Thoughts from Mission

Jerry KearneyOtherwise
August 21, 2015

All of us try to make sense out of the events and circumstances of our lives.  In our search for meaning and purpose we develop certain frameworks within which we slot all the various stimuli we experience.  Part of this process is the creation of fairly fixed worldviews through which we take in and interpret those things that go on around us.  These worldviews sit at different places on the physical, psychological and spiritual continuums that characterize our lives (rich – poor, optimistic – pessimistic, hopeful – despairing, grateful – resentful, well – sick, blessed – cursed, etc.).

These perspectives are generally helpful, but they sometimes become artificial techniques we use to attempt to control the world and our experience of it.   As we grow older, we have a tendency to rely more and more on these controls, thereby reinforcing them with progressively greater defensiveness.  We get to a point where we do not allow ourselves or anyone else to question or reexamine the continuing validity or viability of those perspectives.  In essence, we become closed to even the possibility of other perspectives and begin to shove all our experiences into these categories whether they fit or not.  It is literally like trying to jam the proverbial square pegs into round holes.  We refuse to consider any other alternative understanding other than our personally manufactured and rigidly defended interpretation.

When we become set in our thinking like this, we cut ourselves off from what the theologian, Walter Brueggemann, calls the “otherwise.”  We do not allow for the possibility of being surprised to learn that the world may be a far richer and wonderfully complex reality than that which I have concocted.  When I was in college, the phrase, “It’s my bag,” was a common excuse used to justify individual behavior and avoid social criticism.  One of my professors warned our class that we should always tie the strings to “our bags” around our necks so that we could be sure to keep our heads free to look around just in case there may be other things going on than what was in “our bags.”

The very concept of the miraculous is acceptance of the phenomenon that me and my thinking do not envision and thereby control the world and all possibilities.  There may be, and very likely is, an otherwise – whole new, maybe yet unthought and undiscovered, ways of understanding and interpreting.  People of faith not only hold themselves open to the “otherwise,” but expect and look forward to the possibilities of a world far beyond our wildest imaginings.  We believe that God’s creation continues to unfold and that our daily work is part of God’s work of making everything new.


Jerry Kearney, D.Min.
Vice President, Mission Integration
Saint Thomas Health
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