Why Socialism? Why Now?

March 5th, 2019

This was the topic of last night’s discussion at the Men’s Group. We especially focused on the distinction between 1960’s-era socialism (what I call, “hard socialism) and today’s socialism (“soft socialism.”) The former is a system of planned political economy with the state owning and controlling the means of production. The latter calls for more governmental regulation and control of society, especially in such areas as healthcare.

Debate was spirited between proponents of big government and defenders of individual freedom. What was perhaps most interesting was the fact that most of us find ourselves as Christians in the middle of the spectrum between hard socialism/communism on the one hand and unregulated capitalism on the other.

Since the middle is the preferred place for the Anglican Way, as well as for the Broad Church movement in which Incarnation was founded, perhaps this is the best place to be. —J. Douglas Ousley


Second Largest Church in the World

February 26th, 2019

I had lunch yesterday with the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is located on Amsterdam Avenue near Columbia University. Known as “St. John the Unfinished” because parts of it have never been completed according to the original divine, it is reputed to be second in size only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Maintaining such a huge edifice (and many accompanying buildings, including a school) is a task I can’t even imagine.

Yet cathedrals have in general fared better than the local parish church. In the Church of England, attendance at cathedrals has been growing while regular congregations are declining. People seem to enjoy the relative anonymity of the large buildings and the stately, even mystical worship–often accompanied by excellent music. St. John the Divine on large festivals greets crowds of 3,000 people.

I like to think that Incarnation shares some of the attractions of cathedrals. It is larger than many, seating 800 persons. We have a fine choir and formal liturgy. People can be pretty anonymous unless they want to be part of the parish family. All the better to welcome strangers in Christ’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Out of the Armchair

February 19th, 2019

While I still hold the somewhat controversial position that politics should usually be kept out of the pulpit, I am of the opposite persuasion when it comes to politics in the secular arena.

As the divide between extreme left and extreme right seems to get wider by the minute, American Christians who care about their country are obligated to weigh in with their own beliefs. For citizens, politics isn’t a mere spectator sport.

Especially if we find ourselves in the under-represented center of the political spectrum, we are bound to make our views heard. We need to find candidates to support and voices to be supported–long before the polls open. —J. Douglas Ousley


Balm for the Soul

February 11th, 2019

One of the winners interviewed last night following the Grammy Awards was a young woman who was given an award for best Christian rock album.

This reminded me of the vast world of contemporary church music–a world that we at Incarnation touch in our Candlelight Communion service on Sunday evenings. Though we don’t have a rock band, we do have guitar and keyboard music and various forms of modern music.

As for the Grammy Awards show itself, there was little resembling Christian rock and nothing resembling classical church choral and organ music–on which our morning services depend.

I’m not too bothered by this; anything trendy one day is out of fashion the next. Church music has roots that are thousands of years old, and it’s not likely to vanish soon. People often tell me that they like a church that looks and sounds like a church.

Still, we need to be aware of what is going on in the secular world around us. Otherwise, it will rock us. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Shattering of Loneliness

February 5th, 2019

In his brilliant new book, The Shattering of Loneliness, the British monk Erik Varden tells of a moment when, listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony, when he discovered that he wasn’t alone. “With a certainty born neither of overwrought emotion nor of cool analysis, I knew I carried something within me that reached beyond the limits of me.”

Thus was Varden’s loneliness shattered forever. His testimony is causing something of a sensation in England–no doubt because it addresses the primal human need to believe that there is a divine out there, somewhere.

And Varden not only shows how loneliness is shattered by belief that there is a God–but also by experience of God. Through faith, we “carry something within” us. That divine something is always with us, whatever is happening in our lives. Thanks be to God.–J. Douglas Ousley


Weather Related

January 29th, 2019

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal gave advice for traveling business people as to what to wear in offices in various sections of the country. The conservative suit expected in the Northeast was wholly unnecessary on the West Coast, and so on.

The article got me wondering how much one’s spiritual mood is affected by what we wear–which mood is in turn affected, of course, by the climate of the places we live in. Are people more optimistic when the weather is sunny? If they are more optimistic, are they less likely to feel the need for religion?

I don’t know if there has been any research on these issues. I know that both sunny California and rainy Washington State have a low rate of religious practice, while the temperate South has the highest rate of religious attendance.

Perhaps we can be content with Christ’s observation that God sends rain upon the just and unjust alike…–J. Douglas Ousley


A Limit to Diversity?

January 14th, 2019

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry has recently restricted part of the ministry of the Bishop of Albany, the Rt. Rev. William Love.

Bishop Love is the sole bishop in the Episcopal Church who will neither allow his priests to perform same-sex marriages nor permit another bishop to ordain such priests and allow such marriages.

Following last year’s General Convention resolution to make such weddings available throughout the Episcopal Church, including in dioceses such as the Diocese of Albany that had forbidden them, the Presiding Bishop’s inhibiting of Bishop Love is perhaps not surprising.

But it is a severe stricture on a godly and humane man (I know this from personal experience) who has the sole failing of believing what the universal church taught for two thousand years: that homosexual relations are sinful.

I myself disagree with Bishop Love and have encouraged gay rights from the beginning of my ministry. But surely the Episcopal Church can allow a little remaining dissent–one bishop in a tiny diocese. (If any same-sex couples in the Diocese of Albany want to get on a train to New York, I will be happy to marry them.)

We should avoid becoming as dogmatic as other Christian groups that we accuse of being authoritarian. —J. Douglas Ousley


Not Slaves But Free

January 7th, 2019

Under the leadership of our Associate Rector, Incarnation has become very active in the burgeoning movement to end human trafficking in the United States. As part of our observance of the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, we will be participating in a service at the Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, this Thursday at 7 PM.

This movement isn’t just one more worthy cause. Trafficked women and men serve with minimal or no compensation as prostitutes, kitchen workers, nail salon workers, and other occupations, with little or no freedom of movement or basic human rights. There many within blocks of our church. The Church of England rightly doesn’t mince words; it calls such persons, “slaves.”

Incarnation has pioneered a program to increase awareness in Midtown Manhattan hotels, so that hotel employees may identify trafficking victims. Our next step will be to educate school children about the risk of being trafficked.

For most of us, the suffering induced by modern slavery is hard to imagine. We should do anything we can to help people escape or avoid this fate. Our Christian duty is clear.–J. Douglas Ousley


Numbers Game

January 2nd, 2019

As a new year begins, we can expect to hear of any number of “Ten Best” lists: ten best movies, ten best books, ten most important news items, and so on.

There’s nothing magical, of course, about the number 10. Nor is there any specific value to be attached to the first day of the calendar year.

But it’s only natural to be more interested in and attached to certain numbers–the Bible features “40,” for example, as the number of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and the number of days Christ was tempted in the wilderness. In these cases, “40” really just meant, “a lot!”

Whatever number we choose, we can use this time of year to count our blessings, and to look forward to 365 more days when we can do good works, by God’s grace. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Spirit Speaks in Platitudes

December 24th, 2018

Sermons can be seen as a series of cliches interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. This is especially true at Christmas time.

And that isn’t all bad. After all, the Christmas message is not going to be a startling revelation to most people. It’s hard to say anything new about the birth of the Christ.

And yet, thank God, the Spirit still speaks to us in the feeble words we offer at this time of year. The bright light shines, the Messiah comes to earth, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley