Thursday, November 12, 2009

More about Plano Schools

Here is an update about the Plano ISD School situation. I'm sorry it is so late in coming.

The School Board had a very difficult task. In the end, they did not opt for any of the six plans for school feeders in the east side. The created a new plan that was very similar to one of the economically balanced plans.

I believe this is a major victory for the Latino Community in Plano and for the parents in the east side (where most of the poverty is located). PISD even had its first public input session in Spanish at a school with a large Latino community! The fact that they asked for and listened to the opinions of our Latino brothers and sisters is a major victory!

So, what is next? Well, next on my radar is the organizing and launching of what I am calling the "homework clinic." One of the problems in elementary (K-5) and middle school (6-8) in some of the poorer communities is that the teachers don't hand out as much homework as gets handed out in more affluent schools. This is a problem because the kids don't get the much needed reinforcement that homework provides. I am proposing that we have a nightly homework clinic at the schools where people from the larger community will come to the school cafeteria every evening from 4:30 to say 6:30 or so and be there as a resource to help the kids with homework. I am trying to organize the leaders at different churches and the PTAs and the school administration to get this accomplished.

Please pray that I will find the time necessary to do this and that the way will be opened with the school administration for us to accomplish this ministry and that people will volunteer and that parents will have their kids go to the clinics.

Phil Snyder
Note: actually published on Jan 7, 2010

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plano Schools - Re-segregation?

Note: Blue is Williams, Magenta is McMillen
It's been a while since I've written anything - I know. I've been busy with work and with a local school project.

Plano Independent School District has a unique way of dividing its grades
Elementary school runs from K-5. Middle School is 6-8. High School is 9 and 10 and the Senior High School is 11 and 12.

In the east side of Plano, there is currently one Senior High school and one High School. PISD is building another. The problem comes out with how do we divide the middle schools between the high schools.

East Plano has a very wide mix of economic status. In "Old Plano", there are a lot of Latinos and a lot of African Americans. In far east Plano, including the suburbs of Parker and Murphy, there are many wealthy families that live in homes that are 500,000 or more (5k square feet).

There are currently six plans that the School Board is considering. Three plans that have the biggest support among the School Board will put the two newest middle schools into the new high school (these are located in the richer part of town) and the two older middle schools to the old high school. The problem is that in doing so, over 90% of the Latino students in east Plano will be sent to the old High School. Also over 92% of the Economically Disadvanted students in east Plano will be sent to the old high school and just under 8% of them will be at the new high school. The new middle school is equidistant from the two high schools, so this isn't really about "neighborhood schools." To me, this is an issue of Justice. To segregate the schools either by race or by economic status is just plain wrong. The image above shows the breakdown of Latino students and Economically Disadvanted students under plans E456 and under the most balanced plan, E3. Click on it to get a bigger picture.
When I spoke at the public hearing I said that to concentrate this much poverty at one school while alleviating the other school of almost all poverty is morally reprehensible. When I said that at the public hearing, I got boo'ed. I have had people ask me how I can call myself a Christian Minister and still make statements like that. I wonder how people can call themselves Christian and support that level of segregation. How can I be a Deacon in Christ's church and not call society's attention to this injustice? How can I not raise the alarm of immorality and injustice? I have received a lot of flak on this, but I have also received a lot of support. When I spoke to the Bishop Suffragan about it, he supported me as did the Archdeacon. I haven't had an opportunity to speak with my Ordinary about it yet.
I would ask you all to please pray for the Parents and Board Members who support the plans that effectively segregate the Latino and poor children into one high school. Pray that God will soften their hearts and open their eyes.
Also pray for me, that I not be consumed with anger. It is hard to meet anger with love and bitterness with joy. Pray that I will be given the grace to do just that.
Phil Snyder

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where Your Treasure Is

Since 815 cut the entire evangelism budget for the next three years I have been struck (and angered) by the fact that they budgeted over three million dollars for litigation in the next three years and this does not include moneys to support the "remnant" dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin so that they can spend more of their locally raised money on litigation.

Jesus said that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. It seems that TEC's treasure is in empty buildings and in doing nothing to fill them.

There are a number of issues at stake here. I think that the biggest issue is lack of Christian formation among both the clergy and the laity. Being formed to know Jesus means being formed to be an evangelist - to "proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ." We all promised to do that when we were baptized or when we renewed our own baptismal covenant at every baptism in which we participated. I doubt that too many at 815 can proclaim the good news of God in Christ because if they could, they would. The good news (gospell) is not that people gave buildings or money in perpetuity for the exclusive use of TEC. The good news is that God came among us as one of us to defeat sin and death and to pay the price for our own sins. We participate in that victory and as co-workers with God in His plan to renew (resurrect) all of creation by our baptism in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus our old nature is killed (and is being killed) and we are to be raised with a new nature. How can you know that good news and not work to help others understand that their struggle against sin and death has already been won and that they can work with God to continue the struggle among the rest of creation?

Also, I see the litigation and fighting to the death to own the buildings as one of the fruits of the decades long struggle. This seems to be to be the result of a "We won. You Lost. Get over it." mentality. This also belies a lack of Christian formation as this is the attitude of the political arena and not the attitude one should have with Christian brothers and sisters.

Since 815's heart is not with evangelism, but is with litigation, how can we change their hearts? I don't know that we can. But we can and should work to change the hearts of the people in our congregations and dioceses. We need to focus on teaching our people the fundamentals of the faith. We need to get them involved in Bible Study and Adult Sunday School. We need to get them involved in prayer, study, and ministry. We need to move them to an accountability group where they are accountable to each other for their Christian lives. In short, we need to concentrate more on making disciples than on adding members.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


In light of TEC's decision to eliminate the entire evangelism office at the national level, I now suggest that this was only symbolic anyway. While what it symbolizes is significant - it symbolizes that TEC does not find Evangelism important, but finds bureaucracy important, it finds litigation important, it finds social programs important. But it does not find Evangelism important.

So, what is evangelism and why is it so important? Most importantly, what can we - as persons, small groups, congregations and dioceses do to increase evangelism?

First, evangelism is spreading the Good News. So, what is the good news? It is simply this. God has begun His plan to deal with sin and death and evil in the world - first with the creation of man and then with the calling of the patriarchs. I think that the central point of Holy Scripture occurs in Genesis with God's call of Abram - By you all nations will be blessed.

Next, from the Patriarchs, God called Israel to be his special people in rescuing the world from evil, death, and sin. In the fullness of time, God Himself became part of His creation in the person of Jesus. Jesus went about healing the effects of evil, sin and death and, himself, became subject to their greatest effects and, in doing so, defeated them! The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is both the seal on his victory and the promise of our own sharing in his triumph. By our personal incorporation into the Body of Christ (the Church) through baptism (in which we are killed and raised to new life), we can participate with God in His work of redeeming all of creation.

So, that is the good news! God does not abandon us to death and sin; He redeems us from them and gives us work today to help in the reconciliation of all creation. Part of that work is to get others involved in the work by helping them to participate in God's victory and in His work. Evangelism is the act of recruiting other laborers into God's work and God's victory.

So, if we are getting no help from 815 (which may not be a bad thing. You can almost track the growth of the bureaucracy at 815 and the decline of membership and attendance in TEC), what do we do? First, we become evangelists ourselves. We learn how to share the Good News of what God has done for us, in us, and through us and what God can do for, in and through others. Evangelism is not just making guests or visitors in a congregation feel welcome, thought that may be part of a congregation's evangelism plan.

I submit that each congregation has an "Evangelism Plan" that helps the clergy and vestry of that congregation become better evangelists and lead others to become evangelists too.

One tool I've used is what I've heard called "life lines" where we chart our live on a graph with good points and bad points in our lives. We do this in two lines - the first represents our physical life. The second represents our spiritual lives - our relationship with God. We then look for correlation between the two. This took helps us understand what God has done for, in, and through us.

What your plans for evangelism? How many people have you successfully recruited (or gotten them to recognize God's recruiting) to work with us in the redemption of the entire creation. What are you going to do differently to become an evangelist?

Phil Snyder

Monday, July 20, 2009

TEC Eliminates Evangelism Program

From Fr. Terry Martin (who was TEC's Evangelism Officer), we find out that, as part of the budget cuts at 815, TEC is eliminating the entire evangelism program.

Isn't this like eating your seed corn? Now, more than ever, I am convinced that the leadership of The Episcopal Church does not know Jesus Christ. They may think they know him, but it seems obvious to me that they do not.

