become a person for us this weekend, we too will have to lose our self-focus and risk something of ourselves with Jesus.
The story ends like this:

LUKE 24:30-35
When He was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. The said to each other, “Did no our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Jesus appeared to them in the breaking of the bread. But notice, the disciples surrendered their position of host to Jesus before he could appear to them. He was the guest, but he became known to them when he became the host. Look at the sequence in the lives of the disciples. Jesus is a great person to them.
  1. They respect and admire him, but he is still a bit of a celebrity – not a person.
  2. Then Jesus dies and frustrates their hopes and dreams.
  3. They pour out their hearts to Jesus on the road.
  4. They invite Jesus to stay with them.
  5. They surrender their leadership to him.

Only then do they recognize the real Jesus – only then does he become a person for them. Only in invitation and surrender did they know that Jesus hadn’t been defeated – he had conquered death and that they shared in Jesus’ new life.

Is Jesus a person to you or a just a celebrity? Do you want Jesus to be a person to you? Put yourself in this story. Where are you? Are you still on the road, absorbed in how Jesus or others have let you down? Are you there pouring your heart out to him? Are you sharing your dreams and frustrations with him? Have you invited him into your life – to stay with you? Finally, have you surrendered to him?

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is alive and real. He asks us to invite him and to surrender to him. Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with him. There is no better time than right now to begin or strengthen your personal relationship with Jesus. Where ever you are in the story, please take the next few steps. Invite Jesus into your life, surrender to him and let him become a real person to you.

The California Gay Marriage Decision

May people are rejoicing that homosexual men and women are now allowed to get married. The problem is that they have never been barred from getting married. After all, Gene Robinson was married at one time and he was homosexual.

What the Supreme Court of California did was not stop discrimination against homosexual men and women. It changed the definition of marriage. Without a vote of either the legislature or of the people directly, the court decided to change what a word meant. The problem is that "marriage" has always been defined (at least in European and American history) as one man and one woman, but it was not specified because it was one of those things that was understood to be true. It was an axiom. "Marriage is one man and one woman." This is simply the way it was.

Now, you can argue that this definition is unjust, but shouldn't a change in the definition of something so fundamental to society be decided by the legislature or by the people directly? If we can change the definition of marriage by judicial fiat, to be any two people who are not related (within a certain range or relationships), why can't we change it further to include any n people of any relationship? Why should a man not be allowed to marry his sister? Why should a person not be allowed to have multiple spouses - so long as they all agree that this is OK?

I am not advocating for incest or for polyamorous relationships. I am advocating that we make changes of this magnitude through the legislature, not the courts.

Phil Snyder

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What is Sin?

In my series on "What are We?" I said that we don't know who we are and that to discover who we are, we need to discover who God is. The problem with that is sin. In America today, we don't like to talk about sin - except for either communal sins or other peoples' sins. Theological progressives and theological conservatives like to focus on other peoples' sins rather than their own. But the question comes down to what is sin? How do we know what sin is? Is sin a specific act that is "wrong" for some reason? Is the definition of sin an arbitrary one from either God or from the Church?

Or, is sin a state of existence where we are separated from God?

I submit that sin is more our state of existence rather than our specific acts. True, specific acts can lead to separation from God. But why is that?

Well, God is the source of life and light. God caused all existence to be. Sin is turning away from that life. Sin is turning from the author of life. God does not require death as a penalty for sin so much as death is the natural consequence of sin.

One metaphor I like is space travel. I marvel at our ability to make probes enter orbit around planets in the furthest reaches of our solar system. If the probe is even one tenth of one degree off in it trajectory, it will miss its intended target and either collide with something or, more likely, just travel on into the coldness and vacum of space.

Our lives with God are like that. Sin takes us on an eternal trajectory away from God. Without some course correction, we will end up in the cold notingness rather than in orbit around the Son.

So, the penalty for sin is death and lonliness. But that describes the result of sin. How do we know what sin sinful? Well, I believe that we know what is sinful by what God has chosen to reveal in Holy Scripture. So, if we don't lie or have false gods and we obey all the commandments, then we are sinless? Right?

Well, no. I am convinced that the more deadly sins are sins of attitude and will, not of action. We put our own wills and desires above what God has revealed to us and we put ourselves in the place of God. This is more deadly to us than any lie could be - well, it is a lie itself. It is saying that we can be like God. In fact, it is the First Lie (Gen 3:5).

Sin is more a state of rebellion against God. It is not just doing right or failing to do wrong Sin cna be found in doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and in doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. It seems that we can't escape sin or sinning.

Now, here is what I call the Great Paradox of Christianity. We want to be "like God" by our own devices. We want God's life and we tried to take it and to take God's role. In doing so, we fall and fail. We end up dark and alone in nothingness. But (and here is the paradox) God wants to give us His life. God wants to make us "like God." We can't grasp God's gift of eternal life, we can only receive it! That is one of the meanings of Grace - God's gift of New Life and the strength to live that new life from God's resources, not from our own. This gift of New Life comes to us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus didn't come to make us nice. He didn't come to eliminate poverty or racism or wars or to establish Justice. Jesus came to make us New. He came so that we could die with him and be raised in newness of life with him. Jesus came to give us that new life that only God can give.

Phil Snyder