Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Hit in the Head

Tuesday, 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


Plus ca change…

Tuesday, 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


On the Side of the Muslims

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

My last post might have been interpreted as being anti-Muslim. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that prejudice against Islam is somehow acceptable. Prominent Muslim leaders are often the target of such prejudice, and we Christians should defend them against such attacks.

Which brings us tragically to New Zealand, and how a climate of anti-Muslim sentiment can breed horrendous violence. Of course, there was just one fanatic who killed. But it took a village to raise him up, and a culture and social media that freely allow hate speech can’t escape blame.

Christians have to stand up against this anti-religious speech, however mild or casual or common it might be. And we also have to denounce anti-religious speech that is also racist and supremacist.

It’s often hard to determine “what would Jesus do.” In this case–in this Western culture–it isn’t. —J. Douglas Ousley


Weather Related

Tuesday, 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 Hole in the World

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

I know second-hand from my wife’s work that hospitals are like miniature worlds.

Employees work all sorts of hours enclosed within their buildings, wearing distinctive garments and speaking an arcane language only they understand. Bearing extreme stress together in situations of life and death, hospital employees not surprisingly come to think of themselves as “family.”

Early this morning, I officiated at a memorial service for a beloved doctor at a hospital on Long Island. Even though the employees in the packed conference room were, I assume, from very different religious backgrounds, I chose the service I knew best–the traditional language version of the Burial Office from the Book of Common Prayer.

I think that most of those present could find comfort in the ancient words. I spoke of the help many people felt in offering prayers for the departed; this was one of the few things we who mourn can “do” in the face of our grief.

Death rips the fabric of a community; it leaves a hole in the world of the people who are left. Thank God that we can offer prayers for our loved ones, that they may rest in peace and rise in glory. —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


Deaths of Despair

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

I just learned a new category of population statistics: “deaths of despair.” The term refers to deaths caused by an overdose of drugs, suicides, and diabetes, among other things.

The idea is that people have given up on the idea of living a productive life. The despair behind suicides is obvious; drug overdoses are rare among well-adjusted people. Even diabetes is seen as a failure to care for oneself by keeping to a healthy weight.

Placid middle-class Christians may find these problems remote. But the statistics in this case don’t lie: there are lots of people all around us who are doing themselves harm.

The only good thing in all this is that our religion offers ways to counter dark emotions. Faith offers something to live for; hope is an antidote to self-destructiveness; and love brings light to every life. All the more reason to try to do whatever we can to reach out to those in danger of deaths of despair. —J. Douglas Ousley


God v. Allah

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

At the Men’s and Women’s Group meetings at Incarnation this week, we are discussing the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim Allah.

The standard philosophical view in recent years has been that all major religions ultimately worship the same Divine Reality, though that reality is conceived in different ways and described in different language. Keith Ward, for example, says that the major religions all present “Images of Eternity;” John Hick says that the different faiths worship the same “Real.”

This benign view of the different religions has been undermined, however, by the violence of some Muslims in the practice of their faith. Allah seems to order them to do things that God would never ask Christians to do. (I have never heard of a Christian suicide bomber, for example.) This leads one to ask whether Allah really is the same God as the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One thing is certain: skeptical journalists for whom all religion is nonsense can’t be relied upon to make theological distinctions! —J. Douglas Ousley