Evangelism is essential to the Christian faith. It is part of its very core. Jesus' final "marching orders" to the Church are found in the Great Commission

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been
given to me. God 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." (Matt 28:18-20)

You can also read Luke's version of this

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; andyou shall
be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the
earth. (Acts 1:8)

I am fairly involved in the Cursillo movement here in Dallas. The first talk of the Cursillo weekend in "Ideals" and we learn that you can determine what your ideal is by tracking where you spend your time, your energy, and your money. TEC has budgeted between 3 and 4 million dollars for litigation (depending on how you read the budget). This does not count providing much of the operating budget of San Joaquin and Fort Worth so they can sue the current owners of the property. TEC would rather spend its money on litigation - to recover empty buildings that need to be maintained and cannot be sold for their "book value" - rather than on growing the Church.

815 is a bureaucrats heaven and an evangelists nightmare. The bureaucratic beast that is 815 needs to be starved. Unfortunately, 815 responds by cutting programs that feed the hungry and expand the gospel rather than going on a diet themselves.

Let me get back to the leadership of TEC's knowledge of Jesus. If you know Jesus, you are filled with a desire to make him known to others. It is now a common saying that Evangelism is one hungry person telling another hungry person where there is food. The leadership of TEC does not recognize its hunger and doesn't seem to know where the food it.

As a Deacon in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Aposotolic Church, it falls to me to "interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world." (BCP 543). What the world needs more than anything else is Jesus. TEC would rather give us litigation than Jesus. TEC would rather give us bureauracy than Jesus. TEC would rather give us unending arguments about the blessing of sin than give us Jesus.

We need Jesus. Please, Bishops and leaders in TEC, give us Jesus.

Phil Snyder

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sunday's OT Lesson

I am preparing a sermon for Sunday. A friend of mine has been busy at General Convention and asked me to preach for him at his congregation this week. I still use the BCP lectionary (until Advent) and the OT lesson struck me as I was praying over it.

Because of the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry,
I smote him, I hid my face and was angry;
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart

I think this is a very apt description of our (not just TEC, but all of us) relationship with God. Whether we covet money or sex or power, we all have sin that we prefer to God. That is what it means to be fallen.

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and requite him with comfort,
creating for his mourners (the repentant) the fruit of the

God is good! Even though He knows our sinful nature, and our ways, He still reaches out to us to heal us - to restore us - to save us.

Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the Lord;
and I will heal him.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked

God loves us and wants to heal us. But what if we refuse God's peace? Then we are like a tossing sea.

Right now, I feel like I am in a tossing sea. The turmoil that TEC is in makes me feel like I will never reach land again. But God promises peace. We need to hold on to that promise and find our peace in Jesus Christ.

Phil Snyder

We've been here before

With the passage of D025 (saying that sexually active homosexuals can and are called to be bishops) and C056 (asking the SCLM to develop "liturgical resources" for blessing same sex unions) the Episcopal Church has told the Anglican Communion "we don't want to be a part of you - except on our own terms." I am saddened beyond words.

But the Church has been here before. Over the centuries, the people of God have turned away from God time and time again. They have "forsaken thy covenant" (I Kings 19:14). Everytime the people of God turned their backs on God, they suffered consequences and I belive this time is no different. But in every time there has been a faithful remnat - even if it is a small one. This time is no different.

Israel turned its back on God several times, but neither Elijah nor Isaiah, neither Ezekiel nor Jeremiah took God's people away. They stayed and witnessed and died among "a people of unclean lips." They maintained their covenant with God through the apostacy and eventual exile of God's people.

Anthony didn't start another church when he went to he desert because the church in his day (3rd century) had become too enamored of power and wealth.

Athanasius didn't start another church when he was exiled himself and the Church was too focused on political power after having become the State Church.

The Cappodocians didn't start another church when the Church declared itself Arian in the middle of the fourth century.

Neither Francis nor Dominic started another church when the Church in their day became too focused on secular power and approval.

When the CofE had become simply a religious laminate on an ungodly society, Wesley didn't leave it. He worked to reform it from within and did not succeed in his lifetime! In fact, his followers were kicked out of the Church.

In all these cases, the prophets and leaders for reform in their day did not live to see the fruits of their labors. We may not live to see a wholesome Episcopal Church in the USA. But I have faith to God will call the Church to Himself again - just as He called the people of Israel back to the desert to woo them in Hosea.

We need to recover the spirit of those early reformers and the spirit of the prophets. We need to be true to our covenant and work to reform our own lives and the lives of our congregations. We need to recover the prophetic voice and action that is our inheiritance. We need to be more faithful in prayer and study and ministry.

Tonight, let us weep for the good that was PECUSA, ECUSA, TEC.

Tomorrow let us rise and set our faces towards God - the only one who can reform TEC!

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Sad Day

Today is a very sad day for me. The Episcopal Church has choosen to walk apart. The House of Bishops approved resolution D025 which, in effect, stops the moritorium on ordaining a person sexually active outside of marriage to the Episcopate. TEC has effectively thumbed its nose at the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion and its own members. The leadership of this Church cares nothing for the fellowship of other Christians - only those who agree with them.

What will happen now? I don't know. I do know that the young boy who learned to serve God's altar at Trinity Cathedral in the 70s is crying because he doesn't understand what his Church is doing. I do know that the young man who was found by Jesus in TEC in California at Camp San Joaquin is asking his Lord what happened.

I do know that the young adult who got married and started (and then raised) a family in the Episcopal Church is not so much confused as hurt. Why would the Church turn its back on her Lord and on the rest of the Church?

But the deacon who was ordained five years ago is caught between sadness at the lack of will that the leadership in TEC has to hear God's word and anger that they refuse to listen. Part of the role of Deacon is that of prophet. To tell the Church what God has said. I am caught between Jeremiah's Lamentations and Hosea's anger. I find it rather interesting that God chose the metaphor of Marriage and Haroltry to explain Israel's faithlessness.

What now? I don't know. Tonight I will re-read Lamentations. I have a sermon to prepar for Sunday and the Gospel for Sunday is the feeding of the five thousand in Mark. Even in a far away place, God takes what we offer and provides abundance for it. Even when there is no hope in buying food to feed the people, there is God's provision for feeding those who stay to listen to the Lord as he teaches. I offer what I have to God and ask Him to multiply it. I pray that TEC learns to listen to God again as it drifts in the wilderness of secularism.

Phil Snyder

Monday, July 13, 2009

What is the Goal?

Right now, it is very easy to get lost in the political wrangling of General Convention for the Episcopal Church. I spent Saturday afternoon at the Coffield unit and was reminded that the goal of the Christian Life is union with God. It is in places like prison, or the homeless shelters or food banks where we meet Jesus. It is where "the least of these" dwell that we find the confirmation of all our doctrines and dogmas. I had several conversations with inmates that are worried about their Christian walk and that they don't feel the ardour that they felt in their first conversion. Let me share the story that I shared with them. I read this in a commentary on the Rule of Benedict by Joan Chittister (spelling?) This story helps us remember that the goal of the Christian Life is union with God, not political wrangling or a specific outcome at General Convention.

There was a young novice monk who came to the master of novices and
asked: "Master what must I do to attain God?"

The master replied: "To attain God, you must do two things."

The novice thinks "Two things? I can do two things! This will
be easy!"

"First," says the master, "you must know that nothing you can do or think
or say will ever help you to attain God."

"And the second?" asks the novice - rather heartbroken and scared.

The master replies: "You must live as if you don't know the

Union with God is not our work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can't put ourselves right with God nor can we make God love us more or less. But, and this is a rather large "but," we must be willing participants in our own sanctification. We must work hard at surrendering to God and we must practice self examination and denial and ask God to help us see ourselves honestly. The Christian life is easy because it is lived by God's grace. It is hard because we don't always want God's grace - we are too afraid that it will change us too much.

Phil Snyder

Kudos to Verizon and Frys!

I have Verizon's FIOS Fiber Optic service for my internet at home. Friday evening, my modem/router died. So, Saturday morning, I went to Fry's (my toy store) and picked up another modem/router. But when I got it home, it did not have the installation disk. So I took it back to Frys to get a replacement, but they were out of modem/routers, so I would have to purchase a modem and separate router (making my geek level increase). I got them home and called Verizon to register the new MAC address. The tech on the phone (who spoke flawless and mid-west accented English!) told me that Verizon would send me a new Router for free! So, I took the modem and router I had purchased from Frys back to Frys and they credited my card with no problems.

