Consider Giving Up Toughness for Lent
A Reflection by the Rev. Doyt L. Conn Jr.
I grew up in the shadow of toughness. My prime exposure came during my time each summer with my cousins in western Nebraska. Physical strength was esteemed. My older male cousins all lifted weights and played football, and there were always stories of their triumphs over weaker foes. These cousins were farmers and rangers, and indeed physical strength came with the life. They worked hard physically and had the bodies to do so, but also made so by the work they did. I could play tennis, which never seemed to render the same awe as my gladiator cousins’ deeds of valor. They were tough, and it was toughness that counted.
There have been times throughout my life when I have wondered why God hasn’t been a bit tougher in this situation or that situation. I mean it wouldn’t take much, God being God and all. That was Jonah’s hope when God sent him to Nineveh. They were a people self-satisfied, achievement oriented, and very pleased with their toughness as a community. God said to Jonah: “Go tell them I will destroy their city if they do not make an effort to look beyond their idols to see me.” Jonah hated the Ninevites, and he looked forward to seeing them destroyed by God. His task was simple: walk through Nineveh and call out, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” And so for three days he walked the city prophesying to the destruction of Nineveh, and lo and behold those drat Ninevites repented. They stopped worshiping their idols, and they put on sackcloth and covered themselves with ashes, and set their hearts upon God. The city was saved, and Jonah was ticked. God was merciful because that is the nature of God.
Toughness has many outfits: strength of arm, strength of mind, strength of pocket book, strength of class. Toughness is whatever is used to leverage victory in the win/lose paradigm of the world. Nineveh by all accounts should have fallen back on its toughness in the face of threat. That is what Jonah might have expected of them. It is what people usually do. It is an ancient script that is still followed even to this day; oh, and it is foolish.
Even when I was a child hearing of the heroics of my cousins I wondered about what I was hearing. Was it strength on display, or luck, or a bit of insanity? The Apostle Paul seemed to wonder the same thing: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25). The Psalmist writes: “The Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory” (Ps 149:4). Toughness breaks. It sets against. It draws a line. It determines a winner. It pushes into a corner. It threatens and thus provokes. Toughness has no place in the Kingdom of God. There is nothing tough about our God. In fact, ours is a God that intentionally chooses humility and vulnerability as the tool for drawing us into the divine life of God. Paul says it this way: “Jesus, being found in human form humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7b-8). Indeed the nature of our God is humility and vulnerability.
This is the God who was merciful to Nineveh. This is the God who is merciful to those who in their toughness are fools, and indeed more than that, living in a perpetual battle with and against death. It is a losing battle. God wants more for us than that. God wants us to have life. That is why Jesus came, so we would have life abundantly and life eternally (John 10:10 para).
During this season of Lent, I invite you to consider your toughness. What hierarchy do you subscribe to? What power source do you draw from? What ideology do you lean on? Identify it, and then consider how this way of life locks you in a battle with death. Then wonder about the moments of mercy you have experienced in life. Look for them, long and hard. How about times of vulnerability? What circumstances were set upon you that robbed you of power and put you at the mercy of others? And then ask yourself: How did I experience the mercy of God in these moments? Finally, imagine what that mercy would be like if employed in your soul for eternity.
Peace to you in holy season of Lent.
Want to have some fun during Lent and learn some new things along the way? Some of you may be familiar with the online game called “Lent Madness.” It is a fun, somewhat church-nerdy, Lenten practice of learning about the saints by voting for your favorites—in the spirit of March Madness basketball. Here’s an excerpt from the website: “The format is straightforward: 32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single-elimination bracket. Each pairing remains open for a set period of time and people vote for their favorite saint online. Sixteen saints make it to the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.” Former winners of the Golden Halo include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Wesley, and St. Francis.
The best way to participate is to sign up for their email notifications at lentmadness.org. You will get an email on weekdays with saintly bios at which time you can vote for your favorite. As the winners are announced you can fill out your own bracket, much like the one below by downloading a printable version. We will be updating a bracket poster in the Parish Office each day as well.
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” (Baptismal Covenant, Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
The Under Our Skin forums and conversations are to continue with energy and interest towards fostering relationships, personal growth, and the pursuit of knowledge around topics of racial identity, racism, and systems of privilege and power. At our most recent class, the group decided to continue meeting monthly to discuss current books related to these topics and to continue wrestling with these weighty issues.
