Monthly Archives: March, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Toward a Theology of Healing)

March 30th, 2016 Posted by Blog 1 comment

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Over the last several weeks we have explored the various components of spirituality, as spirituality pertains to trauma and trauma care. This week we will begin to lay the foundation toward a theology of healing and the faith community’s role in journeying with the veteran and the veteran’s family toward well-being and healing.

BACKGROUND

From the opening pages in the first book of the Torah, the Hebrew scripture tells us something has gone wrong; loving relationships have been broken, creation has been marred, humanity has been separated from God, all resulting in the need for God’s healing. Good news begins right here; God does not simply step in and by coercive force make things right. Rather, love shapes God’s activity; patient and persevering. Love becomes the “medicine” that galvanizes God’s response to a broken world.

The core ingredient of God’s healing “medicine” is restorative justice. So what is justice? According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the Hebrew words tsedeq and mishpat are all used to describe “justice” in the Bible. These words are interchangeable with the words for “righteousness”. The ideas of justice and righteousness are deeply intertwined in the Hebrew scripture.

However, the basic meaning of “justice” is “what is right” or “what is normal”, or the way things are supposed to be. Restorative justice is part of God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world. But justice is also about restoring our broken relationship with God. Justice relates to fairness, judgment, love, and healing of God, a Love story. All of this has great importance for the veteran.

GOD’S “MEDICINE” TOWARD HEALING

So, let’s look at this Love story. It is a journey that begins in Genesis 1, “Then God looked over all God had made, and God saw that it was excellent in every way.” However, this exceptional, superb, and tremendous story shifts drastically into a story of a broken, weak, fractured, and shattered humanity as we read in Genesis 3 of the break in the relationship between human beings and God. However, something new emerges. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and Sarah into a relationship as they begin a community.

God’s “medicine” for healing begins in this promise as summarized in Genesis 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s calling of a people included two elements; “I will bless you”, God said, “so that you will be a blessing”. God’s healing “medicine” is in and through community.

The Love story tells of a God who responds to human brokenness with continual creativity in healing a broken world! During this journey God’s creative involvement centers on restorative justice. What does this look like?

God’s response to heal human brokenness is powerfully lived out in the midst of the Love story that comes in the saga of the Exodus. As we look at God’s involvement in restorative justice, it is interesting to note that God;

  • is not a God of people in power who lord it over others
  • hears the cries of those being oppressed

As the Hebrew people understand God’s involvement in restorative justice, the Torah (the Law) becomes central to their understanding of their call and their covenant with God. When God gives the Hebrews the Torah following the exodus, they understood the Torah being;

  • a work of God’s grace
  • a resource for ordering peaceable living in community
  • a guide to wholeness that serves justice

Following the exodus, the Love story continues. However, the Hebrews did not heed the prophets and turn from injustice. The prophesied consequences came to pass in that the center of their religious life, the Temple, was destroyed. So too the center of their political life, the king’s palace, was destroyed. Additionally many Hebrews were exiled.

The prophet Jeremiah linked Israel’s conformity with the injustices to the end of their Hebrew nation. Jeremiah laments this end with profound grief. However, Jeremiah points forward by indicating God’s promises. Jeremiah’s words fortified the Hebrews to survive as a people. He encouraged them to seek the well-being of whatever society they were part of (Jeremiah 29:7) while at the same time maintaining their distinct identity as people of the Torah. God’s healing “medicine” continues as the Hebrews remember God’s blessing in order that they too may “be a blessing”.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE 

How can the faith community “be a blessing” to the veterans and their families? Restorative justice takes on a central focus. One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes wholeness, or everything that makes for a person’s security, well-being, and the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Restorative justice is about repairing broken relationships both with oneself, other people, and to structures and organizations.

For a warrior that may have experienced a moral injury while in combat, it may be difficult to see how they can experience “wholeness” after what they may have done. Yet, it may be in service to others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.  This can be done by providing support to the family of the battle-buddy who was killed or wounded.  Or by connecting to an organization formed by veterans to make reparations or support refugees.

Shalom is not a passive concept, rather it is lived out in community. That is why justice always has to be social. So, restorative justice, most simply, means putting things right again — repairing and restoring broken relationships… and doing justice restores our relationship with God.

The faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. After wars of the past, clergy and congregational members have played a key role in helping veterans find healing of the soul. Clergy and laity through their actions have offered hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort.  Clergy have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred Love story provide remarkable healing power.

So how can the faith community “be a blessing” to our veterans? Next week we will continue our conversation on a theology of healing…until then, thank you for the conversation.

