Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bits of Broken Glass

One image or metaphor about the transformation that is to occur in the Christian life that has always stayed with me, is C. S. Lewis' image of a lead soldier becoming flesh and bone. How would the lead soldier, if given voice, react to the hard metal becoming soft flesh? Like that mythical soldier, we, too, complain about being changed by God.

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon at the Coffield maximum security prison. It was a Kairos reunion weekend. When I go, I normally make myself available for Spiritual Counselling and confession (I know I can't grant absolution, but these guys are often in extremis about their sins and need to hear that Jesus Christ forgives them.) Yesterday was no different.

Now, our reunions take place in the Chapel at Coffield. This chapel has a beautiful stained glass window with swirlling colors.

I've often used the image of broken glass and stained glass windows. A stained glass window is a beautiful work of art that is made with broken glass. Just as the artist in the window selects glass based in the artist's needs and not the glasses preference, so God selects us and the ministry He gives us based on His needs, not on our desires.

What if the glass could feel? What if the glass had a say in where it was placed or if it was placed in the window?

Brothers and Sisters, we are the bits of glass in God's stained glass window. God scores us and breaks us to fit where we are in the window. If we rebel, we are often broken more than if we hadn't rebelled. If we put ourselves in the hands of another artist, we may be malformed and need to be broken even more.

As pieces of glass, we have two functions. First we let the light shine through us. We are not the source of the light, but we do color the light by the shading given to us by God. Second, we fit into a pattern. We can't see the pattern from where we are, so we have to trust God - we have to faith - that God will place us where He wants and needs us.

While I can't see the pattern myself, I have the witness of others who have seen parts of the pattern. I faith that the Artist knows His mind and is creating something of utmost beauty.

Are you willing to be scored and broken? Are you willing to be heated and melted? Are you willing to let God prepare you for your place in the Great Stained Glass Window that is His Kingdom?

Pray that we will all have the grace to be scored, broken, melted, colored, and fitted into our place in God's designs.

Phil Snyder

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What does being a "Fundamentalist" mean?

In my earlier post, I talked about what a "fundamentalist" is. While the connotation of "fundamentalist" is generally an unthinking reflexive believer that doesn't consider anything other than what is written in his scriptures. However, the denotation of a fundamentalist is someone who believes the following five fundamentals:

  1. Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are inerrant because of this inspiration

  2. The Virgin Birth - such that Mary had no sexual relations prior to the conception of Jesus

  3. Christ's death on the cross atoned for our sins

  4. The physical resurrection of the dead for Jesus - the tomb is empty and Jesus' bones are not lying in a ditch somewhere.

  5. The miracles that Christ is recorded to have performed in Gospels are true and actually happened

In a comment, Andy asked what are the implications of being a fundamentalist (per the denotation).

Now libraries have been written about the implications of any one of the four and the topic is too large for the blogging format, but here is a high level crack at it.

1. If the scriptures are inspired by God, then we need to spend a lot of time in study of them and to pattern our lives after their timeless truths. That means that our definition of moral living should not contradict Holy Scripture's definition of moral living. It also means that our authority should not be internal, but external - the Holy Scriptures. Now the study of Holy Scripture is not just an individual affair, but it is something that should take place in community and, ideally, in multiple communities. There should be the community of the family, a group of friends, a Sunday school class, a congregation, a diocese, a province, the Anglican Communion and the Church Catholic.

2. If Jesus is born of a virgin, then it means that God, not man, is the ultimate source of life. We, who are grafted into the Body of Christ through our baptism, are not ourselves. We have a new birth - by the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, our new lives were also conceived by the Holy Spirit.

3. If Jesus death on the cross atoned for our sins, then they have been atoned for. Now, there are several metaphors used to describe the atonement. One is penal substitution where Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. One is called "Christus Victor" where Jesus defeated the power of death. Some are objective (something actually happened) and some are subjective (Jesus gave us a great example in his death). As an Anglican, I say "Yes" to all the above. Different metaphors will reach different people and may be more true at different times in our lives than at others. Regardless of the metaphor used, I accept that Jesus's death on the cross atoned for my sins and the sins of the whole world. If our sins have been atoned for, then we need only to repent and confess to receive the benefit of that atonement. We also need to realize that the price paid for our freedom is the death of Jesus.

4. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then the battle between life and death is over and live wins. All of our death focused living (sin) has been defeated. The implications of this are enormous. We are no longer captive to our sins. Sin and death have been defeated in the Cross. The powers of death did their worst to Jesus and he came out the other side. Because of this, we can confront the powers of death in our day and in our lives - but not with our own power, but with the power of Jesus - Risen from the dead and victorious over evil and sin and death. Will we choose to remain imprisoned by our death focused culture and lives or will we choose to live in the Victory that Jesus has won for us and wants to share with us?

5. If the miracles of Jesus actually occurred, then that implies that the creator has power over the creation and is not part of the creation. I would also say that the "miracles" such as healings and bring others back from the dead and the feeding of the multitudes are the undoing of the effects of sin in creation. By sin (whether Adam's or Lucifer's), death entered the world. Disease entered the world. Pain and suffering entered the world. Because of sin, man needs to work for his food and knows hunger. Because of sin, there is not always enough food. But because God entered creation, death itself dies. Sin is defeated. Hunger and suffering are alleviated. The Kingdom of God is proclaimed and we need to determine if we are going to be subjects of the King of Kings or the subjects of ourselves.

These are just some outlines on what I think the implications of being a "fundamentalist" are. Do the few people who read this blog have other ideas?


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What is a Fundamentalist?

When I was in the beginning of the Ordination Process in the Diocese of Dallas, I was being interviewed to participate in the "Ministry Discernment Program" - where I would be posted to a congregation (not my home congregation) and a committee there would help me and the Church discern if I had a call to ordained ministry.

The interviews took half a day, but one interview stands out in my memory. It concerned our theology. The primary interviewer was a seminary professor. After the pleasentries were out of the way, the first question he asked me was "Are you a fundamentalist?"

To which I replied: "What do you mean by fundamentalist?"

The Professor responded: "I am asking the questions here."

So I anwsered: "Well if by 'fundamentalist' you mean someone who believes every work of Holy Scripture to be true such that God created the world in six 24 hour periods known as 'days,' then no. I am not a fundamentalist. However, if you mean someone who believes the fundamentals of the faith as contained in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds and expounded in the Book of Common Prayer, then yes. I am a fundamentalist."

Everytime I hear someone call me (or another conservative Christian) a "fundamentalist," I think back to this story. To progressive Christians, there is no worse perjorative than "fundamentalist," but they very rarely define this term other than to say it is a term of disrespect and means someone who hold traditional Christian doctrine that they do not hold. To progressive Christians, a "fundamentalist" is someone who is not "progressive" or even not as progressive as the speaker. "Fundamentalist" has become a relative term, not an absolute.

Today, it seems to mean someone who takes the truth of Holy Scripture more literally and as more historically accurate than the speaker or person using the term does.

We need to recover the original meaning for the term "fundamentalist."

It came from the fight against modernity and originally meant someone who believed the following five items:

  1. Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are inerrant because of this inspiration
  2. The Virgin Birth - such that Mary had no sexual relations prior to the conception of Jesus
  3. Christ's death on the cross atoned for our sins
  4. The physical resurrection of the dead for Jesus - the tomb is empty and Jesus' bones are not lying in a ditch somewhere.
  5. The miracles that Christ is recorded to have performed in Gospels are true and actually happened.
Now, if you want to quibble, I can affirm all five of these items. I believe Holy Scripture to contain no error - when you read it according to the proper sense of the text. History for history, myth for myth, poetry for poetry, etc. I believe that Mary conceived Jesus without the help or assistance of any man, but by the power of the Holy spirit. I believe that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for our sins, but why that works is up to discussion. I believe that Jesus physically rose from the grave - that his physical body was transformed into the resurrection body we read about at the end of the Gospels and which we glimpse in the Transfiguration. I believe that Jesus healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, fed the hungry, caused the blind to see, and changed people's hearts so that they could see God.

I guess according to that definition, I am a fundamentalist. How about you?

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Word of God?

