Even with their spiny coats, hedgehogs are the cutest little animals. Besides being cute, they have been blessed with an excellent natural defense mechanism. When they are frightened, they can roll themselves up into a tight little ball forcing would-be predators to deal with a face full of sharp quills. When it is turned in on itself, the hedgehog’s vulnerable underbelly is protected. It can stay rolled up until the danger passes.
However, what’s good for the hedgehog is not good for us as human beings. Figuratively speaking, our first impulse when frightened might well be to roll ourselves up into a tight little ball. We want to protect ourselves and try to ride out the storm by turning inward. But it doesn’t often work, and not just because we don’t have quills.
Extreme inward focus caused by fear may have at least two negative consequences. 1) Our perception of the situation can be distorted. We may not see things the way they really are. 2) Everything becomes about me, myself, and I, and we fail to see how those around us are being affected. In other words, we lose touch with our humanity and suffer compassion burnout.
I am concerned that we are experiencing a perfect storm in which our first impulse is to roll ourselves up into a tight protective ball. In recent weeks, there has been a huge state-wide spike in COVID-19 cases. The increase is real. The economic uncertainty brought on by a surging pandemic is real. And the social unrest we’re seeing in Utah and all over the country is real.
To be sure, we face conditions right now that can cause our fears and self-concern to grow and our humanity and willingness to care for one another to shrink. Thank the Lord that there is a hard-working group here in Tooele that is going the opposite direction. Significant strides are being made in the county right now to improve our ability to care for one another. Effective July 1, victims of domestic violence and those who rely on our local food bank and community resource center will have a valuable new ally — Switchpoint.
Last October, Mountain of Faith helped organize the first ever Tooele Valley Homeless Summit. I asked Carol Hollowell the Executive Director of Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George to address our group. Switchpoint has been dealing effectively and comprehensively with issues of poverty and the lack of affordable housing for over five years. Last year, they were recognized as the Non-Profit Organization of the Year in Washington County.
Since last October, Carol and others in the Switchpoint group have been working behind the scenes with us here in Tooele. We are one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, and we face our own issues of more and more people who need help with the basics just to survive. As a pastor of a local congregation, I work regularly with other faith leaders to help low income people who are in crisis. With the introduction of Switchpoint to our community next month, this under-served population will gain additional support.
Under Carol Hollowell’s direction a local team is being assembled to operate what will now be known as Tooele Community Resource Center. She has selected Christy Johnson to head that team. Plans are already in the works to open a thrift store next to the existing resource center. The funds from the thrift store will help provide additional resources for low income people.
The successful model used by Switchpoint for helping people out of poverty includes establishing micro-enterprises like the thrift store to provide an income stream to supplement donations, grants, and state assistance. Besides helping financially, these micro-enterprises provide low income people with employment opportunities and job training. There will also be ample opportunities for volunteering. In fact, without volunteers, the success of this effort to help those in need cannot be assured.
Which is exactly why I opened this column with remarks about how fear can cause us to turn inward. Over five hundred years ago the great reformer, Martin Luther, taught about how being turned in on oneself is a path to sin. Self-concern is one thing, but when we become preoccupied with “me, myself, and I,” our ability to see others who may be in situations as bad or worse than our own is compromised. We may become bitter. “No one is helping me. Why should I bother helping someone else?”
Thankfully, this has not been my experience with folks in the Tooele Valley. I’ve been in ministry here for over a decade, and I’ve seen people respond positively when it comes to helping out those in need. Please join me in welcoming Switchpoint and the Tooele Community Resource Center to our town. And please help assure its success by volunteering. Email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in this important work.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.