Monthly Archives: June, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, the Sacred Story)

June 18th, 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!)

About a month 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 hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Several weeks ago we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. Last week, we shared how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration. This week we will look at how the “sacred story” can be a means of healing for the soul.

BACKGROUND

What is a “sacred story”? Most cultures and religions would define sacred story as an often repeated story that provides answers to the meaning of life. These are powerful stories handed down from an authoritative spiritual source, and usually are controlled and protected by cultures, institutions, or organizations. It is in the telling of stories that we reveal who we are and what we hold precious. In the listening of stories we can grow in understanding about the Holy, the world community, and about each other.

Some multi-cultural and multi-faith examples of sacred story are:

  • The Creation of Adam and Eve
  • Cherokee story of how humans lost their ability to speak to animals
  • Buddha’s successive rebirths on the path to Enlightenment
  • Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham
  • Hindu goddess Durga as the archetype of courage and righteous action in the world
  • Jesus and the Resurrection
  • Evolution
  • Hollywood’s “Star Wars”

There is a richness across faith traditions and cultures that offer differences of thought and theology. No matter what the veteran’s spiritual connection, sacred story can be instrumental in providing the hearer a foundation in healing and restoration.

LIVING LESSONS

My faith was literally shaken by three bombs and a helicopter “hard-landing” while in Iraq between 11 December 2003 and 21 of February 2004. It was after the third near death experience when an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) exploded as my vehicle passed that I began to doubt God’s providence. The bomb killed two Guard Soldiers in the follow-on vehicle, but spared me. My assurance and confidence in God’s protection began to waver. I experienced fear that clearly could have overwhelmed me to the point of not traveling. I had anger toward my commander who I thought had failed to secure the area where we knew the insurgents had means and opportunity to plant IEDs. I felt deep grief for the loss of my battle buddies.

In the midst of all of this, I spent time each day in scripture and prayer. There were passages that spoke to my soul and heart more than others. Especially after my near-death experiences, the Psalms, particularly those written by David, a warrior himself, expressed pain, anger, loss, grief, and doubt toward God. David emphatically cries out to God, “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart, every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (Psalm 13:1-2, New Living Translation) I began to express my anger to God through my prayer time. It did not bring me comfort or peace. But, I had a sense of knowing that another warrior, a man of faith, experienced something similar to me. This same warrior could say verses later, “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” (Verse 5)

 

FAITH COMMUNITY

During my Pathways Program at Fort Belvoir, a trauma healing journey, I learned in group (all combat veterans) and individual therapy that the more times I can express my story and hear the story of others, I work toward healing. We all shared a commonality, that trauma challenged our assumptions about the world and God. However, everyone’s experience in the midst of suffering following trauma was different. As we shared our stories, it validated for me the importance of trusting our story with others.

However, trusting my story with anyone other than a combat veteran was difficult, to include my spouse. I took years and a prompting by my therapist to share my story outside my “comfort” zone. Please understand, trauma can shake one’s faith. The veteran wants to understand the “why”. We do this by finding fellow journey travelers (veterans) who ask similar questions. But, more is required!

Over the last several years as I have served as the Coordinator for the Soul Care Initiative, I have learned that my spouse and my faith community is ready to listen to my story. They desire to walk with me to discover my “why”. Those who have received my story with their heart have received me.

This has made my story “sacred” because my story is;

  • an often repeated story that attempts to answer the meaning of life
  • handed down and it is protected by the listener
  • reveals who I am and what I hold precious
  • through my story, the listener grows in understanding about the Holy, the world community, and about each other

Healing comes not only in sharing my sacred story, but in listening to the sacred stories of faith. These stories help me to develop a sense that love shapes God’s activity; patient, persevering, and long lasting. It is through love that God responds to a broken world. It is also through the faith community that I experience a shared story of others on a similar journey.

