Archive for 2015

No Room in the Guest Room

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

In a recent book, Journey to the Manger, the British New Testament scholar Paula Gooder claims that the word translated as “inn” in the traditional Christmas story really meant a guest room in someone’s house. “Inns” were only found out on the highways, where travelers needed to stop for the night.

So Luke seems to have envisioned Joseph and Mary being put up in a typical Bethlehem house–beneficiaries of the traditional hospitality for which the Middle East has been famous. There would have been no room on the upper level of the house where the family slept, so the visitors had to stay on the lower floor, which is also where the family’s domestic animals resided.

In fact, as Gooder points out, this revision of the story actually makes a better theological point than the familiar version. For Gooder, Jesus received the hospitality of strangers; and he received it not in an ancient version of a Holiday Inn but in someone’s own home, under the same roof of the local family’s house. All the more encouragement for us to offer hospitality to the stranger. —J. Douglas Ousley

New Signs of Incarnation on 35th Street

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

In the pre-Christmas rush, it’s easy to overlook events that aren’t directly related to the holiday. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the uptick in attendance at some of our groups, and at the number of new people showing up repeatedly at services and events.

Particularly gratifying have been some very generous gifts to our outreach ministries from people who have given little or nothing in the past. We are so blessed at Incarnation–not only with the faithful who keep the doors open and the candles lit, but also with folks on the fringes of our parish who look to us for inspiration and who do what they can to support our work.

Happy Feast of the Incarnation! —J. Douglas Ousley

“Active Shooter Resources”

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

“Active Shooter Resources” was an item in a PowerPoint presentation at a conference I attended yesterday at NYPD Headquarters, One Police Plaza.

The meeting was called by Commissioner William Bratton; participating were Clergy Liaisons and other religious leaders from the five boroughs. (I was invited because I am a Liaison for our 17th Precinct.) The huge auditorium was filled to the brim for this unprecedented “All-In” clergy gathering. Many speakers from the Police Department, including Commissioner Bratton, presented the many new initiatives and programs now underway. Mayor De Blasio closed the conference with assurances that he is dedicated to preserving the safety of New Yorkers.

I would categorize the conference’s concerns as mainly relating either to the racial divide between police and persons of color or to the dangers of terrorism. The NYPD is addressing the former issue by forming a “Community Partner Program.” Every officer in a given precinct, instead of being on duty in the area at-large will be assigned to a particular neighborhood. This change should help police to become more familiar with the residents of the area they serve.

Two disturbing videos dealt with the second issue of terrorism. One film told how to recognize a young person becoming radicalized (watch for changes in behavior); the other video showed what to do if an active shooter/terrorist enters your building (Run if possible, if not possible, Hide; if you can’t run or hide, Resist.) Clergy were urged to arrange to show these videos to their congregations.

All in all, I was happy that the police were trying to tackle the problem of racism in some policing. But I was sad to think that we religious leaders should actually be prepared to deal with active shooters. God help us all. —J. Douglas Ousley



The Light-Hearted Saint

Monday, November 30th, 2015

As Advent begins and Christmas approaches, it’s worth reminding ourselves yet again that “Santa Claus” is a folk version of a possibly-real folk Christian saint: St. Nicholas, who was known for his charity and his love of children.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves that while our Puritan founders didn’t allow Christmas to be celebrated because of its alleged frivolity, the frivolous aspects of the holiday–like visits to Santa Claus–are among the most joyous parts of the feast.

And it is a feast. The Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A very serious holy day, true. But, at the same time, a feast to lighten the heaviest of hearts. Let us prepare our souls for the visit of the Light-Hearted Saint–and the Holy One for whom he stands. —J. Douglas Ousley

Is The Christian Century Christian?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

I am a long-time subscriber to The Christian Century; I even published a couple of pieces in the magazine. For decades, it has been the leading chronicle of liberal Christian opinion. Some of the biggest names in mainline Protestant circles regularly write for the Century.