A recent post on Stand Firm quotes the English Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stephens as saying:
"For Christians ‘the word of God’ is the life of Jesus. The Bible is the product
of those who sought to understand the life of Jesus."

This is a terrible heresy. When I was ordained, I took an oath that I believed the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God.

One thing that occurred to me when reading Validmir Losky's The Mystical Theology of the Easter Church, is that Jesus is the Word of God, incarnate and Holy Scripture is the Word of God, written.

Just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is Holy Scripture. It was written by men and inspired by God. It is not partially human and partially divine.

So, if both are the Word of God, the heresies that apply to one could be applied to the other. The Christological Heresies that apply to the person of Jesus could also apply to the Holy Scriptures.
Just as there are those who see Jesus as more human than divine (if not all human and not divine)- the adoptionists, there are also those who see Holy Scripture as more human than divine (or all human and no divine).

Too many people are willing to split Holy Scripture into divine and human - this command is human; that command is divine. This story is human; that one is of divine nature. I find it odd that the stories and commands that people consider to be of divine origin are the ones they like and the stories and commands of human origin are the ones they don't like.

There is a heresy in the opposite direction too - the docetic heresy. This heresy states that Jesus only seemed to be human. He was divine and not really human. When applied to Holy Scripture, this brings about the wooden literalist translation and application of Holy Scripture. It does not take into account the person writing the book, his reasons for writing it or the culture in which it was written and received. I had one person tell me that Jesus was not making up stories when telling the parables - he was relating actual facts known to him.

All too often, we want to rule over scripture (the adoptionist heresy) or not wrestle with scripture (the docetic one). Holy Scripture is the Written Word of God. It contains all things necessary for salvation and it is our best record of the life and work of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God

Phil Snyder

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kudos to a Company

As part of our Christmas this year, my wife and I purchased a new computer for the family (primarily her and me). We are now going to let the kids use our four year old computer for their school and play. As part of this, we needed to get a new computer desk. We found this computer tower at Frys Electronics

(my favorite "toy" store. Well, during assembly, the bottom shelf broke. So I went to the company's website and ordered another part, expecting to pay shipping and for the part.

I called the company today to check on the status of my order and found that they shipped Monday (after taking off between Christmas and New Year) and that there is no charge for either the part of the shipping. If you need a computer desk or other "put it together yourself" furniture, I recommend Sauder (the parent company) or Studio RTA.

We like to complain about bad service and companies taking advantage of their customers. Once in a while, someone gets it right and I think they should be rewarded when they do!


Phil Snyder

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Healthcare and Health Insurance II

First, let me state why I am writing on this topic. I normally write about the Episcopal Church or about faith in general. As a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, I am charged with making known to the Church "the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." In the United States, health care is a big concern and as I stated earlier, I am employed in the healthcare IT world.

In the part I, I discussed Health Care as a scarese resource, the purpose of insurance to indemnify against unexpected and catastrophic loss, and the modern use of health insurance to pay for routine care. In this post, I will discuss some possible solutions for health insurance and some ways we can increase the efficiency of delivering health care in the United States.

First, we should not be using insurance to pay for routine medical care. Doctor's visits, well baby care, eye exams, and the like should not be covered by health insurance. To reduce transaction costs, these should not even be submitted to the insurance company, but should be paid out of pocket by the patients. We should reserve insurance for things like surgery, cancer, true emergency room visits and other unplanned events where the cost is prohibitive for most people. We can do this be limiting the procedures and services covered by insurance.

Next, we need a way to make insurance more portable. HIPAA (the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) went a long way towards doing this. One of the problems with changing health insurance is the coverage of "pre-existing conditions." If we chance health insurance to cover only catastrophic items, it would bring down the cost of insurance (as well as the cost of delivering care) and people would be more able and willing to carry personal insurance. Because insurance covers so much today bridging the gap between jobs is very expensive. Five years ago, I took a leave of absence for 7 weeks to take a unit of CPE. My cost for insurance duing that 7 weeks was over $2400. I believe that we can get a catastrophic policy for significantly less.

Finally, we need to find ways to cover the uninsured for and to pay for those who cannot afford healthcare. That will be the subject of part III.

