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3 Ways to Navigate Global and Personal Suffering

Updated: Apr 27

Looking back to March, it's hard to find any crisp images. The month, a mere three months ago, is a blur of anxiety, adjustments, transition and coping.

I'm not even sure what happened in April except a lot of cooking and hopeful glances down the paper goods aisles.

May was another blur. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this and some things were feeling semi-normal; the news reminds me nothing is normal. From protesters insisting 'their body, their choice', a President who sets no examples of the leadership we need during a pandemic, to Blacks being senselessly murdered by police; I'm struggling to process it all. I'm struggling to find the meaning, the purpose of it all.

How do I help this global suffering? How do I help my own suffering? I'm angry, I'm confused and I'm hurt. I'm tired of hate rhetoric and the retraumatization of our citizens because of the utter lack of compassion or empathy in the air. My heart is breaking for all those I know who are struggling to find meaning too.

As I sit here and cry and wonder who to turn to in times like this; who are my everyday heroes I can look to for wisdom, I think of my Dad. It's been ages since I referred to myself as 'Christian' or 'religious', but I was raised by a liberal Presbyterian Minister.

I realize I have a box of his sermons and I decide picking one randomly will offer me some of the guidance I crave. And there it is, February 8, 1987 titled "Salty Christians." It seems to be a sermon about ways to navigate suffering.

Three years before he died and a year before my mother died, I can see him at the pulpit and hear his deep, bellowing voice emphasizing these phrases he so lovingly constructed for his parishioners:

In reference to Jesus' statement: "You are the Salt of the Earth", my father writes:

Being the salt of the earth means three things:

  1. We, as Christians, bring a certain influence to bear upon the world. In every day, in everything we say or do, we are flowing into the lives of other people. And if we feel that there are evil influences at work to corrupt and destroy society, then we have, indeed, the responsibility to be a counter-influence. Whether we like it or not we are constantly flowing into the lives of other people...There are many today who are so overwhelmed by the threats under which we live--international terrorism, nuclear arms race, the pollution of our environment, the pollution of our minds, the population crisis, the drug scene, the escalation of violence--that they're inclined to give up hope...the savor seems to have gone out of life and they smell the corruption in the air. But Jesus would not have been neither surprised nor despondent in days like these...

  2. ...for salt keeps things from spoiling. Salt holds back decay and corruption and putrefaction. That may sound reactionary in a world that is blindly throwing overboard much of the moral and spiritual ballast that keeps it afloat. That may sound archaic to a society that has grown morally and spiritually flabby, and has sold its soul to the seeming superiority of all that science can conceive, technology can make, and money can buy. But we remain, don't we---with all our sophistication--a people who are finite and mortal, and we yearn for the salt of meaning, the salt of healing and the salt that will thaw the winter of life and of our world. He continues, when Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth, he is reminding us that we are his agents of healing. In a world in which there are hurts and cuts and bruises and fractures, in a world in which so much healing needs to take place between people, and groups of people, and nations, what does it mean to be a healing agent?? We are called upon to preserve God's intention for the world. [to have faith in a life with divine purpose].

  3. Finally, we, as Christians, are to add to the real flavor of life. Maybe adding flavor is like adding 'soul'. Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary, as if he was recording an extraordinary phenomenon, "I have been to church today, and am not depressed." My father adds in his humor with a story of a little boy who toured a church after the service with the pastor. Coming upon a plaque for WWII, the boy asks, "What is that?" And the Pastor piously responded, "That is a list of persons who died in the service." To which the boy replied, "Which service--the 9:30 or the 11:00?" My father continues that Hans Kung, a Roman Catholic theologian has said in these days, despite its opposition to the world and its powers, the church must never appear to be an institution of threats and intimidation, preaching disaster and creating fear. It is there to announce the good news, not issue threats; to spread joy in God, not create a dread of God. Lastly, my father invites us to remember the eleven disciples of long ago and the splendor Jesus drew out of their lives...with a pinch of salt, urging us to renew our faith to work as disciples of Christ.

While the language is Christ heavy, the message still remains relevant to me. To me, he is saying the Church should be a haven. An oasis amongst the turmoil and chaos. The word of Jesus is an oasis too.

I agree we need to find our oasis in whatever way feels right for us, take refuge in our own saltiness, our ability to heal, our purpose.

Are we forgetting our power to do so?

We are indeed responsible for being the counter-influence. Whether I call myself Christian or Buddhist or Humanist or Agnostic, I still have a responsibility to hold back putrefaction.

Whether it's working on the front lines of a Covid ICU or leaving the last pack of toilet paper on the shelf for someone else, we have to find our own flavor of doing service, of putting soul back into this world.

So, as I continue to work to heal my heart, I take comfort in knowing that despite all the bad humans can create, there is a counterculture of salty people from all walks, looking to add the right kind of flavor.

In the words of my Dad, the Reverend Dr. Frank R. Hoffman, please "pass the salt!"

If you need help finding your own saltiness, or processing the stress and trauma of difficult times, please reach out.

small wooden bowl of salt and a scooper with salt


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