Soul Care Conversation (Transforming Spiritual Trauma)

March 21st, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

For the last several weeks we have explored the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans by trying to understand spirituality and meaning, the “why”, and spirituality and suffering, “why me?” This week we will look at transforming spiritual trauma, “what now”.

BACKGROUND

War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure.  In theological language, sin.  The conduct of war often descends into brutality.  Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities.  A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, self and others is a consequence.  Many warriors have experienced grievous wounds to their souls.

Violence and killing are timeless descriptions of war. However, it is in the act of war that three distinctive injuries can occur; PTSD, moral injury and soul wounds. All three have spiritual implications. For several months we discussed the impact and the symptoms of trauma on the warrior. We determined that there are numerous similarities within the symptoms of the psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and the spiritual impacts of trauma;

  • anger
  • rage
  • moodiness
  • isolation
  • hyper-vigilance
  • confusion
  • isolation
  • impaired memory
  • depression
  • inability to sleep

Some of the spiritual symptoms of trauma are;

  • doubt
  • grief
  • fear
  • hopelessness
  • loneliness

These can lead to feelings of abandonment and loss of faith in God. The spiritual symptoms of trauma may change as time passes and a person moves further away from the acute phase of trauma recovery. Trauma can be associated with loss of faith, diminished participation in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, feelings of being abandoned or punished by God, and loss of meaning and purpose for living.

At the very core of spiritual trauma, loss. While in combat the warrior will experience loss. The warrior’s battle buddy may die or be wounded. Or, the warrior experiences a loss in faith (faith in leaders, faith in execution of the war, faith in country, faith in God). Lastly the warrior may experience a loss of hope, hope for the future.

CONSIDERATIONS TOWARD HEALING

Spiritual beliefs may influence the trauma survivor’s ability to begin a journey of healing following the trauma experience.  Several studies have indicated that negative thoughts or attributions about God, such as “God has abandoned me,” and “God is punishing me,” or, being angry at God are associated with a number of poor clinical outcomes.  One study of veterans being treated for PTSD found that negative religious coping and lack of forgiveness were both associated with worse PTSD and depression symptoms. (Witvliet, C. V. O., Phillips, K. A., Feldman, M. E., & Beckham, J. C. (2004). Posttraumatic mental and physical health correlates to forgiveness and religious coping in military veterans. (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17 (3), 269-273)

How can the returning veteran journey toward transformation and healing of the soul?  They begin a long spiritual quest that may include;

  • repentance
  • forgiveness
  • mourning
  • lamenting
  • reconciliation

The church is no stranger to such quests.  When a warrior has a soul wound, the faith community can live out a critical role in the warrior’s journey.

There are important factors that clergy, lay leadership and congregations must be aware.  Forgiveness from war related trauma can be complicated and elusive.  Some veterans do not like the person they have become and they become mired in shame.  Some carry deep rage and anger thinking they can never be forgiven.  Some do not realize they need forgiveness until years later.  Some compartmentalize what happened and suffer in silence. However, the faith community has many traditional practices that could be offered to the veteran as part of their healing journey. Additionally, there are Native American spiritual practices that would not be considered “traditional” in many faith communities, however they provide powerful resources that could be healing.

Providing the veteran opportunities for remembering and grieving becomes critical in their spiritual journey.  While in the war zone, survival comes first.  Remembrance and grief get put on hold.  Encourage the warrior to remember and mourn the loss of friends, or safety, or innocence, and possibly their faith.  Allow them to express their full force of feelings such as hatred, abject despair, loneliness, confusion, terror, rage.  Provide them with some examples of lamentations, such as David in the Psalms.  Share that lament is being totally honest with God.  This could be accomplished in numerous ways; pastoral counseling, during a special service for veterans, a retreat, or in a peer to peer support group.

As we have discovered earlier, meaning making or serving others is a big part of the spiritual journey.  Often, it is in service of others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.  This can be done by providing support to the family and buddy who was killed or wounded.  Or by connecting to an organization formed by veterans to make reparations or support refugees.  Opportunities such as these provide the veteran opportunities for meaning making.

We discussed several weeks ago that spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. Often spirituality is expressed as religion. For many people religion forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to the question, “what now”.

Our next conversation we will look at a theology of healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Welcoming Conversations with Veterans

March 8th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Those that are committed to a mission and ministry to veterans should prayerfully contemplate the experiences of the veteran returning from war. The stakes are high and the costs of war are very personal. Therefore, attentive and non-judgmental listening will help the warrior in his or her spiritual struggle. For a veteran, telling even a small snippet of one’s story and feeling heard and accepted may be the first important step toward healing.