Phil Snyder

Monday, January 05, 2009

Healthcare and Health Insurance

I work in Healthcare IT. I see my job as a ministry. My job helps to lower the cost of delivering health care to people. I've worked both in private insurance and in the Medicaid/Medicare fields for various clients.
As health care become more and more expensive we are approaching a crisis (some would say that we are already in a crisis) where "normal" healthcare is too expensive to afford without insurance. A large part of the problem is the use of insurance and the different models of how to best pay for health care.

Healthcare as a Scarce Resource
Let's start out with some basics. Healthcare is a scarce resource. There is a limited amount of healthcare to go around. So, it has to be rationed. In a "relatively" free market, scare resources are rationed based on the ability to pay. For example, automobile ownership is determined by who will pay what price for which car. People with more money generally drive nicer cars. Likewise food (particularly premium foods such as beef and fresh vegetables) is rationed based on ability to pay. The government does not give out free prime rib to its citizens.
So, we have to ration healthcare. There is not enough healthcare to meet the demand for it - particularly if the payment of services is divorced from the delivery of the service. But healthcare is a different form of commodity than premium foods. There are several cases where withholding of healthcare would result in death or permanent injury. No one ever died because he didn't get a medium rare prime ribeye steak. So, some basic services should be available to those who cannot pay.

The Purpose of Insurance
Second, insurance is designed to help people pay for unexpected catrastophic loss. We insure our homes (and our mortgage holders demand we do this) because no one (or very few people) can afford to purchase a new house if the current one burns down. In the healthcare arena, insurance started out paying for catastrophic loss.

Today's Health Insurance
Today, we have health insurance that pays for known and planned (or plannable) and routine expenses. Health Insurance pays for check ups, well baby care, routine doctor visits for sickness (such as colds and flu) and other knowable and plannable events. Today's market is moving towards a high deductible plan where the insurance starts to pay after a $1000 per person per year deductible. The problem is that, in order to reach this deductible, even routine doctor visits are still filed with the insurance. This increases transaction costs for the doctor's office and for the insurance carrier. Like all business expenses, these costs are borne by the customers - the patients.

The Genesis of Employer Provided Insurance
One problem in our society is that health insurance is normally acquired from your employer. This really started in WWII when the federal government imposed wage limits to help industries and reduce inflation during an inflationary period (war almost always brings inflation). To attract the best talent, companies could no longer compete on price (skilled labor is also a scarce resource), it had to find other ways to compete, so they started offering "perqs" like health insurance. Everyone who wanted talented labor had to offer health insurance and the health insurance industry was rather new, so this distribution method (employers providing insurance) became the de facto standard.

A Thought Experiment
Using insurance like this divorces payment for services from the delivery of services. Thus, there is no incentive to minimize or self-ration health care services. As an anology, imagine if your employer offered "Lunch Insurance." Your employer will pay 50-80% of the cost of your Lunch Insurance (LI). LI has an annual deductible of $200 per person and will pay 80% of the cost of your lunch after you reach that deductible. Now, what do you think will happen to the price of lunch in general? How would your own lunch eating habits change? Would you continue to bring your lunch to work or would you go out more often? Eventually, the cost of lunch would increase such that you had to have insurance to pay for lunch at all - unless your were independently wealthy.

What Should We Do?
I'll address that tomorrow or Wednesday. In the mean time, leave your own recommendations in the comments.

Phil Snyder

Friday, January 02, 2009

God's Only Exam

On Monday, January 5th, candidates for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church will begin to sit down to take the General Ordination Examination (GOEs) also known as "God's Only Exam."

This is a very stressful time for them. I remember when I took the GOEs almost five years ago and I am glad that I do not have to do that again!

The exams are a series of seven tests - six half day and one full day essay exams covering the "Seven Canonical Areas" - Systematic Theology, Litury & Worship, Holy Scripture, Ethics and Moral Theology, Contemporary Society, Church History, and the Theory and Practice of Ministry.

Please take some time this weekend and during next week, for those students who are writing their exams. Please pray for calm and for clarity of expression. Also pray that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit as they take the exams.

Phil Snyder