Monthly Archives: July, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Provide Support)

July 29th, 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!)

Last week, we concluded our discussion on how the faith community can respond to the unique challenges within the veteran community by cultivating awareness. This week we will consider the second core response; how the faith community can provide support.

BACKGROUND

It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be difficult and at times overwhelming. In addition to the hardships that a warrior experiences while at war, the returning veteran now faces the complexities of transition and reintegration. Because of the residual affects of the distress and trauma of combat, the reintegration challenges may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

What can the veteran do? The veteran can take control over the lives by;

  • developing an understanding of the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges
  • use the tools and resources available
  • reach out for help and support when stuck

We have discussed in an earlier blog, transition challenges, that understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges will enhance a positive reintegration. There are numerous variables to a successful transition;

  • pre-deployment preparation (physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual)
  • deployment experiences (unit cohesion, mission accomplishment and satisfaction, and safety)
  • anticipation of homecoming

Knowing and understanding these variables will enable the veteran and family to develop a foundation for overcoming the challenges that they may face.

The Department of Veteran Affairs, Vet Centers, VFW, American Legion, American Red Cross, and other community agencies have a wealth of tools and resources available to the veteran for support and care.

REACH OUT FOR SUPPORT?

But, often the challenges of the transition and reintegration overwhelm the veteran and the family. When this occurs, no matter the value of the tools and the plethora of resources available, the veteran closes off, isolates him or herself from the family and community. The warrior and the veteran are reluctant to reach out for support.

Nearly 1 in 5 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from PTSD. These veterans’ suicide rate is almost twice the national average and 2 out of 3 of their marriages are failing, according to Cru Military. Less than 40% of veterans with PTSD will seek help. Many who suffer from combat trauma are reluctant to seek for help from military channels because of how it could affect their records. Questions of mental illness could disqualify them from leadership and/or desirable assignments. (American Combat Veterans Need You, Help Soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Evangeline Vergo)

From the time I returned from Iraq in 2004, I knew that I was changed, that I was having difficulty adjusting, that at times I would lash out in anger, especially to my family, and that I was driving my vehicle like I was still in Iraq. As a chaplain I knew all of the tools and resources at my disposal. And yet, it took me 8 years to reach out for help and support. Why?

There are numerous factors why veterans do not seek care;

  • we are trained to overcome obstacles on our own
  • we do not realize that there may be something wrong
  • we do not know where to turn for support
  • we believe that there is a stigma when we ask for help
  • we think we can get better on our own
  • we do not know who to trust

So, can we still support a veteran who does not ask or seek our help? Even though I did not seek the help or support from others over the course of those 8 years, my family as well as my church encouraged me, supported me, and sustained me.

REACH OUT TO SUPPORT

It is important that we enable and empower extended family members, key community leaders, and faith community members with the knowledge to recognize when help is needed, where support resources are located, and how to provide assistance. Spiritual wounds are deep and so is the isolation. The faith community can be a bridge between isolation and community.

How the faith community can be supportive? There are three specific core responses that provide support;

  • traditional practices in liturgy and ritual
  • connect the veteran to community resources
  • pastoral and congregational care

Traditional practices in liturgy and ritual –  The faith community has so many resources in liturgy and ritual that can be used to bring healing of the soul and begin a process of developing spiritual resilience.   Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the warrior and their family.  Whether a retreat, bible study, special healing service, recognition services of sending forth or welcoming home (with family permission), and the words and order of the liturgy during worship are powerful practices of hope and healing. Also, explore resources from other faith traditions, such as Native Americans.  There is a richness across faith traditions that offer restoration and healing.

Connect the veteran to community resources – There are numerous resources available to the veteran, such as counseling, job training, and education. Often the veteran does not know the available resources or where to begin. The faith community can assist by;

  • initiate a veterans forum (bring the resources to your place of worship or family life center and open the event to the community)
  • call the local VA Hospital Chaplain and Vet Center Director (discuss ways to collaborate on soul care)
  • offer a safe place for peer to peer counseling (some veterans within the community are plugged in to the various support services, they can be valuable to other vets)

Pastoral and congregational care – Offer support through counseling, visitation and hospitality. Be intentional to know who in your community may be deploying (be sensitive to the fact that often the warrior and family do not share this information due to their security and safety while the warrior is deployed). Visit with families prior to deployment. Find ways to support the family and warrior during the deployment. By establishing a connection early in the deployment cycle, caring and supporting the family during the deployment, and showing patience and understanding upon return are important steps of developing and nurturing trust. Trust will assure the veteran and family feel safe to reach out to faith community members during other challenging times.