The technical support at Verizon and the customer focus at both Verizon and Frys are great and I strongly recommend both companies to anyone who reads this blog.

Phil Snyder

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Political Activism or Discernment

One of the problems with General Convention is that it is a political body. It makes decisions using political means. This is not a bad model for issues of church order, such as welcoming new dioceses, setting budget priorities, setting up the guidelines by which deacons, priests, and bishops are ordained or disciplined.

But it is a very bad model for deciding theological issues. The problem with the political model is that it is subject to political activism. People now make theological decisions based on political means. The problem with that is the decision is determined before the community does the discernment. And, when discernment is called for, it is called for in a political setting, so those who are politically active or politically driven are the ones who make the statements to the "discernment" committee/group. So, the method of discernment itself is subjected to political activism.

The largest problem with GC is that it uses the wrong means to do theological discernment. It asks, not what is the will of God, but what is the will of the deputies and bishops. All too often, they end up with the will of men and women, not the will of God.

So, how do we discern the will of God? First, we ask God to show us His will. We compare our answers to see if they are congruent with how God's will has been determined in times past (Scripture and Tradition). Looking at Scripture, I am struck by the pain and damage done to God's people when they insist on their own will instead of God's will. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the establishment of a King for Israel. When Israel insisted on a King, instead of letting YHWH be King, they selected Saul and, as a direct result of Israel becoming like the nations, you had the oppression of the poor, the rise of syncretism and idolatry, the dividing of the Kingdom and the people forgetting their covenant with God - and, eventually, the destruction of the 10 tribes and the Exile of Judah.

Looking at TEC today, I see a rise in TEC becoming like "the nation" or like the secular world. We speak of "rights" but not of "righteousness." We have forgotten our Covenant - or at least the first three promises (to continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, and to love your neighbor as yourself). We have divided the kingdom and are facing our own exile.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

General Convention and Disneyland

As most of the Episcopal world know, General Convention is underway right now in Anahiem California - also the location for Disneyland. So, what is the difference between General Convention and Disneyland?

One is a place, designed the part patrons from their money, where they try to suspend reality - full of strange people in odd costumes.

The other is a theme park.

Phil Snyder

Monday, July 06, 2009

"Reforming" the Episcopal Church

Today marks the formation of yet another conservative coalition (the ecclesiastical version of YACC) - the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the United Kingdom. I believe that, overall, this is a good thing. But it has been tried ad nauseum in the United States with limited success.

The problem with YACC is that conservative Anglicans tend to not be focused on political wrangling nor on long term strategy or even tactics. When it comes to political groups, I'm not much of a joiner. I like politcal wrangling far too much and I enjoy the cut and thrust of parlimentary debate. These are necessary and good things, but they can be so time consuming that I lose focus on Jesus as the goal.

Theology aside, that is my major critique of the liberal/progressive side of the Church. They are politically astute and they organize and plan and strategize much better than the conservative side does. They make their goals clear and their goal is not reconcilliation with God through Jesus Christ. Their goal is the success in implimenting a political goal using the methods learned in the Civil Rights struggles of the 50s and 60s - political activism and civil (ecclesiastical?) disobedience.

The conservatives cannot fight the progressive political machine using the progressives' tools. Reform of the Episcopal Church is a lost cause when we attempt it using political means - especially at the national (General Convention) level. If we are to concentrate on political actions, we need to concentrate at the local levels - vestry members, diocesan convention delegates, members of the Commission on Ministry, Standing Committee, and Executive Committee of the dioceses in which we worship.

But more important than local political wrangling is personal reformation and catechesis - instruction in the faith - for both the laity and the clergy. We need to return to God and let God fight for us. There are so many "conservative coalitions" that are trying to fight politics with politics. We need to recover the goal of union with God through Jesus Christ. Before we can fight politically, we need to fight spiritually. We need to remove our egos from the struggle and work to follow Jesus only. We are too much like the Church in Corinth with different leaders and different factions. I fear that we are repeating the Continuing Anglican mess of the late 70s and 80s where personality conflicts caused a fracture in what could have been a good movement.

So, I remain in TEC. I am not called to reform the Church - that is God's job. I am not even called to reform my diocese or parish. Again, that's God's job. I am not even called to reform myself. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. What am I called to do? First I am called to be faithful in prayer and study of Scriptures to more fully know the mind of God. Second, I am to help others become faithful in prayer and study so they too can more fully know the mind of God. Third, I am to help lead my congregation and my diocese out into ministry in the world. I am to help the Church recall her baptismal covenant and repent where she has fallen - especially the first promise to continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship.

Unfortunately, I doubt many on either side of the progressive/conservative divide will listen to me. But, again, my job is not to make them listen. My job is to be faithful in proclaiming God's Word and to help lead the Church to recover what she has lost so she can go into the world and make disciples.

Phil Snyder

Monday, June 29, 2009

But Wait! There's More!

Yesterday Billy Mays died. He was an old fashioned "pitchman" who was very skilled in his art. I can't count the number of commercials or infomercials I've seen with him.

When I learned of his death, all I could think of was this:

David Caradine (of Kung Fu fame) died. But we're not through yet
Ed McMahon died. Hold on! We're just getting getting started
Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died.
But wait, there's more!

I know. It is "gallow's humor" but I would like to think that Billy Mays had enough of a sense of humor about himself and his profession to laugh at this.

Is the world really diminished by the loss of yet another pitch man? I believe it is because the world is always diminished by the death of any human being. I don't know the state of the souls of any of these persons above. But that is not my job. I can entrust them to God's mercy and care.

While Billy Mays always promised us "more," his products often did not deliver on their implied promises. But God's promise is that there will always be more! God promises us abundant life and never ending grace and growth in the new live we receive through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Why do we spend our time wanting "more" and "easier, faster, cheaper?" We should focus on the only source of "more" in all creation - God. Do you want more? Seek God; for with God there is always more.

Phil Snyder

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Good Job for the Vergers Among Us

Over at Scott Gunn's Blog, I saw the video below:

I think that we could assign the task of policing cell phone usage to our vergers. Their verges could make wonderful instruments of correction!

What do you think?

Phil Snyder

Jesus and the Death of Celebrities

This week has seen the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. All were big stars and many people feel loss because of these icons (idols?) of popular culture. Like every boy my age, Farrah Fawcett epitomized female beauty. Her iconic bathing suit poster was a fixture in many of my friend's rooms (my parents did not allow such things).

Why are we so fixated on celebrities? Why do we invest so much of our selves in them? Why do care so much about such people as Michael, Farrah and Ed? I believe it is because we long to be connected to someone, but we don't want to risk being hurt by them. We cannot really be hurt by a celebrity, but we can be connected to them by tabliods, Entertainment Tonight, TV, and by the the internet. We can feel we know them and we can project on to them all our hopes and fears. Celebrities are as real to us as we want them to be. We know about them but we don't know them. We say we love them, but we can't love them because we don't know them.

I find that in the Church, there are many who see Jesus as a celebrity. We've all seen and heard about what people project onto Jesus. Jesus the Pacifist. Jesus the Socialist. Jesus the Communist. Jesus the Vegetarian. Jesus the fighter for Social Justice. Jesus the (fill in the blank). Perhaps we do this ourselves? We project our desires and needs onto Jesus.

C. S. Lewis called this "Christianity and...." We've seen people claim that Jesus would be a strong supporter of the pro-choice movement. We've seen people claim that Jesus would be a strong proponent of the pro-life movement. What happens is that we assume that our cause is Jesus' cause. We assume that Jesus would find what we deem to be important to be as important as we think it is.

I believe this is the state that most "Christians" are in. We are enamored of the Celebrity Jesus and don't take the time to know the real Jesus. We are satisified with the "Entertainment Tonight" version of Jesus where we know enough about Jesus to know that he thinks like we do, likes what we like and approves of us.

So, what is the solution? The solution is to know Jesus, not just know about Him. The solution is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. So, how do we do that? The tried and tested method to do that has been handed to us over the centuries. The method includes three things:

Piety - a rich prayer life can be for everyone. The Book of Common Payer is a great resource for prayer life. In addition to discursive prayer, try some meditative and contemplative prayer. Be involved in the worship life of a congregation. Knowing Jesus is not just a personal effort - I would say it is not even primarily a personal effort. Knowing Jesus can best be done in community (See my sermon on the Holy Trinity and Community). Be involved in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession.

Study - Learning about Jesus through study of the Holy Scriptures and book about Christian living is critical to every Christians life. Study tells us about the Jesus we meet in prayer and worship. Every Christian should be reading Holy Scripture every day. Studying is simply learning what others who know Jesus know about Jesus. Like piety, study should have its personal and corporate aspects. Are you involved in personal study as well as a corporate study? If not, you should be. As Archbishop Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole Truth.

Ministry - The place where I meet Jesus most often is in ministry. Ministry helps me to know Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit because it shows me that I am not up to the job given to me. If you really want to know Jesus, go serve him in ministry. When we minister, we are not so much acting as Jesus as we are meeting Jesus. When we teach Sunday School, we are meeting Jesus in the students. When we visit the sick or shut in, we are meeting Jesus there. When we are ministering in prison or at a homeless shelter, we are meeting Jesus there too. To know Jesus, go visit him in ministry.

In the deaths of McMahon, Fawcett, and Jackson, great talent has left the world. But there is a greater power than celebrity. It can and will change your life. Are you ready to know Jesus as a person and not as a celebrity?

Phil Snyder

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Thoughts on Reforming Medical Care

Actually, it is not the medical care that needs reform or that people are talking about reforming. It is the payment for delivery of medicare care that people insist needs reforming. The medical care in the US is superb - if you have insurance or are independently wealthy.

President Obama insists that he can save money by having a government run insurance system. The savings will come from efficiencies of scale. The problem is that "government effeciency" is an oxymoron.

Reducing the costs of a process entails two things. The first is efficiency - doing thing right. Effeciency is concerned with doing something in as few steps or with as little effort as possible. Touch typing is more efficient that "hunt and peck." (I and am very glad I took a typing class my freshman year of High School!) Government bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient.

The second way to get cost reduction is effectiveness - doing the right things. Here is a possible cost saving from government payment for healthcare. By eliminating or reducing the "defensive medicine" that doctors often do in order to defend against malpractice suits, we can reduce costs. The problem is that there is no guarantee that the defensive medicine will stop or that malpractice suits will slow or cease.

Another issue of effectiveness is fraud prevention. Private insurance companies are very diligent about finding and preventing fraud. After all, fraud affects the "bottom line". Government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid or the VA, are nortorious for fraud and waste. The idea that the government will be more diligent about fraud than a private insurance company is not one that is borne out by experience.

Right now, the government runs several health programs such as Medicare and the VA. These are not well loved by either providers or by many of their patients. I propose that the current administration show us it can create efficiencies of scale and increase the health care outcomes by first fixing these programs such that people look forward to being on Medicare or going to the VA. Next, we can let the government employees (including Congress and the congressional staffers) use these programs exclusively for their care. After we get these programs in order, and our elected representatives have shown their trust in them by using them for their own care, then we can look at expanding government run care to the rest of the nation.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is this the best argument they have?

Over at the Episcopal Cafe, there is an article calling attention two "theological" sources regarding the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered) people. If you are interested, here is the Chicago Consultation's contribution to the discussion (PDF). It is entitled "We Will With God's Help" (WWWGH). I've just read through it and the argument comes down to this:

We baptize GLBT persons, so they are full members of the Church, so they should be eligible to be ordained.

Now, on its face, I have no argument with that statement. It is true. If that is all that the Chicago Consultation and TEC want to say, then I can only agree with them.

However, the undertone of this group is that we are talking about men and women who are sexually active in GLB (not so sure about the "T") relationships. Men sexually active with men or women sexually active with women. In this case, it is not their orientation that disqualifies them, but their unrepentant sin.

All sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. Sin breaks the relationship between the person and God, the person and the Church, and the person and him/her self.

Part of our baptismal covenant is this question:

Will you perserver in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent
and return to the Lord?
The candidate answers: "I will with God's help."

In the document, there is no section that even questions whether homoerotic behavior is good or blessed. It simply assumes that it is.

Does this mean that homosexual persons are not loved by God? In no way do I hold that homosexual persons are not loved by God. They are indeed loved by God and full members of the Church by the virtue of their baptisms. But they are not wholesome examples of a Christian life if they are sexually active outside of marriage. The drug addict, the cleptomaniac, the serial adulterer, the sinner (any sinner) are all loved by God and are full members of the Church. But when they put their personal understanding of morality above what the Church teaches, then they are not wholesome examples of those called to lead the Church.

If we are going to move past the "he said/she said" dialogue that we have been having, then we need to be able to show, from Scripture and Tradition, where God blesses same sex unions or we need to go back to a status quo ante where we don't bless same sex unions and the only people we ordain are people who are either celibate or sexually active only inside of marriage (as traditionally defined).

Assuming what you want to prove is an old game, but it doesn't move the conversation along.

Phil Snyder

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ordaining two new Deacons

Yesterday (June 20th,) Bishop Stanton ordained two new deacons (Beverly Patterson and Betsy Randall). I had the honor of preaching at the ordination. When the Bishop Called me, I was floored and said "yes" after picking my jaw up off the floor. Here is the sermon I preached Saturday:

Deacons’ Ordination 2009
Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 84
Acts 6:2-7
Luke 22:24-27

Almighty God, give us ears to hear, minds to understand and the will to do those things that you teach us today. Amen.

Today the Church is setting aside two persons to be deacons. It is a joyous occasion in the life of the Church and in the lives of Betsy Randall and Beverly Patterson.

So, what are we doing today? Is today a kind of “graduation” ceremony where we are telling the world that we have two people who have “made it” – that they’ve successfully navigated through a rather complicated and frustrating Ordination Process? Are marking the completion of an arduous journey and rewarding two people who have been faithful members of the Church?
No, today we are not marking the completion of anything and being ordained is definitely not a reward for past service. Being ordained is not a reward for anything nor is it a sign of any special competence. As one of my past Rectors said, proof that God loves His Church is that she has survived her clergy.

Ordination is setting apart a person for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Today, we set apart Beverly and Betsy as Deacons in Christ One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The word “deacon,” “diakonos,” means “servant” or “minister.” It is translated as “minister” 20 times in the NT and as “servant” 8 times. In the passage we heard from Acts today, the Apostles say “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve (diakeno) tables” and “we (the apostles) will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry (diakonia) of the word.” So the congregation (not the Apostles) picked out seven men, the apostles laid hands on them and the Church had its first deacons – assistants to the Apostles. Many scholars today don’t think of the 7 as deacons as we understand that term today. In one sense they are right, the office of deacon has evolved just as the office of Bishop and of Presbyter has. The Church has almost always taught that they were deacons and I tend to agree with the Church rather than modern scholars on what the Church did 2000 years ago.

Today the Office of Deacon is evolving still. In this diocese, we have a deacon responsible for Christian formation. We have deacons who handle pastoral care for congregations. We have deacons who are hospital chaplains, who work in ministries related to senior citizens, deal with end of life issues as Hospice Chaplains, work in translating Holy Scriptures in to various languages, and are involved in prison ministry. The office of deacon is one that ministers on the margins of society. We deacons have a mission of being the voice for those who have no voice and for helping them to find their voice. We deacons have changed from, what all the Books of Common Prayer from the Ordinal in 1550 to the 1928 BCP called “this inferior office” to an order with its own dignity and personality.

Today, I would like to discuss the Office of Deacon in three images: the Deacon as Icon of Jesus Christ, the Deacon as Prophet and the Deacon as a Walking Sacrament of Ministry.

Deacons are Icons of Jesus Christ the servant. In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus says that he is among us as “one who serves.” Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, the one through whom all things were made – this same Jesus comes among us to serve. We hear that often, but do we really believe it? Let’s stop to think about it for a second. God. Comes. Among. Us. To. Serve. How many of us really believe that Jesus is among us as one who serves? George Herbert, the wonderful priest and poet of the 17th century, wrote thus:

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack / From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning / if I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here"; / Love said, "You shall be he."

"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear, / I cannot look on thee."

Love took my hand and smiling did reply, / "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame / Go where it doth deserve."

"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?" /"My dear, then I will serve."

"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat." / So I did sit and eat.

Deacons are icons of Jesus who bids us sit and eat.

