The Common Good
January-February 1996

An Antidote for Burnout

by Chris Byrd | January-February 1996

Following the paths of justice, love, and reverence.

The Contract With America and the emergence of the Christian Coalition as a sophisticated political force in American life couldn't have been anticipated when Fred Kammer, president of Catholic Charities-USA, was writing his latest book. But Salted With Fire will be a welcome antidote to social justice activists beleaguered by the "contract" and perplexed by the Religious Right.

Taken from Jesus' admonition to his followers in the ninth chapter of Mark that everyone must be salted with fire, Kammer's latest book is a companion to his 1991 offering, Doing Faithjustice . In that work, the author examined the connection of faith to justice in the context of Catholic social thought. He made the compelling and accessible case that serving faith and promoting justice couldn't be separated.

As he did in Doing Faithjustice, Kammer combines social analysis, theological reflection, and personal anecdotes in Salted With Fire to explore the painful, seemingly futile, yet ultimately hopeful ways that persons can live out a commitment to faithjustice.

Those who have been in this vineyard a long time will find the life described in the author's first chapter on burnout eerily and uncomfortably like their own lives. As Kammer reels off the indications of burnout-long hours, a cluttered lifestyle, a dwindling circle of friends, injustices at our own workplaces-the reader will sigh in agreement. This is much needed analysis because people in faithjustice circles have traditionally been reluctant to countenance these issues. As the author indicates, however, there are signs of hope: an acknowledgment of the problems; a willingness to talk about them; and a growing interest in prayer, spirituality, and building community.

Drawing upon the insights of Ignatian tradition and his experience with the National Board of Jesuit Social Ministries in the 1980s, Kammer looks at the ways that darkness often insidiously conspires against our best efforts to create a more just society and to live with integrity. As the author relates them, the engines of darkness in our lives include competition, isolation, domination, and invulnerability. These forms reveal themselves in the ways that we behave, in our relationships with family and friends, and in societal structures. For the author this triad of the personal, communal, and societal must be working harmoniously for there to be justice and integrity.

SALTED WITH FIRE COMES together nicely in the final chapter. Kammer, writing with the gentle resolve and hope of one convinced, moves the reader from darkness to light. He argues compellingly that there are three paths which sustain persons attempting to remain true to faithjustice: the path of justice, the path of love, and the path of reverence.

The path of justice requires persons to lead lives that confound the expectations of society, that don't worry about success or recognition. We must, the author argues, resist the societal forces of death and embrace goodness and life wherever we find it.

For the author, following the path of love means that we must seek out communities that sustain us, that allow us to put down our work from time to time, and to discern how best to face the world in the pursuit of justice.

In the end, Kammer believes, our ability to act justly and to love tenderly turns upon our capacity to nurture our prayer lives, both by ourselves and with others. This is the path of reverence. By meditating upon the Jesus story, we will begin to understand what it means to live with justice and integrity. By honoring the Sabbath, we will have the courage to walk away from the fray when things start to get out of control.

Weaving his themes well, Kammer leads the reader to a satisfying conclusion. I have, however, one slight complaint with Salted With Fire-the author's tendency to employ contemporary jargon like risk, openness, and vulnerability. These words have become so commonplace that it is difficult for the reader not to approach them with skepticism. This modest transgression, however, doesn't diminish the collective value of Salted With Fire.

Personal and thoughtful, studious and engaging, for those in the faithjustice movement, Salted With Fire couldn't have come along at a better time.

CHRIS BYRD is the director of peace and justice for the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama.

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