These are a few considerations toward supporting the veteran and family. What other means of support have you experienced or offered? What insights do you have?

Next week, we will begin a conversation on how to respond by seeking a restorative path for the veteran and the family. In the mean time, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Cultivate Awareness, Practical Steps)

July 22nd, 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!)

Last week looked at how the faith community can cultivate awareness in order to respond to the unique challenges within the veteran community. This week we will discuss some specific steps.

PRACTICAL STEPS

Cultivating awareness has several levels with regards to veteran care. We must take practical steps in each of these areas;

  • self-awareness
  • relational awareness
  • community awareness

Being intentional with all three areas is critical; how do we understand ourselves, how do we relate to the veteran, and how do we engage the community to become a partner in mission and ministry.

SELF-AWARENESS

Cultivating self-awareness is a critical component in our spiritual journey. There are numerous texts in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that attest to the importance of self-awareness. Proverbs 20:5 suggests that “The purposes in the human mind are like deep water, but the intelligent will draw them out.” Paul in his letter to the Romans (12:3) shares, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” These texts attest to the fact that awareness opens the windows of opportunity to see the truth about ourselves.

So what are some practical steps toward developing self-awareness? The following list is not exhaustive by any means, but does provide us with some important considerations;

  • create space (set aside time to step away from the busyness of the day and find a location with no distractions)
  • write, journal, read, meditate (spend quality time with yourself and the Holy in reflection)
  • practice mindfulness during the day (be attentive to what is happening around you and reflect on how that affects you)
  • ask for feedback (seek the assessment from others for personal awareness and self-improvement)

Why is self-awareness important in veteran care? When we see the truth about ourselves it opens doors for authentic relationships. Understanding that our personal filters motivate our behavior and influence our perceptions of others will provide us relational awareness. Self-awareness and relational awareness go hand in hand. Both are important in veteran care.

RELATIONAL AWARENESS

Cultivating relational awareness is an important component in our spiritual journey as well. Matthew’s Gospel (7:1-5) offers an insight when Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

Jesus’ insight infers that we must first know who we are prior to being able to be in a healthy relationship. So what are some practical steps toward developing relational awareness?

  • be aware of self  (biases and motivations)
  • listen with your heart not your ear (deep and non-judgmental listening)
  • ask questions (seek to know the person and their experiences)
  • empathize (be in tune with the feelings that the veteran expresses)

As we begin to comprehend the practical steps of self-awareness and relational awareness, there are a few important considerations as they pertain to veterans;

  • A warrior may make politically incorrect (at least from the listener’s perspective) comments. If you react negatively, the warrior may conclude you do not have the capacity to bear the brunt of their combat story.
  • Sometimes when empathizing with the veteran’s story we want to respond, “I understand how you feel.” A veteran rightfully believes that unless you have been in combat yourself, you can’t fully understand.
  • Often when telling a war story, the warrior may use a string of 4 letter words. It’s important not to interrupt and correct. This is their sacred story.
  • A veteran may appear angry. The veteran’s anger is not directed toward you.
  • Don’t change the story. It sends the wrong signal that you are not interested.
  • Don’t attempt to “fix” the veteran. Veterans largely do not think they need fixed, but are validated by being listened to.

At the core of each of these considerations is deep listening. We listen with our hearts not our ears! For a veteran, telling even a small snippet of one’s story and feeling heard and accepted, validates the veteran’s story and may be the first important step toward healing.

Lastly, veterans are reluctant to explore a relationship with anyone other than another veteran. If they do pursue a relationship, a veteran desires that the other person be authentic. Many vets find it difficult to trust and can readily see through the motives and agendas of people.

COMMUNITY AWARENESS

Lastly, cultivating community awareness is an additional component in our spiritual journey. The Holy Scriptures attest to the importance of community. Psalm 133:1 states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” But as we all have experienced, living in unity is difficult most days. So if we cannot live together in community, what else can we do? Paul shares in Romans (15:5), “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” When we develop self-awareness and experience authentic relationships with others we are better prepared to fully engage our communities.