St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Magnesians, describes deacons as being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. That is an awesome responsibility to lay on any person and today we lay that responsibility on two new deacons. Deacons, entrusted with the servant ministry of Jesus Christ are icons – windows through which the Church and the world can see Jesus and see the joy in giving themselves to the service of others. We human beings, made in God’s image, were designed to give. We, by design receive more when we give more. We were not designed to hold and horde. Our society has lied to us over and over again and we have all too often bought into that lie. Society tells us that we are individuals who exist for our own self-defined good. That is a lie. The truth is that we are persons designed by the Triune God to live in community whose life together reflects the inner life of the Holy Trinity where each person gives himself to the others. Our life together should reflect that inner life and it is the Deacon who should be the window, the Icon, into that life by showing us Our Lord who is among us as one who serves.

In addition to being Icons, Deacons are prophets. In the Examination, the Bishop tells the candidates that they are to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” This entails speaking to the Church things her members may not want to hear. In the Episcopal Church, we hear a lot about “prophetic voice” or the need to be “prophetic.” I think we hear that because we have forgotten what a prophet is or what a prophet does. The prophets never called Israel out of its covenant. They always called Israel to repent because they were not following their covenant. Likewise, the Deacon calls the Church to remember her Covenant and to repent. This is why the Deacon is the preferred person to invite the people to confess their sins in the Eucharistic liturgy. All too often we look the other way when confronted with the needs, concerns or hopes of the world – particularly if they are embodied in a person who is smelly or homeless or dying or poor or mentally ill or in prison. It is the deacon’s task to stand up to the Church and say “No! We promised we would care for them! It is not ‘someone’s’ responsibility to care for the poor, the sick, the uneducated, the smelly, and those we don’t like. It is our responsibility to care for them.” In caring for those on the margins of society, we are caring for Jesus himself.
Almost 14 years ago, I walked into my first prison. I was, at the same time, very scared and rather proud of myself. I was going to bring the ministry of Jesus Christ to the men at the Beto unit. I got there and found out that I was wrong – very wrong. I was not bringing Jesus any where that He didn’t already exist. I was not acting as Jesus among the incarcerated; I was serving Jesus by serving the incarcerated.
Deacon’s have the prophetic role of reminding the Church of her Covenant with God. As Episcopalians we express that Covenant in our Baptismal Covenant it is part of the Deacon’s role to call the Church back to its covenant – the whole covenant - when it forgets. This can be a very thankless role. It can get some people upset at you. Deacons have been known to upset the apple cart from time to time. Perhaps the best image of the Deacon as Prophet is Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis was never ordained priest. I like to say that he was the most admired and least emulated of the Deacons. He had the temerity to remind the Church that she should not exist as a power in the world, let alone the greatest power in the world. The Church should be a servant to the world.

Finally, I would like to talk about the Deacon as a walking sacrament. As we all know, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, give by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that Grace. Now, I am not trying to add to the list of Sacraments. But Deacons are outward and visible signs of the grace that is ministry. God gives us work to do for His kingdom, not because He needs us to do it but so that we can participate with God in the growth of His kingdom. Ministry is, itself, a gift from God and as I said earlier, we were designed by God to receive much more than we give when we are involved in ministry. The Deacons among us remind us that we were designed to give and we receive and grow more when we give than we do when we take or when we hold on to what we have.

Let me take just a moment to talk about ministry. I remember about 9 years ago when I started my own path towards ordination. I thought that ordination would expand my opportunities for ministry. I quickly learned that not to be the case. Rather than expanding opportunities for ministry, ordination focuses your ministry. And just as focusing light restricts where it shines, ordination restricts your ministry. But where you do minister is brighter because the ministry is more focused. A deacons’ ministry is more focused than that of a layperson’s. Likewise a priest’s ministry is more focused than a deacon’s and the ministry of Bishop is the most focused and the most restricted.

Deacons are outward and visible signs of ministry. Their focus in ministry helps others to see their own ministries. Deacons enable the Church to minister and to find new ministries the Church didn’t know about.

So, we see Deacons as Icon’s of Jesus Christ the Servant by which we more clearly see how God comes among us to serve us and to help us serve others. We see the deacon as the prophetic voice to the Church that reminds the Church of her Covenant with God when the Church forgets and we see the Deacon as a Walking Sacrament of the grace and gift of ministry – as one who models and empowers the ministry that God gives us. Deacons are all these things and so much more.

It has grown customary for the preacher to deliver a charge to the ordinands towards the end of the sermon. Betsy and Beverly, will you please stand.

Today you are being ordained as deacons. You are being set apart to be Icons, Prophets, and Walking Sacraments to help the Church see Jesus, recall her covenant with her Lord and to go forth in Jesus’ name to minister to others. My charge to you is three fold. First, you are to interpret to the Church, the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. What the world needs more than anything else is Jesus. Give us Jesus. Be that Icon of Jesus so that the world can see its need of Him. Be faithful in prayer and study so that you can give us Jesus. In giving us Jesus, together, we all can give the world Jesus.

Second, you both plan on being ordained presbyters at a future date. That is good. But, let this time be a time to be formed as Deacons – not as Junior Priests. Let God form you into His servants. Find an experienced deacon and let him or her help you become the Deacon you are called to be. In the parishes where you will work, you will encounter pressure to “get on with being ordained a priest.” Don’t give in to that pressure because it is from half-baked deacons that we get half-baked priests. Find some work that is distinctively diaconal. Spend some time at a homeless shelter; work in a food bank; go to prison. Bring members of the church with you and get them involved in ministry. Let God continue to form you as deacons. When you believe you have sufficiently been formed as deacons, then come before the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee to be ordained as presbyters.

Finally, never forget that you continue to be deacons even after you are ordained as presbyters. Let your diaconal formation help to form you as priests. Let God continue to form you as deacons even as He forms you as priests.

One of the men I did Clinical Pastoral Education with five years ago was a Dominican monk who was ordained deacon and then priest. I was present at his diaconal ordination. While I have my issues with how Rome does some things, I believe they nailed the Bishop’s charge to the deacons at ordination. In a minute, Bishop Stanton will lay his hands on you and make you Deacons. He will then give you a Bible as a sign of your authority to proclaim God’s word. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Bishop hands the new Deacon a Book of the Gospels with these words (mark them well): “Receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ whose herald you now are. Read what you have received. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Live what you teach.” Beverly and Betsy, soon you will join the ranks of Deacons in Christ’s one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. You will be given the Holy Scriptures. Read them. Believe them. Teach them. Live them.

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One of the Fundamental Differences

We all know that the issue of human sexuality is not really the issue. I've heard it said that the real issue is one of Authority. Who has the authority to change the teaching of the Church. Just as TEC says that dioceses do not have the authority to leave TEC (an assertion I deny, by the way, but that's another post), I submit that no Diocese nor Province has the authority to change the Church's moral teaching. What General Convention did in 2000, 2003, and 2006 regarding the moral teaching of the Church is beyond its authority.

I think it is even more fundamental than that. I believe that the fundamental issue is one of anthropology - what is man (and woman). And, even before that, Who is God. Let's leave the definition of God out of this discussion (for now). I want to discuss anthropology as it relates to what men and women are.

On the conservative side of things (both politically and theologically) we tend to believe that man was created good but is fallen. Thus, we tend to think of man, in his natural state, as a "twisted" individual. We may want to do good and to be good, but we lack the ability to do so. We are so bent by our sin that we don't even know what is good anymore. Thus, we need an external source to help us know and understand what God desires from us. We identify with Paul in Roman's 7
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I
have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it our. For what I
do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep
on doing. (Rom 7:18, 19)

Thus, our natural state is one of brokenness and the inability to do good. Our natural state is one of separation from God. For this reason, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ so that we (and all creation) might be redeemed and be united to God by God's grace. In the conservatives eyes, mankind needs to die so it can be reborn. We've marred God's image and lost His likeness by our sinful actions.

On the other hand, most progressives I've known tend to think that man is basically good. Our natural state is one of blessedness. They like to speak of "Original Blessing" not "Original Sin." They believe that most people want to do the good and, if we just educate them enough, they will choose the good. Mankind needs fixing, not re-creation. Man still has a lot of the image of God and still bears His likeness.

That is an oversimplification, of course, but I find it to be true to a large extent.

So, how does this play out? In terms of the sexuality debate, the conservatives see homosexual orientation as a consequence of our fallen nature. Progressives see homosexual orientation as a natural occurrence and, therefore, a moral good or moral neutral. In terms of Evangelism, the conservative see other faiths as not participating in the new creation that all men need. Progressives see that all faiths as expressions of man's quest for God and, thus, evangelism is not as necessary.