The veteran’s story is sacred as is the faith community’s story. By understanding the veteran’s story in the context of the spiritual meaning within a particular faith community context, we then can relate to the person, not the war.

The sacred story has relevance for the veteran because there are similarities in their own story. In the Christian tradition the church recognizes that Christ died a torturous death because of human brokenness that is graphically symbolized in the images of war and its desolation.  “He descended into hell”, a phrase Christians confess, reminds them of the Good News that even the hell of war is not beyond the grasp of God’s redeeming love through Jesus Christ.  The crucified Lord returned with forgiveness, healing, hope, and the requirement for all to do likewise. As the church lives out these words, they learn to trust others, to bind the wounds of those hurting, and to grow in grace.

As you consider the sacred story of your faith community, what have you seen as a strength or capability? What are your stories that bring healing? I will be on vacation and will post the next blog after July 4th. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, Search for Justice)

June 9th, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(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!)

About a month 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 hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Last week, we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. This week, we will share how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration.

BACKGROUND

Restorative justice has its origin in legal principles. It is an approach that focuses on the needs of;

  • victim
  • offender
  • community

Both the victim and the offender take an active role in the process. A dialogue ensues where the victim shares what he or she desires to be done to repair the harm and the offender takes responsibility for his or her action. The results foster victim satisfaction and offender accountability. More importantly, the results suggest the beginning of healing for both the victim and the offender.

The community has an active role as well. The community seeks to;

  • build a partnership between victim and offender
  • re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses
  • pursue a balanced approach to the needs of the victim and the offender

While restorative justice may have its origins in legal principles, it has as its roots the biblical concept of justice that focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness. Several months ago, we began to develop a theology toward healing. We discussed restorative justice as a part of God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world. Justice is the basic principle upon which God’s creation has been established. It is an integral part in God’s redemptive pursuit to wholeness.

We also discovered that the Gospels remind us that healing and restorative justice remain at the center of God’s response. Jesus conveys the message for the faith community to be healers, peacemakers, and justice doers when faced with brokenness, emptiness, alienation, and violence. Through compassion, love, mercy, and forgiveness, Jesus models how to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose to the injured, broken and lost.

Jesus’ message focused on something radically different; those who know God’s mercy must share it with others. Jesus instructs his followers to do the same. The God of restorative justice works in and through the faith community to bring healing and wholeness.

LIVING LESSONS

While in Iraq in 2003, Champion Main, the headquarters for the 82nd Airborne Division experienced a vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) on the “secure” forward operating base. After triage of the casualties and the discovery that one US Soldier was killed, 20 volunteers received a very sterile briefing on how to process the scene which included picking up body parts. Important to any warrior is that if killed in action, they would not be left on the battlefield, but honored by being returned to family for burial. In this situation it was not so easy at times to determine whose pieces of human remains we were securing, the two Iraqi insurgents or our brother in arms.

However, there was one incident where it was very evident. A First Sergeant, who was one of the volunteers, approached me to say that he had found the two heads of the insurgents, about 75 meters from the point of the explosion. He said he could not retrieve them and asked me if I could do so. As I walked to where the First Sergeant said they were located, I did not consider what I would do or how it would affect me. As I picked up the heads and placed them in a bag, I said a prayer, “God, may these men rot in Hell!”

It took several days to realize what I experienced on 11 December 2003. Not only was I recovering from my own proximity to the explosion and the anger of losing one of my brothers in arms, I reflected on my prayer. Here I am nearly 13 years removed from that day, I still mourn the loss of my brother in arms. I can recall the horrors of picking up pieces of human remains. But, the part of that experience that I still struggle with was my prayer. How does God’s restorative justice work here? Where can I experience healing?

THE FAITH COMMUNITY

The faith community has an important role in a healing strategy; to share God’s mercy by being a blessing to others. As we recall Jesus’ message of sharing mercy, the church can walk with veterans and their families on a healing journey as a means of restorative justice. A faith community that lives this role will be a partner with the veteran in a difficult and long journey.

