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Lifting up the lowly: 2023 Lenten study week one

By: Bishop Lanette Plambeck and the Dakotas Conference Cabinet

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Bishop Lanette Plambeck: I would like to welcome you to our 2023 Lenten Study, based on Adam Hamilton’s book Luke, Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts, and Outlaws. In chapter one Adam Hamilton talks about his first experience of really being an outsider, of not being including rather that is being look down upon, or not seeing at all. It caused a reflection, when he was older about how that informed who he was as a leader. I was wondering if you had an experience in your history, where you felt like you were not part of the mainstream, that somehow you were not included or invited? What was that like for you?

Rev. Kris Mutzenberger: In high school, I was not part of the mainstream, as someone who was part of the band and not a sports person. I was in a really large high school. I had my own group of people, but it wasn’t like the “cool kids” —you know that people that wore Girbaud jeans, and all the things that made you cool, in my time. But for me the experience was different because I never felt that outside or not being part of the mainstream. At that moment, I guess it never occurred to me, maybe that is a little different. That was my experience. I was outside and it didn’t bother me. That is not always everyone’s experience, but it was mine.

Rev. Rebecca Trefz: I would say for me that it came with moving to new communities. I was a pastor’s kid and so we moved, not as much as some. There was something about moving to a new community. Even as you got to know people you didn’t have that history in certain settings. I was trying to think back if there was a time of not getting picked, or that sort of a thing. There were smaller things —you’re not from here so you don’t know, or you’re not related to everybody that is already here. It was kind of feeling a little bit on the outside. To not have that longevity, being the new person in town, even after eight years. I think that’s what sticks with me moving as a young person. Frankly even sometimes as a pastor when moving in and hearing that people have their groups of friends and get invited to things and you are not being invited.

Rev. Joel Winckler: My perspective is a little different. I was a twin. Sometimes I felt like my brother was more popular than I was. He would get picked and I wouldn’t. He was more athletic, and I wasn’t. That is an interesting dynamic to have that most people don’t have—if you’re a twin and you’re feeling left out.

Rev. Dan Bader: I think it is kind of interesting that sometimes you get left out intentionally, but sometimes unintentionally. I was about, probably fourth grade, and we were doing this thing in one of the classes, the comment was “when your name gets read off go up to the line. When the names were called, the people in line headed outside.” My name never got read off, so I stayed in the hallway, and they headed outside. But that was unintentional—why wasn’t I included? That was a really weird feeling.

Rev. Ben Ingebretson: When I was in junior high, I wanted to play hockey. That was the big sport, in our town, Fargo. Every summer, the kids that were really serious about hockey would go up to Winnipeg to hockey camp. My parents did not have the money to send me to hockey camp. So, I made the hockey team maybe one year. After that, everybody just got much better than I was. I didn’t have the experience of hockey camp or the ability as the result of hockey camp. I was on the outside looking in. That’s what I connect with.

Bishop Lanette: I can go right back to third grade. One of the places people can be, rather intentionally or not, left out or overlooked is on the playground. Also, early bullying can happen on the playground and sort of a class system. Only certain kids could be on the jungle gym. I grew up as one of the kids from the trailer court. The cool kids invited me to a sleepover. It was my mom, my sister and me. My mom had a very limited income. We were so excited that I had been invited in. We went to the gas station Holiday. My mom bought this sleeping bag and a couple of things that would allow me to “fit in.” Then I got disinvited, because there was someone else that would be a better guest, right? There are times when I pause and I say to myself, “This is your third-grade self, feeling this.” I think that at different ages and stages in our journey, when we feel certain feelings, we can go back to that moment. I wonder about, these experiences, that you experienced or observed, how did it affect your faith, if at all?

Joel: I think I do notice when people are being left out in a room or group. I notice others  when visiting in groups or with colleagues, I will make a point to make sure they are not going to be left out. That has affected my way of dealing with and interacting with other people.

Rebecca: I think it has made me aware of people who are new to whatever the setting is, like first timers. They are new to the community. They are new to that activity group or that, and kind of stepping into a place where other people have developed relationships. Just know how things go and the patterns, just kind of aware of that and how to come alongside them.

