Earlier this month a friend complained to me that nobody cared about what was happening to Christians in Iraq.
I told him I shared his concern. But the problem, I said, is human beings have only so much capacity for caring. And this has been a summer to break one's heart.
The list includes the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine; the rocket attacks in Gaza and Israel; the shooting of three Mounties in Moncton; the ongoing fighting in Syria; the frightful Ebola outbreak in West Africa; the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria; an earthquake in China; the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Missouri; the suicide of Robin Williams; attacks on the Yazidi minority in Iraq by Islamist terrorists; and the beheading of journalist James Foley by those same radicals.
Added to this is a food crisis facing as many as four million people in South Sudan. It is the result of fighting between government and rebel forces -- potentially the worst hunger crisis in Africa since the 1980s.
Closer to home, there were the tragic deaths of 15 year-old Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall. The death of Fontaine prompted police Sgt. John O'Donovan to say: "Society should be horrified."
People are horrified, by that and by all the other terrible things that have happened in the past few months. But what to do? The problems seem so huge, so complex or so far away. We feel helpless, frustrated and disempowered.
Author Anne Lamott feels the same way. The last few months, she wrote, have "been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember... hasn't your mind just been blown lately, even if you try not to watch the news?"
Her prescription for dealing with it all: Start with yourself, and start small.
"It begins by putting your own oxygen mask on first," she said, quoting the instructions we hear every time we board an airplane.
Next, get on with the normal activities of life. "Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe," she wrote.
"I think Jesus had a handle on times like these," she added. "Get thirsty people water. Feed the hungry. Try not to kill anyone today. Pick up some litter in your neighborhood."
Other religions have similar sage advice.
What other things might be helpful? I can think of a few.
Google "random acts of kindness" when you are feeling the weight of all the bad news. The search produces over four million results. Clicking on one or two of the links might brighten your day. Doing a random act of kindness might brighten someone else's day, too.
You could join the many others around the world who have signed the Charter for Compassion, a worldwide effort to promote the idea that lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions -- treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. After joining, you might want to perform your own acts of compassion. (charterforcompassion.org.)
You could donate to some of the organizations that are providing assistance to people who are suffering due to conflict or other disasters. Check the website of your favourite international charity to see what they are doing in places like Gaza, Iraq, South Sudan or other places in need around the world.
Sometimes, just showing up is a powerful action. That's what hundreds of people did last week in memory of Fontaine and Hall. Just being there can be a profound spiritual experience -- for yourself, and for those who grieve. You could also participate in the silent multi-faith vigil for peace every Tuesday by the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
And it's OK to lament, too -- to cry out to God, to ask why. Songwriter Michael Card says lament is an essential ingredient of honest faith, an expression of the deep sense that something is wrong in the world.
Card, a Christian, wrote that "Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world. It provides the only trustworthy bridge to God across the deep seismic quaking of our lives."
In 1986, Calvin Seerveld wrote a hymn titled A Congregational Lament. The first line goes: "Why, Lord, must evil seem to get its way?" It's still a good question today.