taking the words of Jesus seriously

It makes no sense that I am so upset about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s not like I live in New York where I might have seen him onstage or caught a glimpse of him around town. And I’m not some sort of film & stage buff who can analyze his many performances and directorial venues.

He’s just another celebrity, I told myself when I heard the news. But he’s not. Or he wasn’t, I should say.

When Hoffman played a character he found something deep and true and powerfully human that others missed. To watch him play Truman Capote is to see the deep isolation and insecurity that lay just under the surface of Capote’s witty words and social bravado. When Hoffman inhabited the charismatic L. Ron Hubbard, I felt the cold wind of religious poppy-cock challenge what and why I believe. And when, as a nurse in the film Magnolia,  Hoffman doggedly stayed on the phone for hours in an effort to reach a dying Jason Robard’s son, we glimpsed the possibility for great kindness that resides in all of us.

Hoffman exuded a restless intelligence that refused to go quietly into that good night. For me, his acting elevated humanity by revealing our magnificence and exposing our hopes and our fierce loyalties and desires. Which makes Hoffman’s death from a heroin overdose particularly pitiful. But I suppose deeply human too.

This is who we are: men and women of inestimable worth. Marked with a dignity and glory of divinity that beams brilliant and true.  This is who we are also: creatures of dust. Pulsating energies of insecurity and fragility. People accustomed to dwelling in “a land of deep darkness”  as the prophet Isaiah wrote.

Yet, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of just one candle, ” said St. Francis.

Tonight I am going to say a prayer for the too-brief light that was Philip Seymour Hoffman. And I’m going to say a prayer for the lives of all the rest of us who remain, giving thanks for the light that all of us were created to radiate.

And I’ll pray to remember to treat those around me with tenderness and grace. Recognizing that they are just as I am – beautiful and flawed.

About The Author

Rev. Laura Sumner Truax is the senior pastor at LaSalle Street Church, a non-denominational church in downtown Chicago with a long tradition of uniting individual faith in Christ with God's call for justice and compassion lived out in the world. Laura is the author of "Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together" (InterVarsity, 2013) and the co-author of "Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World" (Eerdmans, 2017). Rev. Truax holds a Master’s in Pastoral Studies with an emphasis in Spirituality and a Master's of Divinity degree, and is a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary,

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