Dan: I have served in a couple of capacities in the church where we have been intentional in the ministry setting and invited people who sometimes live on the margins. Sometimes they are not necessarily the cleanest or maybe they have been drinking a little bit and come in for a meal. Everybody tends to avoid them. When I was serving in Pierre for example, we had a Wednesday night meal, people would always say, “Dan never sits with you,” to my wife. My wife would say, “He is doing his thing.” That was important to me. I never wanted anybody to feel alone.

Ben: I don’t think at the time it effected my faith at all. I couldn’t process through a spiritual lens my experience of being on the outside looking in. When I have had similar experiences today, I could say, “Jesus understands that. He’s lived through this feeling of being on the outside looking in.” There have been occasions where I felt like that  and it is spiritually comforting.

Kris: I think there is where my experience, which is different than a lot of persons’ experience, I just happen to have this personal sense that it didn’t bother me. That also lends itself to being open to just interacting with everyone. What has been weird to me about my high school experiences is that I was never friends with the popular kids, ever, they were not my people. The class president became a teacher in my hometown high school. He would ask my parents about me, what I was doing. I was like, “why does Cory care what I am doing, we were never buds?” Somehow, I was still seen and known even though it didn’t matter to me in the same way. That was my realization later. It was an interesting experience related to all of that.

Bishop Lanette: I think when you have that experience of being overlooked, or looked through, you begin to see those that others don’t see. That has marked my faith. I want to be able to see with Christ-like eyes. So, when I look at not only those that are already in the church but those outside the walls of the church, who God is calling us to see, to hear, and to open our eyes people and places that God wants us to wake up to. I think that these experiences that we have not only inform the ways we practice ministry, clergy and laity both, our own experiences help us to relate to the Biblical narrative. The story of the birth of Jesus lifts the lowly. When you think about the lowly in our lives today, how do you lift the lowly? How is The United Methodist Church invited to lift the lowly? What do you see the United Methodist Church doing?

Kris: I think anytime we stand up for some group that is marginalized, even just include them in the circle by name, we have done that work of lifting up.

Rebecca: I think we are challenged, or we should be challenged to think about socio-economic class. I think that we often times think about groups in the church and making space for them, which is great, and that work should continue. I often wonder if we do not wrestle with that sort of classism. Do we believe that there can be relationships and mutual learning and benefit? Not just, I can help you out and lift you up but really that I have something to learn from you. The image of God is you. God can work through you to speak and to me across socio economic class. When people make look similar demographically, but their life experience is so different, do we make space for that and welcome that?

Joel: I always wonder when you are at church and you look in the parking lot, do the cars in the parking lot represent the community? Or the neighborhood? How are we really including all of those? If someone drove up in an old beater, would they feel welcome in our church?

Ben: I think there is reason to believe that the disparity may be only increasing in our culture. It is like the opportunities we have to demonstrate this quality are going to become more, not less

Bishop Lanette: The invitation is to be alongside. What we learn about God and Jesus is that God chose to be alongside of us. Not only so that we could have our relationship with God, but Jesus went to places and beacons us to follow. Not to give a handout. You hear the language hand up. In hand up you take a hold of one another; you move forward together with one another. It is that whole ministry with the incarnation. God that chose to be with each of us—God with us. The invitation for all of us is to always be able to look at one another and see the image of God reflected; to look at the least, the lost, and the lonely in this world and recognize they are in the category of least, lost and lonely. But they are not lowly, not less than. They are made in the perfect image of God as well.

Bishop Lanette: I am delighted with a study that invites us to not only reflect on our own experience being the outsider, the outcast, the outlaw; the one who is on the outside looking in but to be the church, to be alongside of people no matter where they are. To bring them alongside this story, to recognize in that movement towards them that God is bringing us alongside them in this story of the redemption and reconciliation which is the Lenten journey.

Bishop Lanette: Thank you for joining us. Join us next week as Rebecca brings us, “Simon, Do You See This Woman?” We look forward to that. May God bless you and keep you. May you feel God’s spirit leaning into you. Even as God leans into us, lean into the world, and love deeply, and invite extensively. Amen. 


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