Posts Tagged ‘secularism’

Summertime, Summertime

Monday, 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


Balm for the Soul

Monday, 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

‘Twas Ever Thus Dept.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Michael J. Krasulski, an historian writing about Philadelphia churches recently noted that one of the parishes was complaining that no one volunteered for its annual strawberry festival. The same day, the historian discovered a letter to the parish about the lack of volunteers for their strawberry festival–in 1927!

The historian also found an article in a church magazine “lamenting how difficult it had become to recruit choirboys because of the ever-increasing demands upon children’s time and that of their parents.” That article was published in 1898.

The bottom line is: Christians–adults and children–always have lots to do. We have many competing interests besides religion. All the more reason to remember that “This is the day that the Lord hath made…”

J. Douglas Ousley

Onward and Upward

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Although we are in the midst of the solemn days of Holy Week, I was cheered to read that Malcolm Torry, a British expert on church growth and secularization has concluded from his research that long-standing pastors bring more change than new ones. Since I am especially looking forward to parish renewal as a result of Incarnation 2020, our recent strategic plan, I’m glad that–statistically, at least–my thirty years at Incarnation won’t be an impediment to change.

Speaking of change, the same author also says that congregations firmly rooted in the Bible are less religious than those that are not, and that congregations change most when they fear change most. Interesting food for thought for us at Incarnation as we await the celebration of the New Life we have in Jesus Christ. —J. Douglas Ousley

Holy Week in the Secular City

Friday, April 18th, 2014

A generation ago, New York City offices closed at noon on Good Friday. The workers poured out of their buildings and into the churches for the start of the traditional three hour preaching services.

Today, Good Friday is either a holiday–in which case, the workers aren’t in the city at all, or it is a work day, so that the workers don’t have time to attend a long service. At Incarnation last Sunday, a Persian Day Parade on Madison Avenue interrupted our main Palm Sunday service. This Easter Sunday, a major playoff game is scheduled to take place at nearby Madison Square Garden.

Much has been written about the secularization of Western society. While the above examples show how the broad trend against religion affects Christians on the ground, some of these comments are off the mark. Christianity is actually growing in Manhattan, for example, as many small evangelical congregations are forming.

Which prompts the hopeful thought that as Christianity becomes more and more counter-cultural and underground, it may re-capture the spiritual confidence of the early Christians. In the meantime, a Happy Easter to all. —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