So, which is it? Is mankind basically sinful and fallen (and thus with a need to die to self and be raised to new life) or is mankind basically good (and thus needs only education and improvement)?

Phil Snyder

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Update on Leila - Praise and thanksgiving

Thank you all for your continued prayers for my family and for my two year old grand-niece, Liela. At my last report, Leila was still in the hospital and she had been diagnosed as brain dead.

Well, she started to breath on her own and the hospital eventually sent her home under hospice care so she could die.

But my sister in law kept noticing things that Leila was not supposed to be able to do - such as reacting to outside stimuli or focusing her eyes. She mentioned this to the hospice people and they (of course) thought that Elaine was imagining things as this is not uncommon.

But then they started to notice Leila reacting too. "This isn't possible" they thought. But she was reacting more and more. So, the scheduled an evaluation with yet another group that specialized in retraining childrens' brains after serious injury.

They came and evaluated Leila and determined that, while there is brain damage, Leila is actually in a coma and is not brain dead. There are things they can do to help her - especially after she comes out of the coma!

We serve an awesome God! I know that sounds cliched, but I can't think of a better way to say it. Please continue to pray that God will bring Leila to the fullness of life and continue to heal her.

Phil Snyder

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Proposal for Generous Orthodoxy

The apparent defeat of Kevin Thew Forrester to receive the necessary consents to become Bishop of Northern Michigan has caused a fire storm. Greg Jones at the Anglican Centrist talks about the difference between "establishment liberals" and
[A]n impressive cadre of Episcopalian laity and clergy who are very serious (and usually very educated) about theology and the Anglican tradition. This group tends to agree on matters of theology, liturgy and church order, AND, in regard to the affirmation of women's ordination and the inclusion of all the baptized into sacramental life and leadership.
I've known several people who support blessing same sex unions and ordaining men or women involved in same sex unions, but who are believed the Nicene Creed in its "plain sense" rather than redefining the words to fit their worldview. They insist on the Trinity being "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ghost)" rather than "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" (a modalistic version of the Trinity as it names three functions, not three persons). They insist on the Incarnation and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. They insist that Jesus' death on the cross somehow puts us right with God (atonement). They insist on a physical resurrection (as if there were any other kind).

Now, I support the ordination of women in the Church and I believe in "full inclusion" of all people (gay, straight, tall, short, thin, fat, blue, red, green, etc.) in the sacramental life of the Church. The problem is that I don't agree with blessing what the Church calls "sin." That is the heart of the matter.

The whole issue before the Church right now is not "what do we do with sexually active homosexual men and women?" Rather, it is two fold. The first is "what is the limit of authority to define sin?" and "How do we know what is sinful?"

The "How do we know what is sinful?" question has been answered by the Church. Up until recently, there was no question that homosexual sex was sinful. That is still the official position of the Church Catholic and the Anglican Communion as a whole. There are people who are trying to change the teaching of the Church such that life long mutually monogamous homosexual relationships (gay marriage if you will) are no longer considered sinful.

But, until the Church changes its teaching, the teaching stands. Think of the matter of changing the speed limit on a street. There is a street by my house that is four lanes and divided, but the speed limit is 30 mph. It is a rather nice revenue producer for the city as people regularly travel at 40-45 mph on it. Now I think the speed limit should be 35 or 40. I can lobby the city council to change it, but I cannot travel 40-45 while I am lobbying for the law to be changed without paying the fine when I am caught.

Now I do not want to exclude my creedally orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. So I have a proposal for those who find themselves creedally orthodox, but who support blessing same sex unions and ordaining men or women involved in same sex unions:
  1. Accept that the current teaching of the Church is that gay sex is sinful. Being gay or even being gay and involved in a long term relationship should not be a bar to membership in the church.
  2. There will be no public blessings of same sex unions. If you must bless same sex unions, please do them under the guise of "house blessings" or some such private affair
  3. Only support for ordination those who can articulate and teach the creedally orthodox faith. Put a moritorium on ordaining homosexual men or women involved in any sexual activity outside of man/woman marriage until the Anglican Communion determines that either gay marriage is blessed by God or it is morally neutral.
  4. Continue to lobby the Church to change her teaching on same sex unions if you disagree with it, but do not publically act outside of that received teaching until the Church changes her consensus.

As for me, I will continue to the Church to maintain her teaching on the subject until I can be convinced, with arguments from Scripture or Tradition that blessing same sex unions better reflects the Will of God and calling them sinful.

How does that sound to you all?


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

No Big Deal?

Over at Kendall Harmon's blog, Titus One Nine, he has an article about the Presiding Bishop's visit to Oregon. You can read the article Canon Harmon reference here.

There is a question and answer section with the reporter. One of the questions is this:
Q: Oregon seems far removed from the big Episcopal controversy over
gay ordinations --
A: That's a good thing. The controversy isn't that big; it's just noisy in some places.

This is something that I am tired of hearing. This seems to say "What we are talking about not not really a "big deal." It is rather inconsequential to the living of the faith."

Either the people making this statement are blind to what is happening in the Church world wide or they are delusional to think that what is happening to TEC and to the Anglican Communion because of the innovations that they are forcing on us are not "that big."

If the blessing of same sex unions or ordination of those involved in same sex unions is not essential to the Christian Faith, then why are you forcing this innovation on the Church. The rest of the Church has said that the current moral teaching (sex is only blessed inside of marriage and marriage is only one man and one woman) is essential to the faith. The reappraisers/revisionist/progressives must either believe that their innovation is essential or they must believe that the Church itself is not a big deal.

I know there are few reappraisers/progressives that read this blog. Can you say why this issue is worth splitting the Church over? If so, can you share where this is found in Holy Scripture (according to our Presiding Bishop, Holy Scripture is our primary source of authority)?

Please be honest with us. Either admit that you believe this issues is on par with the Creeds or you don't believe that the Church is the body of Christ and can be split over non-essentials.

Phil Snyder

nb - edited to correct a typographical error - Chruch to Church.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Trinity Sunday

Yesterday was a very special treat for me. My dad is in town for the graduation of my daughter, Elizabeth, from High School (tonight!). During our Clergy Family day at the Diocese' camp near Lake Texoma, the Bishop sent me to St. Martin's in Lancaster, a small mission in a southern suburb of Dallas, to lead worship and perform a Deacon's Administration from the Reserve Sacarment. Their supply priest was to be out of Pentecost and Trinity and the Bishop wanted me to go, so I went.

But I believe it is always preferable to Celebrate Holy Communion instead of a Deacon's Administration. My dad is a priest in the Diocese of West Texas and, so, I contacted the Bishop's office and received permission for dad to celebrate yesterday. So, yesterday I and my dad, for the first time since I was ordained, were both leading worship and were the only clergy.

I also had the joy of preaching for my dad on Trinity Sunday. Aware of Dom Gregory Dix's admonition that no one can preach on the Trinity for more than 15 minutes without falling into heresy, I offer this sermon that I preached yesterday.

Almighty God, give us ears to hear, minds to understand and the will to do those things that you teach us today. Amen.

I just prepared a Confirmation Class at St. James. Part of every class is where the instructor scares the students by reminding them that the Bishop has the right to ask any question of a candidate before administering the Sacrament of Confirmation. I’ve travelled with Bishops Stanton, Jecko, and Lambert to many confirmations and I have never seen a bishop do this, but jokes abound about what happens when a bishop decides to ask a question.

At one parish, there was a very shy young man and the Bishop decided to ask him “Tell me about the Holy Trinity” expecting to have the boy say something like “We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The boy mumbles and kicks his feet. The bishop says: “What did you say?

The boy mumbles again, so the bishop, somewhat frustrated says: “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand.”

The Boy also frustrated responds loudly: “You’re not supposed to understand, Bishop, it’s a mystery.”

Today, Trinity Sunday, is the one day of the year set aside for the remembrance of a Doctrine of the Church and not an event that occurred in history. The Resurrection is an historical event. The crossing of the Red Sea is a historical event. Pentecost is a historical event, but there is not a specific day when the Trinity made itself known. While the Doctrine of the Trinity is supported by Holy Scripture, it is not specifically defined there. The Resurrection is defined in Holy Scripture. The Atonement (by which we are made acceptable to God by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ) is laid out in Holy Scripture. That God created the heavens and the earth is specifically mentioned in Holy Scripture. But the word “Trinity” never appears in Holy Scripture.

