Posts Tagged ‘social issues’

Contradictions

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Although New York City is now in high gear in preparations for the holidays, its attempts to deal with some persistent problems seem entangled in contradictions.

The worsening traffic situation is not going to be helped by more bus lanes, lane closures for pedestrian malls, and bicycle lanes. However worthy these latter changes, diminishing the number of traffic lanes will mean fewer areas where trucks and cars can circulate.

Lessening sanctions on fare beaters in the subways and buses will relieve crowding in the courts but will, at the same time, deprive the MTA of much-needed revenue.

Attempts to make all schools accessible to all will mitigate some forms of inequality, but at the cost of degrading the excellence of the relatively few schools in the public system that actually do a good job of educating students.

I have no solution to any of these quandaries. Yet as Christians begin the season of Advent, when we look at the larger picture of life in the context of our eternal destiny, we may be especially bound to to look at the larger picture of life in our city and what we can do to address our many problems. —J. Douglas Ousley


Top Down

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

At the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York last weekend, the Bishop of New York recommended two proposals, which were duly passed as resolutions of the whole convention.

The first resolution allocated $1,100,000 from the diocesan endowment as reparations for the sin of slavery. The money will go to assist African-Americans in ways yet to be determined. Reparations have been discussed in New York for years by a small group of Episcopalians. Now they are coming to fruition in the form of a grant equal to 2.5% of the diocesan endowment.

The Bishop also recommended a ten-year plan to reduce the carbon footprint of each parish by 30% by the year 2030–following a plan by Mayor Bill DiBlasio for many New York City buildings. Annual energy audits would have to be filed by every church as part of the parochial report.

These proposals will eventually impact the 200 or so parishes of the diocese. I won’t be here when Incarnation decides how to respond to these costly and left-of-center proposals, so I really don’t need to comment. I would just note that I can’t remember a Bishop of New York ever making this radical a challenge to his congregations. —J. Douglas Ousley


Unintended Consequences

Monday, October 28th, 2019

A new program of early voting launched in New York City last week. The mayor proclaimed this a great leap forward into the 21st century.

But the hastily-planned initiative wasn’t popular with everyone. One of the mothers in my congregation was horrified to see lines of voters traipsing through her sons’ school. Students were deprived of their lunchroom and had to eat in their classrooms instead. The risk to the children from a sudden and un-policed intrusion of strangers was obvious; parents quickly signed up to perform their own security force.

No doubt, this program will increase voter turnout in the end. But, in this case, the cost of change seems to have been poorly calculated.

As the Roman Catholic Church contemplates changing its policy about married priests, its leaders will want to weigh the consequences. The ending of the Latin Mass was followed by a steep and continuing decline in attendance.

The cause-and-effect relationship isn’t clear; many Christian churches without Latin have also seen their attendance decline in recent years. And my brother–who entered the Catholic church from the Episcopal Church under a special dispensation for married priests–flourishes in a parish outside Philadelphia. As a married Anglican priest myself, I could hardly condemn the practice!

Nevertheless, while the Spirit blows where it wills, we mortals have to be careful when we hoist our sails in the winds of change. —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


For the Little Ones

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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

 


No Sympathy for the Devil

Monday, 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


A Hot Summer Ahead

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

A year or so ago, the former Altman’s Department Store across from the church began an extensive exterior restoration. As part of the work, the bottom floor of the building is covered in netting. Homeless people now climb into a space behind the netting to bed down and in many cases to live. Others take advantage of the sidewalk covering and sleep on the sidewalk. A little town has sprung up.

The obvious question to ask is, why doesn’t the city do something to help these people so they aren’t forced into what the English call, “sleeping rough?” And the answer to that question is that the city isn’t very good at helping the poor.

Last night, a local television station did an investigative segment on seven of the city’s “cooling centers,” where poor people including the homeless can go for relief during hot weather. It turned out that four of the centers have no air conditioning. Moreover, they haven’t had air conditioning for weeks and they have similar problems every summer. Yet the whole purpose of these institutions is to present a comfortable environment in hot weather.

I recognize that the tolerance we have toward the homeless is in some ways admirable. They are allowed the freedom of the streets. We can be proud of our tolerance and our social freedom. But less proud of the consequences. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pride Universe

Monday, June 24th, 2019

As everyone in New York City knows, the annual Gay Pride March takes place this coming Sunday, at the end of what has been called, Pride Month.

The Episcopal Church has been on the winning side of this issue for quite a while, and we might be tempted to ask why Episcopalians and LGBT people need to bother to march in this day and age. They have virtually all the rights of straight people. Isn’t the battle over?

But we need to remember that homosexual behavior is still against the law in many, many countries throughout the world–and it is often proscribed in the name of religion. Even in this country, the largest Christian body, the Roman Catholic Church terms gay sex sinful.

Unfortunately, there is still much to march for. —J. Douglas Ousley