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

 


No Sympathy for the Devil

August 5th, 2019

Last week, I was extremely fortunate to be given tickets to the performance of the Rolling Stones in the Meadowlands. For someone like me who is of their generation, there is no better rock and roll band on the planet–and no greater performer than Mick Jagger.

It was interesting for me to recall, as I watched the four old men play their countless hits, how menacing the Stones were when they first appeared in the 1960’s. With their “sympathy for the Devil,” they seemed to threaten the very foundations of civil society. Now they seem almost warm and fuzzy.

The Devil however, as Scripture reminds us, remains alive and active. As demonstrated in the horrendous mass shootings of the past week, the Demonic in the form of young white males is very much with us. God help us all.–J. Douglas Ousley


Waxing and Waning

July 29th, 2019

In both the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, there has been much concern about decline in membership. The Episcopal Church has lost half its members since the 1950’s, despite a growing U.S. population. A recent survey in England indicated only 1% of persons aged 16-24 attend church.

But church attendance waxes and wanes through the ages. I have been reading in the journal, Anglican and Episcopal History about a period in Maryland before the American Revolution when atheism was rampant and even churchgoers doubted that God could in any way intervene in his creation. Needless to say, there was little discussion of “spirituality” and other topics that are so popular in the church today.

One could point to other signs of hope in our contemporary church. The newer, younger clergy, for example, are much more committed to traditional Christian beliefs and a personal God than the generation of the 1960’s.

It doesn’t pay to be too pessimistic. —J. Douglas Ousley


Decriminalization of Prostitution in New York State

July 26th, 2019

This post is from the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser and me:

Earlier this week on Tuesday, July 23, Incarnation hosted an educational forum on Bill A.8230/S.6419, which was introduced last month by Assembly Member Richard Gottfried and Senator Julia Salazar. The bill seeks to fully decriminalize prostitution in New York State.

We had a panel of experts who spoke in favor of the bill’s provision to decriminalize people who are in prostitution and against the bill’s other provisions to decriminalize sex buyers, facilitators of the sale of sex (i.e., pimps), and brothel keepers.

We anticipated and welcomed a large crowd made up of people with varying viewpoints on the issue. Handouts included a detailed legal analysis of the bill.  Audience Q&A included reading aloud written questions from both supporters and opponents of the bill.

Prior to the event, we were alerted to a planned protest by DecrimNY outside our forum. We shared this information with the 17th Precinct, and they arranged for two plain clothes officers to be present in the sanctuary.  From what we understand, a peaceful protest gathered outside during the event, and the 17th Precinct responded in a calm manner and in a way they deemed fit, including calling in additional officers.

When some of the protesters came inside near the end of the event, a panelist and survivor leader was speaking. The protesters were asked to comply with our written policy given to attendees that no protests or disruptive behavior would be permitted inside the church. Those who did not comply were escorted out.

While those who responded to the protest inside the church acted responsibly, we are deeply saddened that it came to this.  The issue of decriminalizing prostitution is an emotional one that involves people who have suffered greatly in many ways. We understand that conversation ensued outside, and that members of the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking — the event sponsor — ministered to some of the protesters.

The Episcopal Church respects the dignity of every human being, is LGBTQ affirming, and seeks to serve the most vulnerable in accordance with the command of Jesus. We are grateful that there is common ground between activists both for and against the bill — decriminalizing those in prostitution — and pray for a way forward that reduces victimization in the sex trade and holds those that do harm accountable. —J. Douglas Ousley