Jesus provides us with three distinct models of justice. Each have a radical approach that at their core exemplifies the role of the community in sharing God’s mercy to the victim and the offender;

  1. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility the community has for those who have been victimized: “‘Now which of these three would you think was neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.'” (New Living Translation, Luke 10:36-37).
  2. Jesus was concerned about offenders by exhibiting mercy as a model of justice rather than retribution and vengeance. “You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other too…” (New Living Translation, Matthew 5:38-39)
  3. But Jesus’ model of mercy went even further. The community also has a responsibility to directly care for the injured, broken, alienated, and lost. “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…and the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.'” (New Living Translation, Matthew 25:36, 40)
In each of these models, the central actor is the community. So, how can the faith community live out the biblical imperative of justice through the initiatives of restoration, mercy, and wholeness with our veterans? The faith community can be a blessing, a blessing to our veterans who are “victims” or who are “offenders.” The faith community can do this by;
  • engaging the veteran through opportunities of worship, prayer, study, fellowship, and counseling in order to restore relationships that have been broken
  • modeling conflict transformation by bearing witness to each other’s stories
  • empowering the veteran to make amends if necessary
  • seeking opportunities for reconciliation through forgiveness and healing, and the service to others
  • sharing the sacred story that includes the role of the Soldier’s faith
  • addressing the larger community and faith community’s role in the harm to the veteran

Possibly you can think of others to share! Through restorative justice, the faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. Next week we will share how the Sacred Story can prove to be a critical component toward healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, the Eucharist)

June 1st, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(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 hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. This week, we will discuss how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being.

BACKGROUND

While in combat, a unit chaplain serves a large number of warriors who may be scattered on a number of forward operating bases (FOB) and combat out posts (COP). Chaplains often rotate their visits based upon transportation availability, personnel needs on a particular FOB or COP, mission requirements, enemy threat, and weather. Whatever day the chaplain visits a particular location, it is “Sunday.”

In Christian traditions, the Eucharist is central to the warrior worship experience, especially while serving in combat. Each time a chaplain visits a unit location, he or she offers an opportunity for the warrior to worship, and the Eucharist is offered. As the chaplain places the host in the hand of the warrior and looks into his or her eyes, words of grace, hope, and new life are offered. This simple and yet profound act has powerful implications for the warrior while deployed.

However, it is important to understand that within the Christian community, denominations categorize, name (Lord’s Supper, Communion), and practice the Eucharist differently. Also, there are theological differences. Chaplains and warriors adhere to their specific faith traditions. However, occasionally these differences and the theological substance of the elements are really not important to the warrior while in combat. If it had been a long time since any chaplain last visited a particular location, warriors would attend a service or mass no matter the faith tradition of the chaplain or style of worship service. What was important to the warrior were the words of comfort, fellowship with others, and the sense of the presence of the Holy. Communion would bring together these three elements for the warrior.

IMPORTANCE WHILE IN COMBAT

Participating in the Lord’s Supper while in combat is a soul-stirring experience because of the depth of its meaning. During each of my combat deployments, Communion took on a special meaning for me as a chaplain as I saw myself as a conduit of;

  • a means of offering God’s grace even in the midst of hell
  • recalling Jesus’ suffering for us through His broken body and spilled blood
  • the mystery of our redemption as we receive the fullness of Christ

Also, communion had special meaning for the warrior. As the warrior came forward to receive the elements, they would reach out with their dirty and battle scarred hands palms up. I would place the host in their open palms and I would look them in the eye and say, “The Body of Christ, broken for you.” Often the warrior would take the host with tears in his or her eyes, thanking God that they were still alive and that God has kept them safe for another day. The warrior would celebrate the Lord’s Supper accepting the host with;

  • heaviness of heart knowing of separation from loved ones back home
  • trying to understand the separation from the loss of a battle buddy killed or wounded
  • thankfulness knowing that Jesus had drawn near to us even in the midst of hell in combat

Participating in the Lord’s Supper while in combat is an integral part of our Christian worship. We receive comfort as we remember our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection through prayers of confession and the Great Thanksgiving, but also through the meal itself. Additionally, the Lord’s Supper points to a hope as we look for His glorious return in the future.