On March 5, the group will meet in the Upper Room during the Everybody Hour to discuss Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Stevenson will be in Seattle on March 28 speaking to a sold-out crowd at Town Hall.
For those who wish to participate, but don’t have time to read one more book here are a few ideas:
To listen to Stevenson’s 20-minute TED talk and get an overview of his work, go here:
http://www.ted.com/talks/ bryan_stevenson. Audible.com has an audio version of the complete book as well as a 20-minute summary of the book.
Please consider stepping into the primacy of relation- ship in God’s Kingdom, particularly among those who don’t look like you do, by joining in this most import- ant and urgent conversation.
First Sunday Brunch – March 5
On the first Sunday of every month come gather in the Great Hall for brunch during Everybody Hour at 10 am. Our parish may be spread across four different celebrations of Eucharist on any given Sunday, but this brunch is meant to be your opportunity to catch up with everybody.
Each brunch will be hosted by a different ministry group or small group, who will have opportunity to briefly “show and tell” about important upcoming events and opportunities related to their group.
New forum starts this Sunday: The Lord’s Prayer
March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9
10 am – Garden Room
John Dominic Crosson’s book, The Greatest Prayer will be our text as we explore the “Abba” prayer and it’s deep meaning for our lives and spiritual journeys with Christ. Come and re-discover this enduring prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever taught. John Dominic Crosson, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time.
Newcomers Reception This Sunday
Are you new to Epiphany? New-ish? Are you interested in meeting more people or finding out how to get more involved? We are having a reception just for you at Doyt’s house after the evening service on Sunday, 5 March, at 6pm. Beverages and appetizers will be provided. On-site supervision will be available for children. Your presence would be delightful! See a priest for directions.
Presented by Epiphany Seattle Music Guild
Sunday, March 12 at 5 pm in the Chapel
Evensong will be sung by the Sopranos & Altos of Epiphany Choir, including music of Craig Phillips and George Dyson. The Anglican tradition has produced a vast collection of choral repertoire written for treble voices, inspired and influenced by the strong tradition of boys’ voices.
Michael Kleinschmidt — Organ Recital
Sunday, March 12 at 6 pm in the Chapel
Organist and Director of Music, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Michael Kleinschmidt is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Eastman School and has performed extensively throughout the United States and parts of Europe. Michael joined the Cathedral staff in 2015 after serving in a similar position at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, and Trinity Cathedral, Portland, Oregon.
March 8, 15, 22, 29 & April 5 at 5:30 pm
According to The Book of Common Prayer, “The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day…and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church.”
On Wednesdays during Lent, we have an Evening Prayer service at 5:30 pm. At these services, we use the daily Eucharistic readings to keep us grounded in the themes of this holy season. We also invite members of the parish to present homilies.
The homilists are: March 8- Elizabeth Walker, March 15 – James Potts,
March 22 – Kevin Mesher, March 29 – Dick Nelson, April 5 – Holly Boone
Kids and Race: Changing the Narrative
Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org and mail or bring a check to Epiphany Parish with “Kids and Race” in subject line.
It is a painful irony that when we are grieving a loved one, we are also called upon to handle so many details. In my experience, a little bit of guidance is a welcome relief. I am always sad when someone tells their family not to “make a fuss” when they die. When you die, take my word for it, there will be a fuss.” –The Rev. David Marshall, St. Dunstan, Shoreline
Join Bishop Rickel, Dean Steve Thomason, Rev. Marshall and other clergy for pastoral perspectives and practical advice on funerals and memorials. Time for Q&A at round table discussions. All participants receive the Diocese’s Life Planning Manual. Cost: $20. Sign up on-line: www.celebratinglifeintheresurrection.eventbrite.com
BEAUTIFUL MINDS… a Support Group for friends and family members of people who live with a serious Mental Illness.
According to a recent government study, 20% of Americans suffer from some form of Mental Illness. Beautiful Minds provides a forum for people close to someone who lives with illnesses like bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and borderline personality disorder. We gather on the first Monday evening of most months at 7 pm in the icon room at Epiphany Parish to problem solve, share experiences and pray for one another. The icon room is on the first floor of the Parish Hall, down the hall and to the left.
If you are interested in joining us or have questions, please call Terry Proctor at
206-915-3555 or email email@example.com.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
First Sunday In Lent
Genesis 2:4-8, 16-22