Friday, May 20, 2005

Methodist Blogger Profile: Dean Snyder

Posted by Hello

Dean Snyder of Untied Methodist.


I live with my wife Jane Malone in a wonderful 155 year-old home three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC. My church is a three-mile walk away, and I try to walk between church and home more often than I drive.

I served my first church as a student pastor in 1968. I was ordained a United Methodist elder in 1972 after attending Boston University School of Theology. I have had seven appointments (including my current one) since then. I have had the most interesting and exciting appointments of anyone I know in United Methodist ministry, including 9 years of campus ministry, serving as pastor of a primarily (actually almost entirely) African-American congregation, being a conference director of communication, developing a plan to start new congregations especially among ethnic populations as an associate council director, and being the pastor of two diverse and multicultural downtown churches at two different times of my ministry. My greatest disappointment is that there are so many exciting ministries and that I can't do them all.

Why do you blog?

Two reasons:1) I came across the Wesley Blog, the Methodist blogroll, and then the weekly summaries on Locust and Honey and felt drawn to try to become part of this community, which --it seems to me-- is really attempting to speak and listen across theological and political differences without pretending the differences don’t exist. Were it not for the Methodist blog community, I am not sure I would have been moved to start a blog. 2) It is also true that writing helps me think, and that I like to try to touch and influence people by what I preach and write. Doing a blog lets me write without the trouble of sending out manuscripts to periodicals for publication. Although the number of people who read me may be less, blogging let’s people find me rather than me trying to find them..

What has been your best blogging experience?

My best experience is hearing back from folk who have read my blog. Interestingly enough, I have gotten the most direct e-mail from a sermon I posted that I had given at a retreat for clergy about when ministry gets tough. Some folk found it helpful and encouraging and let me know.

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?

I’m still a novice, of course. I think my posts are way too long. The internet is less about monologue and more about dialogue, so I would advise another novice to be shorter, less complex and more to the point than I tend to be.

If you only had time to read three blogs a day, what would they be?

In addition to the two blogs mentioned above that got me into this, I guess I’d read I also follow Beth Quick, Christian Dissent, Southern Liberal Methodist, and I love the prayers that rev. mommy posts.

Who are your spiritual heroes?

Carlyle Marney, Edmund Steimle, Jeanne Audrey Powers, Johnny Ray Youngblood, Harrel Beck, Toyoko Kagawa, William Stringfellow, Nevin Snyder (my older brother), and Felton Edwin May.

What are you reading at the moment?

Peter C. Murray’s Methodists and the Crucible of Race 1930-1975; W. Astor Kirk, Desegregation of the Methodist Church Polity; Gil Rendle’s and Alice Mann’s Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations;

What is your favorite hymn and why?

“O Thou, in Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight.” One Lent I resolved to spend three hours a day in prayer, five days a week. I didn’t manage to do it for more than a couple of weeks. It did weird things to me. (I moved too quickly, I think, from casual spiritual disciplines --reading the Upper Room and spending a few minutes talking to God in my head-- to 15 hours a week without building up my capacity first, like trying to run a marathon without training.) But during that time I found myself praying the words of this hymn over and over. It spoke, and continues to speak, to my need to be self-sufficient and independent (and to make life more complicated and difficult than it has to be) and offers the possibility that I might surrender to grace and accept God’s majestic unmerited presence in my life.

I have come to love the questions at the end of the second verse and the beginning of the third (because they so well articulate my negative spiritual tendencies): “Say, why in the valley of death should I weep, or alone in this wilderness rove? O, why should I wander, an alien from thee, or cry in the desert for bread?”

Then comes the prayer in verse four which articulates my longing: “Restore, my dear Savior, the light of thy face, thy soul cheering comfort impart, and let the sweet tokens of pardoning grace bring joy to my desolate heart.”

And finally the last verse is full of praise: “He looks! and ten thousands of angels rejoice, and myriads wait for his word. He speaks! and eternity, filled with his voice, reechoes the praise of the Lord.”

This hymn mirrors my spiritual experience. It is best, however, when sung by an African-American congregation, preferably the one I served in the late 80s!

Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?

I’ve had a hard wrestle with abortion, and used to be less pro-choice than I am now. I also used to be much more wary than I am now about stem cell research and genetic medicine. I still think there are potential ethical problems but now my concerns have less to do with the science than how capitalism will abuse the use of the science.

What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?

If I had to pick one, I guess I’d go with laissez-faire capitalism -- the idea that human welfare is best achieved by a free market left to its own devices; the idea that less government involvement in economic decisions such as pricing, production, labor, and distribution of goods and services improves human welfare in the long run; the idea that weak individuals should be sacrificed for the greater good. In social life, its spiritual equivalent might be called “survival of the fittest.”

If you could affect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be?

I’d institute full employment and the right to work: Everyone –including differently abled people-- should have the basic right to a job that earns them a livable wage and that fulfills their gifts and abilities. In order to achieve this, we would also need to guarantee access to quality education, decent and affordable childcare and adequate healthcare.

If you could affect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church, what would it be?

No one would be permitted to vote at annual conference or General Conference about any group of people or their role and status within the church and/or ministry unless he or she had met weekly for at least two years with members of that group for prayer and personal sharing.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Drink at least six glasses of water a day, exercise regularly, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, get help when you need it, pray, don’t let others steal your joy.

What, if anything, do you worry about?

I worry that my generation of Americans will have consumed more than we will have contributed and, thus, will have left the world a poorer, less caring, more violent place.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?

Sure. I would devote more time to self-reflection sooner. I would learn sooner to be less anxious about conflict. I would worry less about what people think about me and whether they like me.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?

I love living in the city, but if I did not live in the city I would want to live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. (See I would also like to live in Zimbabwe or Liberia.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Biking; sitting in Starbucks, sipping Earl Grey tea, and reading; walking; watching birds

What is your most treasured possession?

My bicycle

What talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to sing lead tenor in a Southern-style gospel quartet.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, and Anna Lee


Anonymous said...

His picture says "Untied Methodist". I haven't heard that in a long time. I'm a former member of the UMC so does that make me Untied? ;)

John said...

Perhaps Dean is referring to the frequent disunity within the UMC. I don't know.

Dean, would you like to clarify?

Theresa Coleman said...

I've signed my email for years as "Untied Methodist, Mommy, Whatever"
It's a state of mind. IMHO, we get too tied up in our own, uhm, STUFF. I've been presby, episco, bapt-o and undem and Methodist are so very tied up into doctrine, Wesley and all that STUFF.
So, I'm Untied as well. Moving on to perfection requires you to let go and untie.