So, what is the Trinity and why do we believe it and even set aside a day to remember it? First, the Trinity is a very simple doctrine to state, but it is very hard to understand. The doctrine of the Trinity simply states that we believe in One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons are co-equal and co-eternal. All are “God” but there is only one God. So, God is three and God is one. When we hear something like that, it causes our minds to boggle, so we try to rationalize it.

The first “rationalization” that we normally run to is to try to describe God as One God with three functions. I’ve heard people try to explain the Trinity using the analogy of the different roles they have in life. For example, I am a husband, a father, and a deacon. They describe God as acting as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just as I act as husband, father, or deacon. Now this sounds good because it emphasizes the unity of God. There is One God. But let’s look where it leads. If there is only one God and not three distinct persons, then Jesus (God incarnate) cannot be fully God. Because if Jesus is fully God and God is not three persons, then where is God while Jesus walks the earth? Where is God when Jesus dies on the cross? If there is only one person in different roles, then, Jesus cannot be God. If Jesus is not God, he could not have lived a sinless life and his death on the Cross is, somewhat, deserved and, therefore it cannot be a “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” So, if God is not at least two persons, (the Father and the Son) then we cannot be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. So, the Trinity cannot be one God with three functions. That is actually a classical heresy called “Modalism” – one God with three “modes” of relating to us. The Church actually rejected this heresy in its early days.

While Modalism is a heresy in one direction, there is another heresy in the other direction. This heresy emphasizes the three Persons of the Trinity at the expense of their unity. So, there are three gods, but that only the Father is fully God. The Son and the Holy Spirit are close to God, but not fully God. This comes by an attempt to take the word “Father” too literally. Arius, the first proponent of this thought believed that since there was a time when a human father was not a father – my dad was not a father until I was born – that there must have been a time when the Son did not exist. If the Son is not eternal, then the Son cannot be fully God. And, again, if Jesus, being the Incarnate Son, is not fully God, then he cannot pay the price for our sins. By the way, this controversy rocked the Church to its core. Are you familiar with the phrase “It doesn’t make an iota’s worth of difference?” That phrase actually comes to us from this controversy. Arius – the chief architect of this heresy said that the Son was of like nature – in Greek homoiousious with the Father. Athanasius, the chief architect of the Nicene Creed (which we will say in a moment) said that the Son was of the same nature in Greek homoousous with the Father. The only difference between these words was the letter “I” – in Greek it is called “iota.” Those who were not Christians at the time and those who didn’t want to fight about the nature of God thought that this was an awful lot of fuss and anger and hatred over the smallest letter in the alphabet. It was and is of critical importance, but we’ll get to the reasons for that in a bit.

Scripture witnesses that the Son of God has to be separate from God the Father and still is God. John’s Gospel begins “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word with with God and the Word was God.” A little further on, John writes “…and the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” This simple passage – read each year on the Sunday after Christmas and on Christmas Day itself – witnesses that the Word of God – God the Son – is at the same time With God and Is God. That cannot be true unless there are at least two persons in the Godhead.

Scripture clearly witnesses to two persons, but we say that there are three persons in the Godhead. Why is that? Again, it is the witness of Holy Scripture and the practice of the Church. The New Testament talks about the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God. Why do we say that the Holy Spirit is God as well? There are several reasons, but let me give the basic one. When we baptize in the Church, we baptize in the Name (not names, but name) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our earliest recorded liturgies are mentioned in the Didache (written at the end of the 1st Century or the beginning of the second) and Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (written about 215AD and speaks of tradition that Hippolytus received). The person being baptized is dunked three times – for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Today when we baptize, we pour water on the persons head three times saying I baptize you in the Name of the Father (pour) and of the Son (pour) and of the Holy Spirit (pour). We are baptized into the singular name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is something that is attested to in Holy Scripture and it is what we have always done. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then we are baptizing someone into a creature, not into the Creator. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then he cannot bring us into all truth and cannot give us new life as we say the Holy Spirit does in the Nicene Creed.

Now, I’ve tried to keep the theological and historical part of this sermon as short as possible. I find it interesting and fascinating but many of us are more interested in the (big yawn) “so what?” question. What was that big deal about the iota? What does the Doctrine of the Trinity matter?

First, I would say it matters because it speaks to the ultimate nature of God. If God is not a Trinity of persons in unity of being, then we are worshipping a very false God. We are moving away from what is real to what is not real and that movement has eternal consequences for us. We need to understand God as He is (or at least understand Him as much as we are able). Second, the question has to be asked, “How are we saved?” The Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross has to be a pure sacrifice – it has to be an undeserved death, so it has to be made by a person without sin. God alone is without sin, so only God can put us right with God.

Finally, the Trinity points to one very important truth about God. God is, at his essence, Community. The inner life of God is a constant dance where each person gives himself to the other. Our society does not understand the need for community. We shut ourselves in our homes and surround ourselves with TV and computers and stuff in the hopes that we can generate for ourselves that sense of community that we long for. The internet is full of places where people try to form community, but don’t want to risk themselves in the process. That is not how we were designed to live. God designed us to live, not as individuals who exist for their own benefit and their own good, but as persons whose life together reflects the life of the Holy Trinity. We were designed to care more for the other persons in our community that we do for ourselves. But we are so blinded by our sins that we cannot see the need for or the benefit of caring for the others more than for ourselves, so we erect walls around ourselves and hide our selves from each other.

The first thing that God says about man is “It is not good for man to be alone.” Why not? Well, it is not good for the man to be alone because he is made in God’s image and God is not alone – God is community.

The Church, in addition to being the Body of Christ, is the place where we learn to live out the life of the Holy Trinity. Here is where we learn to care for others more than ourselves. This place is where we start to give of ourselves and find out that we receive much more than we give when we give. God designed us to live in community and to live by giving away our own life. Bishop Michael Marshall of England said (and I believe he was quoting someone else) that we were designed to love people and use things but we ended up loving things and using people. This place is where to start to undo all the damage that our society has done to us and that we have done to ourselves. Here is where we learn to love by following the example of God who “so loved the world that He gave is only son, that whoever believed in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This passage from today’s Gospel actually points to my favorite image of the Trinity. We say that God is many things, but one of the most common we hear is that God is Love. Now too many people say that or hear that and hear “God is not judgmental” or “God doesn’t really care what I do because he loves me.” Those ideas are just as false as the two heresies I mentioned earlier. Love absolutely cares what the one loved does – right dad? As the recipient of loving discipline and as a father who attempts to give out loving discipline, I can say that love requires discipline.

But let’s get back to God being love. God is love. That is a true statement. Now, God is also unchanging. If God is love, then God has always been Love. Now Love is a verb. We normally don’t say “I have love for you” we say “I love you.” Love is what is called a “transitive verb.” It always requires an object. It is meaningless to say “I love.” I don’t love. I love someone or something. So if God is love and God alone is eternal, then there has to be an object of that love that is separate from the lover. That object of God’s love is God the Son. God the Father loves God the Son and always has. The Son loves the Father and always has. The Love that flows from the Father to the Son and back from the Son to the Father is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Love personified. So, in the Trinity we have the Lover (God the Father), the Loved (God the Son) and the Love itself (God the Holy Spirit). All are separate, but all are required to have or to be love.

Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate that God loves us and the whole world so much that He became one of us – to share in our human nature so that he could share his divine nature with us. God calls us to reflect in our lives, His life within the Holy Trinity by living in community and by caring for each other more than we care for ourselves. This can be scary and frightening, but it is also the life we were designed to live. Will you join me in asking God to help us live that life and asking for the strength to let our lives reflect God’s life in the Holy Trinity?

In the Name of God: Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Phil Snyder

Friday, June 05, 2009

Five Years Ago Today

On 06/05/04 I (and three others) was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in

Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Anniversaries are good times for reflections, so here are some of my reflections on beign a deacon?

First, I am still being formed as a Deacon. This is a life long process and I am sure every clergy person will tell you. How am I different today than I was five years ago? I am not so quick to step in. I urge others to step in so that they, too, can find the joy that comes from serving God by serving His people. I understand even better my role as a servant and as a minister. I represent Jesus and the Church to God's people outside and inside the Church. When I was first ordained, I thought that the locus of ministry for a deacon was mainly outside the Church. I now find that deacons minister inside the Church as well as outside the Church.

