Monthly Archives: May, 2016

Memorial Day, Some Personal Reflections

May 27th, 2016 Posted by Blog 6 comments

Ardennes-American-Cemetry-Memorial-Day-2013-Headstone-with-Flowers

I am certain you will understand the reason why we will not share in our weekly Soul Care Conversation. It is Memorial Day weekend, an appropriate time to reflect on the significance of why we honor a very select number of warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice. Why is this important?

Even before I took the oath of office as an officer in the US Army, I held Memorial Day as a very important and special day. Why? My grandfather was a Navy veteran of World War II. As a husband and father of four, he thought it important to volunteer to serve his country during a difficult and trying time. I do not use this term lightly, but he was my hero. He taught me much about personal sacrifice, duty, honor, courage, selfless service, and country.

Because of his and the family’s sacrifice, I decided to learn as much as I could about war and those who fought in war. I read and studied as much as I could about the personal cost of war and the effects war has on family and community. There are so many stories of young men and women who either volunteered or were drafted that went off to war never to see home or their family again.

In fact, while my family and I were stationed in Mons, Belgium in 1999, my parents came for a visit. We toured through Belgium into southern Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and then back through eastern Germany to Berlin. As we were about to depart from Berlin on our return back to Mons, my dad asked if we could stop at Henri-Chapelle American Military Cemetery. Of course I was curious as to why. My father then shared that he had an uncle who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge and was buried in this cemetery.

We arrived to the cemetery that sits on top of a ridge close to the border of Belgium and Germany. It is 1 of 14 American Cemeteries on foreign soil for World War II dead, and 1 of 3 in Belgium. We arrived and could not help but notice the pristine grounds and the view from the ridge. Prior to entering the cemetery proper, there is a mural depicting the Battle of the Bulge and other engagements that would result in those who would spend eternity on this sacred ground. There was also a mural map that specified the layout of the cemetery.

My dad pulls out of his pocket an old, crinkled, discolored letter. It was the original letter from the War Department that specified the location where our uncle was buried. Dad all of sudden became concerned. He said that the section annotated in the letter was no longer on the map. We then made our way to the cemetery office where my dad produced the letter with the name of our uncle. After a few key strokes on a computer, the woman explained that he was still in the cemetery, however he was moved. At one time the cemetery interred over 14,000 US warriors, however the cemetery now contains 7,992 graves. Family of the remainder of the dead had their loved ones re-interred back in the States, close to home.

This kind woman asked if we would like to visit the grave. After she received our affirmation, she made a call. In a few minutes, a gentlemen of at least 80 years old, carrying two buckets and a US flag, entered the office. He asked us to follow him. In a very somber and respectful manner, he led us to the graveside where he took a sponge out of one of the buckets, washed down the grave marker, a cross, he then took out of the other bucket a paint brush where he gathered some ashes on the brush and brushed them over the engraving on the stone. He then placed the US flag near the head stone and with tears in his eyes, asked if there was anything else he could do. I know that my eyes were filled with tears as I am sure the same could be said for the rest of us standing there, reflecting on what just happened.

Here we were, American citizens in Belgium, standing on soil that saw some of the most intense fighting in the war, and a man from Belgium was paying respect, honor, and appreciation for the sacrifice of another person not even from his country. This brings me to 2015.

You may recall that Memorial Day weekend last year happened to coincide with Pentecost. Now I am not one who entertains the notion of civil religion. I firmly believe that what we do in worship is for the worship of God, not nation. However, I also think that there should be a time and place during worship, especially during Memorial weekend, to do the following;

  • to honor those who died and support the families who lost a loved one
  • to pray for forgiveness for our culpability as a nation that we cannot bring ourselves to deal with conflict other than to send young women or men to war
  • to remind us to constantly pray for peace
  • to commit ourselves to the care for those who return from war

A year has passed and I still recall my visceral reaction to a colleague who was sharing her personal angst over the fact that one of her parishioners wanted to recognize those warriors who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war during the worship service, and “it was Pentecost, by God”. “Pentecost is a church holiday, Memorial Day is not on the church calendar.” Agreed, however…

Here is what I thought, that the secular holiday in May of Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day in June) is more celebrated in the church than the ancient feast of Pentecost. Sorry mothers, but it is true. And yes, mothers should be celebrated! However, it was best I kept these thoughts to myself.

Here is what I said, and needless to say, I was probably not very gracious in my response. I replied very curtly, “that unless you have been there, to see hundreds of transfer cases with US flags tightly draped over the aluminum container holding the remains of a US warrior who while serving his or her country made the ultimate sacrifice, you would not understand”. “Some were friends, others I never knew. However, they all demand our respect and honor!”

Of course Pentecost is important! And we should not overshadow Memorial Day observances with the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and followers of Christ. However, I believe we can do both, not only on Pentecost Sunday, but any Memorial Day Sunday. Why not in the liturgy and during the prayers, honor the disciples’ time of prayer and unity while awaiting the Holy Spirit. But, we can also include in the liturgy and prayers a time to honor those who served for freedom and to fight for the oppressed, and who gave their all.

