Hit in the Head

October 15th, 2019

Preaching on Sunday about the Healing of the Ten Lepers and the fact that only one leper came back to thank Jesus, I speculated that one reason New Yorkers have trouble being grateful is that they are so often overwhelmed by urban life.

They are assaulted with noise, they are aggravated by uncertain transportation, they feel hit in the head (sometimes literally) by the human congestion around them. No wonder we forget to thank God for all the good things in our lives.

That said, it is curious that religion isn’t more popular. Our form of Christianity, at least, presents relief from the stress of living. We offer worship and prayer, and that worship and prayer should bring comfort and healing.

As Christians proclaiming the Gospel in the world, we need to make people feel they won’t just be preached to. They will find a place of comfort and healing, a haven of blessing and of peace. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Beautiful Church

October 7th, 2019

Before and after the meeting of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at Incarnation last Thursday, many people came up and said to me what a beautiful church we have. Similar comments were offered as we blessed pets in front of the church yesterday.

Incarnation members have heard this comment so frequently that we tend not to think much about them. Yet they are certainly true: we do have an spectacular collection of stained glass windows, sculptures, and wood carvings–all displayed in a neo-Gothic architectural gem.

We all appreciate our church, of course, and it is an amazing place to worship. Yet we should also remind ourselves how much the community around us also values one of the few landmark buildings in an increasingly developed area of the city.

It is perhaps not too much to say that Incarnation is a beacon of light and hope. Thanks be to God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Angels, Reconsidered

October 2nd, 2019

I was talking yesterday with a colleague in another city, and he was saying how pleased he was to be able to assist recently in the ordination of his mother, a former minister in the AME Church who has become an Episcopal priest.

My friend happened to mention that his mother now serves a parish named, “the Church of the Guardian Angel.” I had never heard that name for an Episcopal church and I liked it immediately.

Although we just celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and Incarnation’s windows are filled with angels, including some by the noted artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Edmund Burne-Jones, and William Morris, I don’t know that that the average Episcopalian thinks much about angels.

We might ask ourselves, why not? We believe that God watches over us–why couldn’t he give us each a spiritual protector?

We should be happy to trust in our guardian angels. Don’t we need all the help we can get? —J. Douglas Ousley


Nations United

September 23rd, 2019

We who live in Manhattan are thinking a lot this week about the United Nations–not least, because world leaders and delegates to the annual General Assembly are tying up traffic all over our island!

And concerned citizens around the world should be thinking about how the United Nations might become more effective in promoting world peace. The organization currently seems helpless is resolving conflicts like the war in Yemen or the worldwide flood of refugees.

The Anglican Communion has had a representative at the UN for many years, but in recent years, little has been heard from that office. Anglican women from around the world come to a UN conference every spring (at considerable expense), but it is unclear what effect that meeting has on the welfare of the world.

Still, if there were no United Nations, we would have to invent it! Let’s hope that in the very near future, it will reinvent itself into a respected and effective voice for a better world. —J. Douglas Ousley


Plus ca change…

September 17th, 2019

“Imagine, if you can, a person being now put to death for a speculative theological opinion. You feel at once that in the most bigoted country in the world such a thing has become impossible; and the impossibility is the measure of the alteration which we have all undergone.”

I recently read this passage in a book of essays by the Scottish historian James Anthony Froude. Froude was from a famous family of Anglican theologians and scholars. What is notable is that the quotation above was published more than a century ago, in 1901.

In our times, people are executed every day for expressing their theological opinions. Particularly in Muslim countries but also in Hindu parts of India and probably other countries we don’t know about. Despite what we might think has been the increasingly liberal atmosphere of modern times, religious intolerance has increased in recent years.

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” That is French for, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” All the more reason to hold fast to whatever gains in tolerance we can manage, and all the more reason never to take religious freedom for granted. —J. Douglas Ousley


For the Little Ones

September 9th, 2019

Last Friday, I attended a reception at the home of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry.

The occasion was the launch of a new capital campaign by Episcopal Relief and Development, the major international relief organization run by the Episcopal Church. The campaign is called, “One Thousand Days of Love.” The 1000 days are the first three years of a child’s life–the period when so many decisions are made that are critical to the child’s future development.  The program will aid Anglican partners throughout the world in providing nurture, healthy diet, housing, and medical care to newborns, infants and toddlers of many nations, races, and creeds.

This strikes me as a particularly worthy project. So many children lack one or more of these necessities, and they never get a chance to grow and thrive in later childhood.

One more good program for Episcopalians to support and be proud of. —J. Douglas Ousley


On Good and Bad Alike

September 3rd, 2019

Jesus famously noted that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)

So the rain of Hurricane Dorrien is falling mercilessly on the saints and sinners of the Bahama islands. The commanding Prime Minister yesterday commended his country to God, “the only One who can save us.”

As our part of the world deals with this and other hurricanes, we are reminded that even with all the marvels of technology, it remains impossible to control or even predict the weather. Things are better today than in past generations, when severe storms might appear without warning from the media. But we human beings are still far from being in charge of our planet.

This is a somber lesson for all of us, just and unjust. All the more reason to seek the aid of “the only One who can save us.” —J. Douglas Ousley


Attention Span

August 26th, 2019

Social commentators often note the short attention span of the public today. Only a few weeks ago, the media was filled with agonizing reports about two mass shootings, and there were countless calls for gun control. Today, you hear little about the subject, and we can expect little public comment until the next shooting. (Although we should note that the police have apparently managed to stop some recent incidents through good detective work.)

Major climate change reports appear periodically–only to disappear quickly from the public eye when some other newsworthy item arises.

The 20th Century French mystic Simone Weil often wrote of the need for “attention.” Like one’s focus on a piece of art, human beings need to learn to overcome distractions and concentrate on one thing at a time. Specifically, we need to pay attention to the divine. Weil saw this as part of the larger mystical project of “waiting on God.”

As far as media news is concerned, we might profit from devoting our attention to the deep issues beyond the headlines. To violence. To the condition of God’s world. To God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Anger Issues

August 19th, 2019

A fine sermon yesterday from our Associate Rector reminded us that Jesus was angry a lot. He wasn’t content with injustice, and hypocrisy and avoidable suffering.

This fact reminds us, too, that anger can be a good thing when it prods us to act and try to correct wrongs and help people.

This kind of righteous indignation might be termed, “social anger.” But “personal anger” directed at people we know or encounter may not be so valuable. Indeed, it can be toxic. As Jesus observed, anger can be the equivalent of murder!

The Rev. Adrian Dannhauser mentioned in her sermon that studies indicate people get “mildly or moderately” angry as often as several times a day. Using social media with its likes and dislikes is no doubt a modern factor in encouraging people to get mad.

In any case–while we are right to fight for justice–on a personal level, it’s much better for our souls to stay cool. —J. Douglas Ousley


Summertime, Summertime

August 12th, 2019

Recently, I have been working on an upcoming sermon dealing with Christ’s views of the Sabbath.

Traditionally in Judaism, the seventh day of the week (Saturday) was a day of rest. There was some debate, however, about the rules governing how strictly the Sabbath was to be observed. Jesus bent these rules himself, healing the sick and disabled on the Sabbath. As he famously observed, “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But while that is certainly the right perspective, it’s worth noting that because the Sabbath was a gift of God to human beings, we can expect observance of the tradition to be valuable. This is especially true in our modern society, as Sundays become increasingly commercialized and they seem more and more like the other six days of the week.

Today, we need to make an effort to get moments of rest and re-creation. As summer winds down, now may be a good time to plan our own personal sabbaths. After all, the Sabbath was made for us. —J. Douglas Ousley