I also see authority differently. All authority that I have is given to me on a temporary basis. There is very little that I can demand to do and almost nothing I should insist on. I work for the Bishop and serve where and when he chooses. A great example of this came up last week. I had prepared a confirmation class and our Bishop Suffragan was making his first visit to St. James to baptize and confirm on Pentecost. However, there is a small congregation in one of Dallas' suburbs whose supply priest was not available and the diocese could not find another supply priest for Pentecost, so the Bishop sent me to do a Deacon's Administration from the Reserve Sacrament. I would have loved to be at my home parish to see the class I prepared and worked with since January be confirmed and take their place as ministers in the Church, but the Bishop had other needs and sent me to fulfill those needs. As an added bonus, I got a chance to preach on Pentecost! Deacons very rarely get to preach on major feast days.

As a deacon - and especially as a non-stipendary deacon - I stand with one foot in the Church and one in the secular world and I act as a sort of bridge between the Church and the world. I bring the concerns of the world to the attention of the Church (particularly in terms of prison ministry) and I bring the message of reconciliation from the Church to the lost and needy of the world.

In the past five years, I have been changed and I continue to be changed. I find great joy and satisfaction in my service. May God continue to form me as His deacon, servant, and minister.


Phil Snyder

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Reappraiser Method

Over at the Creedal Christian, Fr. Owen is having a discussion on the difference between "Living the Question" and "Living the Answers."

I suggested that we use the "tried and true" method of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason (correctly defined) to investigate whether God blesses homosexual unions.

Unfortunately, TEC doesn't seem to be willing to to that. I first became "politically aware" within TEC during the debate on ordaining women. After looking at how the reappraisers (those who wish to change our theology and practice on a number of fronts) do things, I offer the following synopsis of the Reappraiser Method:

  1. Pick a topic where society (or "our" society) and the Church are at odds (women in leadership, gender neutral language, homosexual sex).
  2. Start to question the long held practice and faith of the Church
  3. Since there are now those who question this aspect of the practice (minimize questioning the faith) of the Church, we are no longer of one mind on the issue.
  4. Since we are no longer of one mind on the issue, we should be free to explore alternative views (minimize practice here)
  5. We've explored many alternative views and believe that we should be free to, provisionally, allow for the practice of "x" (ordaining women, using inclusive language, blessing same sex unions). If the Church objects, do it anyway and dare the Church to discipline you.
  6. If the Church fails to discipline you, continue to do what you are doing.
  7. Point out that we, as Anglicans, believe that how we pray influences how we believe.
  8. Since we (or a large number of us) are now praying "X" it is an authentic expression of the Faith of the Church.
  9. Call those who will not go along with the innovation you propose "bigots" and point out that they are "old fashion" and not "keeping up with current thought." Minimize them and their influence.
  10. Legalize the desired change in the canons.
  11. Make the old practice (male only ordination) illegal in the Church.
  12. Go back to step 1

Right now, womens' ordination has completed all eleven cycles. "Inclusive language" is somewhere in step 10. Blessing same sex unions (and ordaining those involved in such) is somewhere in step 9 and will probably reach 10 at the next General Convention.

This is NOT reflecting on scripture. tradition, and reason before acting. This is acting first and then getting political support for your actions prior to doing the required reflection and getting the Church to buy into what you are selling.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sacramental Marriage

In my last post I discussed civil marriage and how it has fallen in the eyes of society. I left off discssion of the religious aspects of marriage or the Sacrament of Marriage so as not to confuse the two issues.

Marriage is "the union of husband and wife in body, mind, and spirit." (BCP p. 423) It is not a partnership where each contributes 50% to the outcome. It is a union where each person surrenders to the other person completely (or as much as possible). As Holy Scripture says, the two become "one flesh." There are no longer two distinct people in a marriage - there is "one flesh."

I've heard some rather terrible marriage sermons in my time. The worst talk about a "partnership of equals" where "both need to work to make the marriage work." This makes marriage sound like a business plan, not a "union in body, mind, and spirit."

In the Church Catholic, Marriage is a "Sacrament" - "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." (BCP p. 857) In marriage, the minister of the sacrament is not the priest or clergy person officiating at the wedding ceremony. The ministers of the sacrament are husband and wife. The grace given is the grace to surrender your will to the combined will of the marriage - to seek your spouse's good above your own.

The Church blesses marriages, not because we like marriage or we like married people or because we want society ordered but because of these four reasons (BCP 423):
  1. God Ordained marriage in Creation
  2. Jesus adorned marriage by his presence and first miracle at the Wedding feast in Cana
  3. Paul stated that marriage symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church
  4. Holy Scripture commends marriage to be honored among all people.

Sacramental marriages work to conform to the images of marriage given in Holy Scripture. When it comes to blessing same sex unions, we have no biblical warrant for doing so. I have challenged many people who support the blessing of same sex unions (including our Presiding Bishop) and no one has been able to show me where any of the four reasons is true for same sex unions.

Until we can show, objectively, where God condones and blesses same sex unions, the Church lacks the authority to bless them, let alone call them "marriages."


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marriage - what is it?

The comments on my previous post didn't really deal with the difference between fact (what we perceive to be) and truth (what does that mean). They dealt with marriage and what constitutes marriage.

For Christians living in the United States, there are two different kinds of "marriage." The first is legal marriage - marriage recognized by the state. This is where the state recognizes that the two (for now) people have entered into a special relationship where they share power of attorney and rights of survivorship. Spouses inherit without paying inheritance taxes (again, for now) and there are many legal benefits that a spouse enjoys (such as joint ownership of property aquired during the marriage, etc.)

There is also the religious marriage - or for you catholic types out there, the Sacrament of Marriage. I will discuss the religious aspects of marriage in another post. This post will be concerned simply with the secular institution of marriage.

Right now, both forms of marriage are under attack - primarily by heterosexuals who desire sexual freedom, but still want society's sanction for their lives.

So, what is marriage and why should the State give special priveleges to married couples
Marriage is supposed to be the life long union of husband and wife. Even civil marriages assume (or they used to assume) that the union was going to be life long. It was never designed to be "two people who love each other" or a temporary ("starter") union.

So why do I say that marriage is under attack? It is not under attack because of "gay marriage." Gay marriage is the result of downfall and failure of our culture to understand marriage, not the cause of the downfall of marriage.

Today almost 40% of all births occur outside of marriage and approx 50% of marriages end in divorce (this includes 2nd and 3rd marriages that have a much higher failure rate than 1st marriages).

We have changed marriage from a lifelong commitment to live together in sickness and health, till death do us part into a temporary commitment that we keep until a better offer comes along. We have changed the definition of "love" from caring for the other in good times and in bad times to an fleeting emotion of affection that affirms our personhood and contributes to our self-perceived psychological health. Anything that causes us to think less of ourselves can be (and should be) jetisoned from our lives like so much garbage.

We have turned marriage into a temporary partnership - much like a limited liability corporation where any party can leave the partnership at will - and, if you have a good enough lawyer - take the majority of the assets of the partnership with you!

I believe that it has been the unintended consequence of "no fault divorce" that led to the downfall of marriage as an institution. Our society now sees marriage as just another disposable item that can be discarded the moment it no longer meets our needs.

The natural consequence of marriage being disposable is that it is no longer really held in high regard. Too many in society simply don't care.

Into this culture comes the request of homosexual men and women to also have marriages where the state grants all the rights that they grant heterosexuals in marriage. With how our society now views "marriage" this is not unreasonable. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable.
So, why does the State give benefits to marriage? The State gives special privileges to married couples for two reasons. First, the family that starts out with husband and wife is (generally) the best place to raise children. Put in biological terms, the institution of marriage evolved as a trade off. The husband and wife promised mutual sexual fidelity to each other as a way of caring for the children and for the husband to insure that the children he provided for were his. This arrangement goes far back into time. The second reason is that stable partnerships are of great benefit to society. Health and wealth and happiness are all higher among married couples (especially long term married couples) than they are among similarly aged single or divorced persons. Society functions better when its members are happier, wealthier, and healthier. This alone should be a good reason for society to encourage (e.g. provide benefits for) marriage.

What I would like to see is for marriage to regain its place as a life long union - where it is difficult to get a divorce and where no-fault divorce is not allowed. Apart from this, the state could offer a "civil partnership" where any number (why should partners be restricted to two?) of adults can join in this partnership and gain some limited benefits - such as power of attorney, the right to inherit without taxes, the right to be covered by employer health insurance, etc. It should be rather easy to join into a CP and rather easy to get out of one.

Phil Snyder