a reflection by the Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
What role does Epiphany play in your cultural identity? I ask because Kristin and I were at an anti-racism training last week with the People’s Institute. It got me thinking about identity, race, and culture.
This morning, as I sit in my study listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, I am contemplating a question asked at this training: “What do you like about being White?” It is a not a common question. It is certainly not a politically correct question. But since it was asked in the context of a seminar about Race in America, I stepped in. And what I heard in my answer and other White people’s answers was rather thin. Much of the cultural markers identified had to do with competition, consumption, achievement, and the American Dream. It hadn’t really occurred to me to think about White culture before, but as I did, it gave me an unmoored feeling.
When other people at the seminar were asked what they liked about their ethnic identity, they gave very specific, mostly relational answers, like the role of mothers and grandparents in their culture. They talked about food, music, dance, and religious traditions. They seemed to conflate their identity, family, culture, and religion with one another. A tight network of relationship was interwoven in a way that reflected a sense of belonging, inclusion, and belovedness. It was both unapologetic and gracious, and it seemed to me that in each case, identity, family, and culture was all tied into how they perceived and related to God.
And so I wonder, how is your culture tied into and tethered to God?
Now culture is different than family tradition. Tradition might be going skiing over Christmas break every year, or taking a long walk after Thanksgiving dinner. But the year you have knee surgery, or your son calls from New York and says his young family will be spending Christmas with his in-laws quickly brings family traditions to an end. Cultural markers, however, are tied to a deeper source, have more endurance, and demonstrate a greater capacity to transcend space and time. While that same son may be at his in-laws for Christmas, you’d be heartened to hear him say, “but we’d never miss the Christmas Eve service, and I’ll text you a photo of Junior in the blue blazer and Missy in the red dress you sent. By the way, Junior has finally learned to tie a Windsor knot.”
Let’s continue with Christmas as a symbol of our cultural identity for a minute. If the essence of a cultural marker is not understood and owned, it will be stolen and used against you. Christmas is a perfect example. It has been turned by industry into an opportunity to sell stuff. It has become fuel for an economic engine. And here is the heart breaker: we often work our tail off for this engine throughout the year, only to be thoroughly exhausted by it when Christmas circles around. The dominant culture in America has become one of consumption, wrenched from its source of spiritual connection.
In Genesis 11 we have the story of Babel. It is a story of universality without identity. As Jonathan Sacks writes in his book Not in God’s Name, the story of Babel begins as idyllic. Imagine if all people lived together in harmony, made so by a common culture, or to use the words from the story, a common language. Unity would prevail, and all would be well in the world. But this turns out to be a wrong turn. God does not seek a monolithic culture, and in fact intentionally confused the languages of Babel so they couldn’t function together anymore. In the destruction of the “tower built to heaven,” there is an implicit critique of imperialism. Imperialism seeks the loss of identity in minority communities through conformity. This more than diminishes the world as God made it to be.
My family history may well include the active diminishment of the heritage of other cultures, and while I can’t do anything about those past actions, I can own this history and actively seek not to participate in the degradation of other cultures today. I can recognize, to again quote Sacks, that “when a single culture is imposed on all, suppressing the diversity of languages and traditions, this is an assault on our God-given difference” (NIGN 193). And, to do this does not mean I have to give up Bach or Windsor knots or God. Let me say it more directly: I will do a much better job honoring other cultures if I know my own and its source.
And so I leave you with three questions. How do you fight back against the monolithic culture of consumerism? How do you honor, uphold, and support cultures that seek their unique identity? What is your culture, and what is the source that nurtures it? Maybe I should be a little more specific in this final question. What role does Epiphany play in your cultural identity?
Thanks for your help with the concert!
Thanks to all of the people who assisted us in the launch of the Epiphany Music Guild by making the opening concert and reception evening such a success. Thank you for your donation of food, drink, and labor to make it come together so beautifully. Those of us in the choir had a great time and appreciate that you spent a lovely May evening to hear us.
With much appreciation,
Julia S. Putnam and the Epiphany Music Guild
Farewell BBQ for Emily Linderman
May 29 is Emily Linderman’s last Sunday as our Associate for Staff and Ministry Formation. She will be preaching at all four services and will offer the Sunday Adult Forum at 10 am in the Great Hall on forgiveness, a topic near and dear to her heart.
