Posts Tagged ‘social issues’

Not Slaves But Free

Monday, 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


In Black and White

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Much of the annual Convention of the Diocese of New York last weekend focussed on racial and gender prejudice. A play on slavery was presented and a special liturgy centered on the #MeToo Movement.

What was striking to me as a white male was how different the perceptions of persons of color and women were from my own. Where I saw progress in race relations, black delegates saw continuing inequality. Where I saw minor sexist gestures, women saw abusive actions.

It sometimes seemed to me as though there were two different realities. Of course, there aren’t–there is only one Reality, one Truth grounded in God.

But different perceptions do exist in our diverse mental worlds. And it’s up to me to try to understand the mental worlds of those who are suffering in today’s culture. —J. Douglas Ousley


Remembering Eleanor

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Last week, I prefaced a panel discussion on the UN Declaration of Human Rights with a few remarks about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mrs. Roosevelt was a member of Incarnation; she was confirmed here in 1903. She and her family attended Incarnation occasionally, and we have a ramp that was built to accommodate FDR’s wheelchair.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the guiding light and driving force behind the UN Declaration which was adopted in 1948, after much debate and many meetings. The panel discussion at the Roosevelt House on 65th Street included a United Nations official who worked for human rights. He made the interesting point that these rights were being increased in the years following the adoption of the Declaration–up until 9/11.

Since 2001, rights issues have taken a back seat to security issues. For example, a nation may ally with a dictatorship because this will help its own security; the rights of the ally’s citizens are ignored.

In my talk, I pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt’s parish was founded as part of the Broad Church movement in the 19th Century. We may hope and pray that Incarnation’s tradition of concern for the freedom of all human beings, regardless of race or religion, will not be overshadowed by other concerns. —J. Douglas Ousley


Christians v. Christians

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Some years ago, I inherited a leather-bound set of the works of Sir Walter Scott. During a recent vacation, I read Scott’s most famous book, Rob Roy.

The novel includes interactions between the main character and the Robin Hood-like Scottish hero known as Rob Roy. But an on-going sub-text of the story is the 18th-century rivalry between rebellious Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants. Despite their common Christianity, the members of these groups are forever at each other’s throats–to the extent even of civil war.

Today’s intra-Church rivalries are happily less violent. But they remain highly significant. In liberal Christian circles, “evangelical” is a negative epithet. The same is true in evangelical churches of the word, “liberal.” As someone from an evangelical background who serves a traditionally Broad Church congregation, I think I’m particularly aware of the bitterness of this conflict.

Despite all the ecumenical work in the past half-century, we Christians have a way to go if we are going to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us…”–J. Douglas Ousley


Civil Conversation

Monday, September 17th, 2018

At our Men’s Group meeting last week, the goal of the evening was to look for ways to have a conversation about politics without acrimony or ill-feeling.

We followed guidelines from a web site set up to promote such conversation; it’s called Better Angels. We especially focussed on listening to each other and were careful to speak in emotionally neutral terms when possible. This worked well in Incarnation’s Broad Church tradition.

In the end, many different opinions were expressed while the general good feeling of the group was preserved. I think we all agreed that sharing our views without venting was cathartic. It might even have helped us to broaden our views.

Would that our political leaders could do the same. —J. Douglas Ousley


Rebranding Jesus

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

The recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church enthusiastically endorsed the Presiding Bishop’s priorities of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and care for the earth.

While these priorities are uncontroversial, they are very different. Dealing with racism and the environment will take years of effort and are social issues for non-Christians as well as Christians. Evangelism, on the other hand, is a pressing need specifically for Episcopalians whose ranks have been declining for decades. And if our evangelism isn’t successful, there won’t be any church to care for the environment or work for racial harmony.

Episcopalians have always found it easier to start a social program than to convince people to join their church. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is pushing the idea that we are members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. Whether that rebranding will help us to add to our rolls remains to be seen. —J. Douglas Ousley


Correction: It Matters What We Say

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

I want to correct something I said last week. On the contrary to what I wrote, it does matter what we say.

As Jesus said, it is “what comes out of the mouth” that counts. Media and especially social media have been critical in calling attention to the plight of migrant families. Earlier in the year, the voices of abused women toppled many powerful men from their influential positions.

I was wrong. Jesus was right. —J. Douglas Ousley


In the World

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Christians are taught to recognize that while they are “in the world” in the sense that they inhabit the material world, they are not “of the world” because they are part of the spiritual body of Christ.

The ambivalence of our human straddling of two worlds has been particularly stressful as we attempt to deal with the current political situation. It seems like almost every day I get agitated messages from people on one or the other side of the political divide: anti-President and pro-President. The immigrant crisis of the moment has of course made this conflict even worse, with children and their parents suffering the consequences.

When do we “speak out”–we who are in the world but not of it? And if we speak out, what difference does it make? Both political camps have been doing lots of talking without much effect, it seems to me. Vocal Christians have been on both sides, though the immigrant situation has drawn many to the side of the children–one would think, inevitably.

In our parish, we will be looking for new ways to promote dialogue. Perhaps the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church will pass resolutions that can provide a focus for discussion.

In the meantime, we remain in the world, whether we like it or not. —J. Douglas Ousley


To Medicate or Not

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Last Saturday, an informal memorial evening was held for the woman I mentioned in a previous blog who hung herself some weeks before the suicide of Kate Spade. I was asked to participate both as a friend and as a representative clergyperson.

Among the many testimonies that were offered by the woman’s friends in the course of two hours were comments regarding her decision to try to do without the medications she took for her mental issues. Some of her friends felt she should have kept taking them; others applauded her wish to free herself from drugs.

For what it’s worth, my own non-professional opinion is that people shouldn’t feel that it is a weakness to take psychotherapeutic drugs if they are prescribed by a doctor. To me, it’s like taking aspirin for a headache or undergoing chemotherapy to treat an occurrence of cancer.

These medicines are gifts of God, and God wants us to take advantage of them so that we can live happier, more productive lives. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Sad End of Kate Spade

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

While the underlying causes of Kate Spade’s death are at the moment unclear, the tragedy of her death is immensely sad.

The event is not unique: CNN reports a study that concluded that between 1999 and 2014, the death rate from suicide for white women increased by 60%.

As it happens, I was asked just last weekend to participate in a memorial evening for a young woman almost exactly Kate Spade’s age who had hanged herself a couple of weeks ago. In this case, too, the motives are not certain; the woman I knew may have decided to stop taking her anti-depressant medication.

As a Christian, I struggle to made sense of two women in their mid-fifties hanging themselves, one of whom I admired from afar, the other someone I knew since she was a teenager. But I can commend them to a just and loving God, and I can hope and pray that those prone to suicide will find the help they need. —J. Douglas Ousley