MEANS TOWARD HEALING AND WELL-BEING AFTER THE VETERAN’S RETURN

This past January, my pastor asked me if I would be willing to take the worship service while he attended his doctoral studies. He reminded me that it was the first Sunday of the year and of the month which meant we would be celebrating the Eucharist. “Would that be OK?” Of course I was excited to be in the pulpit again and for having the opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Little did I know the impact or effect being the celebrant would have on me.

As I stood behind the altar and reminded the congregation that “all were welcomed to the Lord’s table”, my heart flooded with emotions. As I placed in each persons’ palm a broken piece of bread from the common loaf, my eyes were filled with tears, for I recalled the warriors whom I placed the host in their hands and knew of the power and the mystery of that moment that while we were in combat we each received the good news of the forgiveness of sin and the hope of the resurrection. It reminded me of words of grace, hope, and new life. This simple and yet profound act has powerful implications for the veteran who now has returned.

The Eucharist is a means for the faith community to help the returning veteran work through the feelings of fear, shame and guilt, and pain and loss. For the Lord’s Supper provides opportunity for;

  • creating a safe place to reconnect to what the veteran feels
  • receiving social support as each person participates in the Peace and in the common meal
  • participating in the salvation story

Safe place – often, the only time a warrior felt safe while in combat was during the worship service. At the entrance to chapels in Iraq and Afghanistan were weapons racks where the warrior could safely place their weapon during the worship service and for a moment feel the safety of that place. In the chapel or even in the open spaces where many services occurred, the warrior could remove themselves from the stress and threat of the mission and draw strength from the prayers, the Word proclaimed, the fellowship with others, and the Lord’s Supper. For the returned veteran experiencing PTSD, he or she can re-connect to feelings of safety in their place of worship. More importantly than the safety of the physical space is the safety of being able to be themselves, honest with their emotions before God.

Social support – just as important to reconnect with feelings, it’s important to reconnect with others. Veterans often isolate themselves from others. During the communion service, the congregation can make an effort to invest in personal relationships. Important to note, as a civilian you may feel like you don’t understand what it’s like to be a warrior or to have seen the things they have seen. But people don’t have to go through the exact same experiences in order to offer support. What matters is that the person the veteran turns to cares about them and is a good listener. Being there for the veteran can be a source of strength and comfort. The communion service may be the beginning for the veteran to sense genuine concern from the congregation and then in turn reach out for support. For the veteran experiencing moral injury, Communion can be a time to reflect on their guilt and shame, and pain and loss. Through the words prayed in confession and the Great Thanksgiving, and the act of the Communion service, the veteran may begin to experience reconciliation and healing.

Participating in the salvation story – for the veteran who has experienced soul wounds, being able to process the painful elements of their experience in order to discover its meaning and motivations is vital. This assists the veteran to develop and reclaim a sense of self-worth. The soul wound may be so deep that the veteran cannot accept or experience God’s mercy. However, the prayer of Great Thanksgiving proclaims God’s mighty acts of salvation from creation, through the suffering and death of Jesus and His resurrection. As the veteran hears stories of other soldiers like Joshua, Gideon, David, and the Roman Centurion, it reminds them of the intersection of faith and military service in a time of war. Possibly they may begin to visualize how they can be a participant in the salvation story.

What was your experience of celebrating the Lord’s Supper while in combat? How may participating in the Eucharist now bring you hope and healing? What specific ways can your congregation incorporate in the liturgy and prayers words that include the veteran in the salvation story? We will end with these thoughts.

Next week, we will discuss how the search for justice can bring restoration and healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…