To celebrate her years of service at Epiphany Parish, the staff would like to throw a farewell BBQ in her honor after the 11 am service, and everyone is invited. We’ll fire up the grill for hot dogs, have some salad and drinks, and enjoy the good weather together (hopefully!) in the courtyard and gardens. If you are interested in helping out with the event, contact the Parish Office.
If you will be out of town that weekend, you can still wish Emily well by contributing to a “purse” for her, according to Epiphany tradition. Contact Chinn if you would like to contribute. Also, she will not completely disappear from the Epiphany campus; the Vestry has approved her request for office space in the Parish Hall for her spiritual direction practice.
Thank you, Emily, for everything you have done for Epiphany Parish!
Bishop’s Visit and Youth Confirmation Sunday
Since November, ten Epiphany youth have been gathering every few weeks for a confirmation class led by Doyt Conn and Heather Edwards-McRobbie. The Episcopal Church expects all people who are baptized at an early age to make a mature affirmation of faith and commitment to the promises made at baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by a bishop. Confirmation gives us a chance to speak for ourselves before our community and claim our membership in the church.
During the class, the youth have learned more about the Episcopal Church, the sacraments, and the Bible, and they have had a chance to explore their own faith. They have also met with mentors from the parish to discuss their faith and their questions. At the end of the class, they will have the opportunity to decide whether they want to be confirmed at this time or if they want to wait.
I hope you will make a special effort to join us on June 5 at the 11 am service as we host Bishop Rickel and celebrate the commitments our youth, as well as many adults, will make.
—Laura Sargent, Youth Ministry Convener
In addition to the youth confirmation class, several adults have been doing an inquirer’s class with Kate and will be received into the Episcopal Church by the bishop. We hope you will join us to welcome them all into the fold.
The bishop will be preaching at all three morning services. The Rev. Todd Foster will be preaching at the 5 pm service.
Help Out with the VBC Service Project
Vacation Bible Camp this year is food-themed, and our children will learn that our food comes from God and human hands, God provides food for the hungry, and we share what we have. You can help as we prepare for our camp service station: Donate SNACK FOOD that we will package into “to go” bags for our Operation Night Watch Men’s Shelter guests!
- individually wrapped granola bars or energy bars
- small bags of chips or crackers
- apple sauce pouches
- small bottles of juice or water
- other snack items
There is a box in the Epiphany office for food donations. Thank you!
—Elizabeth Walker, Children’s Ministry Convener
Parish Prayer List
Sunday Lectionary Corner
May 29, 2016
Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 8:22–23, 41–43
Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany
This Week at Epiphany
May 29: Adult Forum – Forgiveness
This Easter season we held a five-evening workshop on forgiveness using the process outlined by the Revs. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu in The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path of Healing Ourselves and Our World. This was not so much a class about forgiveness, but a reverent, communal pilgrimage on the path of forgiveness, each pilgrim carrying their own hurts along the way. We’d like to share with you what we learned and experienced at 10 am in the Great Hall. Please join us!
May 29: Farewell BBQ for Emily Linderman
As a way to appreciate Emily for her years of hard work, dedication, and all-around awesomeness, we’ll be having a cookout after the morning services, beginning around 12:15 pm. Emily will be preaching at all four services. If you would like to contribute to a “purse” for Emily, contact Chinn.
May 29: Special Music at Two Services
Zachary Finkelstein (tenor) and Tyler Morse (countertentor) will perform Benjamin Britten’s Abraham and Isaac during the 11 am and 5 pm services, accompanied by noted Seattle pianist Byron Schenkman.
June 5: Confirmation Sunday with Bishop Greg Rickel
Every three years, Bishop Greg Rickel visits the parish to confirm youth and receive new members into the Episcopal Church. We have several youth group members who have gone through the class and will be confirmed, as well as a few adults who have recently gone through the inquirer’s class with Kate. Confirmations will take place at the 11 am service, and Bishop Rickel will preach at all three morning services.
June 11: Memorial Service for Barbara Himmelman
Celebrate the life of long-time Epiphany parishioner Barbara Himmelman at 11 am in the Church. Reception to follow in the Great Hall.