Ministry in Context

Welcoming Otherness, Redignifying the Heart

“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.” – Mary Oliver, “Staying Alive,” The West Wind (1995)

Welcome to the newest issue of Ministry in Context! I’m excited to begin my new role as the editor and publisher of this monthly collection. I'd like to begin by thanking Steve McKinley for his previous years of dedication to our newsletter.

This October, many important changes are happening at Contextual Learning! Former Internship students are excitedly checking their Student Tracking Pages to find all their paperwork filed and complete, while other students are beginning the complex, transformative Internship experience with open minds and open hearts. A new year of Teaching Congregations students are beginning new chapters with congregations in the Twin Cities, Fargo, Oshkosh, Kansas City, Little Rock, Pensacola, and around the nation. Former CPE students are turning in their final evaluations, while a new crop of students are meeting potential supervisors for the first time. Cross-Cultural Education students are exploring travels to Los Angeles, Germany, Israel, Palestine, and more.

Working in the eye of this hurricane, I am vividly reminded of the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver’s work has always touched deeply the parts of us that stumble, wonder, or reach for beautiful things. As I find myself surrounded by a multitude of new people and relationships, I find myself standing “willingly and gladly in the characters of everything.” As a result, new depths of encounter are opened to me.

It is true that as someone who has only belonged to the Luther Seminary community for a short time, and as someone who does not belong to the Lutheran community in general, many of our events and partners are new. However, I have found that by embracing that otherness, thoughtful clarity emerges. When I accept that I must thrust myself into “the beauty and mystery of the world,” leave my comfort zone behind, and learn new things from those who are other from me, new depth and dignity is revealed.

Such a learning process is critical for all who are beginning new chapters this month. Whether you are meeting your mentor pastor for the first time, speaking at the pulpit at your Internship site for the first time, walking a patient through the process of dying for the first time, or finding yourself a racial or religious minority for the first time, I would encourage you to embrace the otherness within the people and things around you.

When one lets go of one’s desire to feel “comfortable” and welcomes the reality that we are all “other” from each other, one can recognize the internal value of every person and relationship. This is the essence of human unity: recognizing that we are all very different people and allowing that difference to stand independently, without attempting to force all persons into a single normativity.

Every person that you meet is fully whole, human, independent, and capable of their own liberation. Every person that you meet has a voice, even if you have not yet had the chance to hear it. Listen carefully, welcome their otherness from you, and enjoy the ride that results!

And as you do, make sure to stop into the Contextual Learning office and keep me posted!

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