MtN – Thinking of Groups

Where slavery and other forms of extreme exploitation of human labor have been general, moral convenience would account for much of it, no doubt. Where population groups are seen as enemies or even as burdens, certain nefarious traits are attributed to them as a whole that are taken to override the qualities of individual members. Again, moral convenience could account for this. Both cases illustrate the association of the denial of selfhood with the devaluation of the human person. (Marilynne Robinson, “The Givenness of Things” p. 15)


Thinking of groups, this Sunday I added a challenge/invitation to our time of welcoming people to worship. The first liturgical part of our worship is a time of confession and forgiveness. Knowing this, and knowing that recent news in the U.S. has brought up the ugly sin of white supremacy and racism, it seemed right to invite people to think about this issue just before we all hear a word of radical love and forgiveness from God.

The above quote (I encourage you to read it slowly!) points out something that happens deep inside us. In our lower moments we make negative generalizations about groups, but make exceptions when we come to personally know individuals from that very group. If only we could get a clue when we meet more and more exceptions to our own rules.

Here’s the challenge. People (I suppose for expediency and a feeling of personal power) have a tendency to make generalizations about other people-groups. There are generalizations about Lutherans (think of our close ties to the birth of a post-medieval Germany). There are generalizations about any people group you could think of.

The point I want to make is that when our generalizations are negative of others, when we “slam” or “put down” other groups, we characterize them in a way that gives us, or helps us retain, a position of power. I believe it’s wrong to prop up the power of our group on the suppression of another.

We can’t stop the tendency in us to generalize. Yes, I know people groups have tendencies, common histories and patterns of being, but I think a rule of thumb here would be helpful:

  • Make generalizations of other groups only if those statements enhance and broaden and deepen our understanding of a common humanity.  Community = Common Humanity.
  • When you feel the temptation to make a negative generalization about another group, shut it down. Reject it in your thinking as an unhealthy way to be in community with others. Recognize your fear-based reaction and need for control for what it is.
  • Finally, when individuals act in a way that contradicts your positive generalization, treat that as an individual case. It takes more work, but it’s the right thing to do.


We will fail, and we will have successes, as a community and as individuals. Together and in the Light of God, we can move the needle toward a less racist and more inclusive, greater society.

Pastor James


A poem titled “Poverty”


The weight of nothing when you need something,



The added weight, as a millstone tied around

your neck, the judgement of

a neighbor

a stranger

a brother,



to rise above.


If compassion were a visible thing,

beyond a way to think and be,

a color, flower, glowing light…


where and when would it appear?


Visible as a hand extended, audible as a policy passed;

a budget,

a promise,

a commitment

saying, “Let us lift this weight



Thank God for the Comma


While visiting with a brother in Christ, I was struck by how he talked about his relationship with God as it stands recently. He has been on quite a journey and shared the contents of his prayers.

“When this whole thing started, I prayed, ‘I’m not sure about this, God’.”

Something about his inflection caused me to ask, “Is it ‘I’m not sure about this, God’, or ‘I’m not sure about this God’?”

Without the comma, this God is being wondered about, being perhaps considered  between many gods. With the comma, God is a companion in the midst of “this.” The comma helps to establish one’s closeness to God. It’s as if we need the comma, as a thin veil between persons. Is it possible that we can’t bear being too close to God?

Later I thought of Moses on Mount Sinai, who almost saw Almighty God. As the text proclaims, no one can behold the glory of God and live. So God positions Moses just so, and Moses survives. The cleft of the rock is not unlike my friend’s comma.

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” 

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ex 33:18–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Hitting the Ground Running

Photo credit:

What an amazing transition Sunday: Beth Smallbeck, our director of Youth and Family Ministry is heading out on a six-week sabbatical. We started formation classes after a few weeks off. There were pockets of busy-ness. The kitchen, the senior high classroom (Narnia), the library, the youth room and craft room downstairs. The younger kids learned about Moses, the middle-school learned about Esther (quite a story!), and at 10:00 we snuck in a rehearsal for our last Advent/Epiphany skit (Gavin was a great Herod and Annika was a very proud star!)

We had a rite of sending for Beth at the end of worship. A sketch book was presented to her to use as a journal, and several of us made hand prints on random pages with messages. The most meaningful time was the laying-on of hands, and there were easily 25 people up in front with us, extending hands while we prayed for Beth’s time away. We prayed that the Spirit of God would give her rest and renewal, a time of learning but a great sense of being recharged for ministry upon her return.

I know that the next several weeks will be full of intensity, planning, celebrating ministry and working at being the leader God and the people of Grace are calling me to be. It was nice to have rest over the last several days, it’s a tremendous gift to have our intern Bethany Wurtz with us to take some of the preaching load, and I’m excited about next week, as we will be having our Inquiry meal for our first ever Deeper Life formation process at Grace.

Hitting the ground running!