I won’t deny the possibility of prejudice on my part, but I find the journal increasingly aggravating. Its politics reflect without exception the left-wing of the U.S. Democratic Party. Its theology reflects the most recent victim ideologies of the day.

Even though many writers give nods to tradition, they invariably tend to go beyond what Christians used to believe in order to offer an improved version. The problem is, their version is always blowing in the PC wind, and it is always an attenuated rendition of the ancient Christian faith. The only explanation I can think of would be that the editors and writers are trying to impress their agnostic intellectual friends in secular political circles with their progressive views.

The long time editor (and former Democratic Congressman) John Buchanan is finally retiring. Perhaps his successor will be more independent and imaginative in his opinions. —J. Douglas Ousley


Monday, November 16th, 2015

Already left-of-center voices in our church are warning of “backlash” against Muslims and “demonizing” the Islamic terrorists.

I wouldn’t challenge the idea that Christians are in favor of peace (though I wonder more and more about Muslims.) But if the Paris attacks weren’t demonic, what were they? —J. Douglas Ousley

The Church That Gives Blessings

Friday, November 13th, 2015

As I was returning a book to the library in a club that I belong to, the librarian saw me and asked me a question. She knew vaguely where my parish was located and she asked, “Is your church the one that gives blessings?”

Apparently, the librarian had been walking by the church one morning and seen our Associate Rector on the steps, offering to pray with passers-by if they desired. Each time Adrian has done this, a dozen or more people have stopped. I urged the librarian to get in line if she needed a prayer sometime.

I can’t imagine any better nickname than “the Church that gives blessings.” —J. Douglas Ousley

Most Reverend

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Last Sunday, Bishop Michael Curry was installed as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In written form he is now addressed as “the Most Reverend Michael Curry.”

Up to recent times, American Presiding Bishops hadn’t used this form of address, which is appropriate for archbishops such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby Instead, Americans had gone by the title, “the Right Reverend”–the slightly less pretentious form of addressing a bishop.

But now the office and title have followed the general culture trend of inflating and magnifying social positions. What Jesus would have made of all this is anyone’s guess (and I say this as one whose written title is “the Reverend Canon”!)

In any event, Bishop Curry strikes one in person as a humble man. And his introductory video talks about following Jesus. Fortunately, one can be a disciple with no title at all. —J. Douglas Ousley

An Optimistic View?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

In her last days as Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori has offered a positive view of her tenure. You can read the whole address on this link; here’s a sample of what she said:

“The Episcopal Church has come a long way in the last 10 years. We are no longer consumed by internal conflict over various social issues. We are clearer about who we are – a multinational church, with congregations in 17 nations, worshipping in countless different languages, thriving in international, immigrant, and multicultural contexts everywhere, and discovering the abundant life that comes in turning outward to love the neighbors nearby and far away.”

While no doubt an accurate assessment, Jefferts Schori doesn’t note the great decline in number of parishes, members, weddings, baptisms, etc. in the past ten years. Much of the “internal conflict” has been resolved by people giving up the fight and moving to other denominations or splinter groups.

Most important to me is the apparent dilution of the Episcopal identity into a highly politicized, left-of-center advocacy group. I realize that is a tendentious remark, and I would love to be convinced otherwise. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Homeless We Have With Us

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A recent meeting of local clergy organized by Community Board 6 discussed homelessness in our area. I am sorry to report that there were no new ideas–only a general agreement that the problem is getting worse.

The manager of the community board did say that Mayor DiBlasio has assembled an task force of officials from different city agencies to try to come up with new solutions to the problem. The issue is complicated on the avenues in Midtown by the presence of young tourist “homeless” with varying degrees of credibility. Many of the saddest cases have mental illness or chemically-addled brains, and they aren’t able to find prime spots to beg or write clever signs.

Meanwhile, the cold weather is coming. —J. Douglas Ousley