Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The Bell Tolls

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

Yesterday, I officiated at a memorial service at Yale as part of my class’s 50th reunion.

During the service, I read the name of every classmate who had died in the past five years. After the name was read, a bell was sounded and people present could offer remarks and remembrances of the deceased.

While it was a somber occasion, the mood was uplifted by humorous reminiscences of our college years. Yet the service couldn’t help being serious. As our class secretary remarked to me, eventually the bell will toll for each of us.

And that reminder of our mortality is also a reminder that religion is still needed by people–however secular they think they can be. Church bells are a sign that this life is not the end. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.–J. Douglas Ousley


Confirming the Faith

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

As our latest Confirmation/Inquirers’ Class draws to a conclusion, I happily notice that once again we have a highly diverse group of adults eager to be confirmed at Episcopalians, to be received from the Roman Catholic Church, or to reaffirm their baptismal vows.

They range in age from the thirties to near-seventy. We have a psychiatrist and an architect and a martial arts instructor among other occupations. They come from very different religious backgrounds and from unique spiritual journeys.

But it is the latter quality that they have in common. For their spiritual journeys have led them to the Church of the Incarnation. They have all come to profess their decision to follow the same Savior.

Together, by the grace of God, they are taking their first steps on a new journey in Christ. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Shattering of Loneliness

Tuesday, 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


Tone Deaf?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

In my sermon last Sunday, I compared the aptitude to religion to being able to distinguish different notes in music. For those who are technically “tone deaf,” all notes sound pretty much the same–so they are unable to hear music.

Now some people believe that they are tone deaf to religion. They can’t see the purpose of prayer or worship. The entire business of faith escapes them.

But Christians would claim that no one is spiritually tone deaf. Everyone has the capacity to sense God at some level, in some way. Or if they can’t sense God, they still can–like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in her later days–find fulfillment in following the way of Jesus Christ.

People who feel tone deaf to religion have many options. But in the end, what I think these persons need most is patience. Patience in approaching the Spirit, of course, but patience also with themselves. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Book Challenge

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Incarnation members have been challenged this Lent to read or re-read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This witty, clever, and spiritually wise book is one of Lewis’s most popular writings; it has sold millions of copies.

I have re-read and dipped into the book several times over the years. Returning to my copy recently, I was surprised to note from the flyleaf of the book that I first encountered the book when I was twelve years old! I believe it was a gift from a favorite uncle.

In any case, it is a testament to Lewis that the book still reads as fresh and as provocative as if I were opening it for the first time. There is an insight to ponder on virtually every page and yet it proceeds smoothly like the fiction it technically is.

Whether you are a member of Incarnation or not, think about reading The Screwtape Letters this Lent. —J. Douglas Ousley


Not so Incompatible

Monday, January 9th, 2017

I recently heard a talk by the noted Episcopalian spiritual writer, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Mother Crafton read from her new book, The Also Life, which offers insights into the relationship between science and religion.

This is, of course, a vast topic. Many theologians with little knowledge of science make unconvincing claims about whether it clashes with faith; many scientists with little knowledge of religion make equally ignorant claims.

Mother Crafton takes a poetic tack, which is surely an approach worth pursuing. She spoke of the eternal presence of God as a way in which we share life (the “also life,” not the afterlife) with those whom we love who have departed this world. You can’t exactly put that thought into the language of modern physics, but the poetry of the Eternal Now (as Paul Tillich described God) is accessible to Christians who also accept the claims of modern science. —J. Douglas Ousley


Numbers Game

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

A couple of days ago, I was discussing church attendance with a parishioner. He observed that many people seem no longer to feel under the obligation to attend church every Sunday. Even Roman Catholics don’t worry about committing a mortal sin if they fail to go to mass. Even devout Protestants “honor the Sabbath” with all sorts of leisure activities besides worship.

In fact, the new attendance norm could explain why church attendance has lagged in recent years. If a person goes to church once a month instead of four times, her attendance record declines by 75%.

I myself see no problem with the every-Sunday old rule. It follows the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and it encourages regular sharing of the Body of Christ, as commended in the New Testament. But people today seem to need more than just duty to bring them to church. Something for all of us concerned about the future of Christian religion to think about. —J. Douglas Ousley


First Things

Monday, March 14th, 2016

As we make plans for all the observances of Holy Week, there is one abiding lesson that we all have to re-learn. Whatever liturgies we choose, the Cross and Resurrection are central to our faith.

Beyond the church programs and projects, more than the meetings and plans, besides the priestly and the prophetical, we remember the death and risen life of Jesus of Nazareth.

All churchy events are eclipsed by the reality of our sin and the atonement of the Cross. So we are drawn to the final hours of Christ, our beloved Messiah. —J. Douglas Ousley


Paris in the Winter

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Our Men’s Group devoted part of last night’s regular meeting to discussing the recent terror attacks in Paris.

Comments were wide-ranging, reflecting the many political orientations of our membership. Some cited history, others sought to find common ground among opponents, others suggested specific prayers. My own worry is that Islamists have become so extreme in their views that they will only be stopped by violence.

Is the sanguine view of liberal Christians that at their heart, all religions are basically the same now a dubious assumption? We have always dissociated ourselves from Christian fanatics who pervert the Gospel in favor of prejudice. But the Islamist fanatics seem to be taking their beliefs to a new level of extremism. (One indication of this development is that Islamic State was founded by a group of Islamists who were kicked out of Al-Qaeda because they were regarded as too violent!) It now remains to be seen whether Islam can restore its own reputation and be regarded as one way among many to the Divine. —J. Douglas Ousley


God and Man in the Ivy League

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

When I was in high school in the 1960’s, I came across William Buckley’s wide-read book, God and Man at Yale, which decried the secular culture of the university Buckley had attended. As it happened, I went on to attend Yale myself and was an officer in the Yale Christian Union. In those years there were a couple of other small Protestant groups plus Catholic and Jewish congregations.

It is interesting, then, that decades later, while church attendance has declined nationwide, Christian groups are flourishing at Yale and other Ivy League campuses. The Ivy League Christian Observer, a 50 page quarterly magazine, gives news of countless groups, missions, lectures, journals, and activities sponsored by Christian students.

As it also happened, I met William Buckley while I was in a political organization at Yale, and I encountered him a few other times later when I moved to New York City. He surely would be pleased that, these days, God seems quite welcome at his alma mater. —J. Douglas Ousley