This weekend, as you worship, please keep in your minds and prayers all of those who gave of themselves, even unto death, to serve their country. Also, pray for their families who continue to grieve their loss. And, pray for peace, that one day, we will never have to be concerned about whether to recognize our fallen during worship.

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets For Veteran Care, Ritual)

May 15th, 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!)

Several weeks ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was on hospitality. This week we will review the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society.

BACKGROUND

Merriam-Webster defines ritual;

  • a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way
  • an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time

Ritual can involve words, gestures, and objects. Ritual is done in a particular sequence and in a particular place. Ritual usually is prescribed by tradition and characterized by rules. Ritual provides structure and can initiate a rite of passage. Ritual can revolve around a date on the calendar or can be commemorative.

Veterans can easily identify with ritual. In the military, ritual has its origin in customs and tradition. Customs and tradition all contribute to establishing a common identity, standards of conduct, and marking rites of passage, which are a necessary part of establishing and maintaining community and esprit de corps. Military customs and traditions are rooted in the warrior ethos of duty, honor, country, selfless service, and respect. From a recruit graduating basic training to a retirement ceremony where a warrior receives recognition for her or his years of service, ritual has its place in reminding the warrior of his or her role in service to country.

Even as a warrior returns from war, they receive a “welcome home” ceremony. The ceremony has importance for the warrior, unit, and nation. Each ceremony will be slightly different, but has the following in common;

  • official formation
  • recognition speech
  • award ceremony

But, the “liturgy” of the ceremony lacks a critical component, a “cleansing” or purge of the warrior’s experience while at war. The military welcomes the warrior home, but does not embrace the warrior who has experienced the horrors of the battlefield nor assist the veteran back into society. I find this most interesting. As I compare other cultures and societies, I have discovered stories and rituals to assist the warrior to return from combat and then transition back into society.

Why is this important? Often war so deeply effects the soul of the warrior that they return injured, wounded, or broken. This is why many ancient societies included purification rituals for warriors returning from battle;

  • Rome, the Vestal virgins performed purification rituals for those in the Legion returning after battle
  • African tribes, such as the Masia warriors, recognized that the reintegration into society post-battle required ritual expression of the move from one sphere of life to another
  • Biblical instruction of Numbers 31:19-21 to purify soldiers after warfare                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (above taken from Warrior Transitions: From Combat to Social Contract, Shannon E. French, PhD, US Naval Academy, January 2005, JSCOPE)
  • Native American cultures used the “sweat lodge” as a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place the warrior could receive repair done to the damaged spirit

These are but a few examples of how other cultures and societies put their warriors through rituals of purification prior to the warrior’s returning to their family or community. The widely held thought was that those warriors who were not purified were a danger to themselves and their communities. Possibly there may be a correlation to the destructive behavior within the US veteran community post-deployment, and a high suicide rate among veterans.

RITUAL

The faith community has unique strengths and capabilities to offer the veteran. In this instance, ritual can be a powerful resource toward reintegration into the community and personal healing. Because the veteran has familiarity with ritual within military customs and tradition, the ritual of the faith community may hold importance.

Some similarities in ritual look like;

  • The pastor may say “the Lord be with you” and the congregation responds with “and also with you”. In the military, a lower ranking member salutes a higher ranking individual in greeting and respect and the higher ranking individual returns the salute in greeting and recognition.
  • In the church, we might stand for the reading of the Gospel, where the military member rises and comes to attention for the raising and lowering of the flag.
  • We may have an installation service for a pastor or congregational leader, where the military has a Change of Command ceremony that recognizes an outgoing commander for his or her accomplishments and encourages the incoming commander to care for the unit, mission and personnel.

Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the veteran and his/her family.  Whether a retreat, study of holy writings, special healing service, recognition service, or in the Christian tradition, the use of the church calendar in developing liturgy, such as a Good Friday Service, contain powerful resources for hope and restoration.

Some of the rituals available to the faith community that could provide effective, powerful and transformative resources are;

  • healing
  • repentance and reconciliation
  • cleansing and purification
  • Eucharist

As the faith community attends to their respective liturgies in ritual, we discover a dynamic interplay of the sacred story and God’s response to a broken world. At the very heart of liturgy is a journey toward healing and restoration. Liturgy can be a powerful resource as a place for recovery of the wounded soul.

Next week, we will focus specifically on the Eucharist as a means of caring for the veteran. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

Transforming Community through the Lens of Soul Care

May 6th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

How then do we transform community? We put our neighbor’s interest before our own. We even go as far as laying down our life for our neighbor (John 15:13). This is a radical relationship! Veterans understand connectedness through radical relationships where each day, whether on the battlefield or at home station, they put others first by living out the ethos of duty, honor, respect, and selfless service; not only for country, but for the oppressed, and for their battle buddy.