How can we “encourage”? How can we have “the same attitude and mind (toward the veterans) that Christ Jesus had”? We can begin through community awareness.

Community awareness with regard to veteran care involves several components for the faith community;

  • develop cultural competency of the military and veteran communities
  • know your community resources available for veteran care
  • understand the dynamics of relationships within your community organizations

Develop military cultural competency – Most persons in our congregations have not served in the military. They are not aware of the transition challenges experienced by the returning veteran and his/her family. They may see first-hand the effects of trauma but do not know what to do or how to respond. They do not understand why a veteran who served twenty years without experiencing combat may exhibit and react to veteran cultural norms differently than a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who left the service after four years and two combat deployments.  Or, they do not understand why a veteran who was drafted may have a different emotion toward the government than a veteran whose service was voluntary. For the faith community to be effective, develop cultural competency through training.

Know your community resources – Become aware of the resources in your community that are available to our veterans. You can search Google, ask a veteran, and call the VA or United Way to determine what agencies may be local. Some resources may be;

  • faith based organizations and non-profits
  • VFW, American Legion, Disabled Veterans of America, Wounded Veterans of America
  • Vet Center
  • Veterans Administration Medical Centers and Clinics
  • Red Cross

It may be helpful to have a table in the entrance to the sanctuary or fellowship hall with materials from the VA and other veteran services organizations. Invite different organizations to share during worship (mission moment) or other weekly congregational events.

Understand the dynamics of relationships with your community organizations – Research those organizations in your community who offer services for veterans and their families. What are their agendas? Do your contributions go toward veteran care or administrative costs? How do they relate to the other organizations? Knowing these answers as well as other concerns will help the congregation discern who to support and who to offer as a referral to a veteran.

What other factors have you experienced that are important in cultivating awareness? Why are they important? Sharing our experiences are an important part of cultivating awareness.

Next week we will look at another component of how the faith community can respond, how to provide support. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Cultivate Awareness)

July 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!)

Last week we began a conversation with a new focus. We discussed the opportunities that the faith community has to respond to veteran challenges. We recognized the importance to celebrate the faith community’s strengths and capacities for care. We discovered that each is a gift that can become a part of the foundation on which you can now move to respond in developing a relationship with a veteran and their family. This week we will specifically discuss how the faith community can cultivate awareness in order to respond to the unique challenges within the veteran community.

BACKGROUND

Self-awareness is crucial to our health, happiness, and self-worth. Studies have been made, a plethora of books and papers written, and interest groups formed; all centered on the cultivation and practice of self-awareness. In fact, career coaches offer training on cultivating self-awareness. Why is self-awareness a popular topic? Self-awareness offers one balance, objectivity, and inner stability.

Additionally, cultivating self-awareness is a critical component in our spiritual journey. Awareness opens the windows of opportunity to see the truth about ourselves and our personal behavior. It starts with a feeling that something is not right. We sense that there is a disconnect between our mind and spirit.

Discernment is the first step. Then one must decide what to do with these thoughts and feelings. Even as we know the positive outcomes of self-awareness, we still find it difficult to filter through our own stuff. We may face certain truths about ourselves we do not desire to face. This process is hard work.

Self-awareness has an additional value, it opens us to possibilities of engaging in relationships with others by;

  • discovering contentment in ourselves which opens us to learning
  • desiring to find solutions rather than complain
  • identifying the triggers that create in us uncomfortable feelings and beliefs, anger, and pain that tend to cause isolation
  • creating a desire to serve others

These tools become a good foundation in developing and sustaining relationships. As it is with self-awareness, so it is the same in awareness with others. It is hard work! Often we get so bogged down in sifting through our own agendas and biases that they become impediments in developing and sustaining relationships. Understanding this dynamic will be helpful as we open ourselves to the possibilities for veteran care.

IMPLICATIONS FOR VETERAN CARE

Cultivating awareness has several levels that we should discuss with regard to veteran care. Faith community members can be a great resource for veteran care. But, faith community members can also be a hindrance or an obstacle in a healing and restoration journey of veterans. What then do we need to know?

There are three levels to cultivating awareness that are important for our discussion;

  • self-awareness
  • relational awareness
  • community awareness

First, we must have self-awareness prior to engaging a veteran mission or ministry. All of us hold to personal beliefs and biases from hair styles and genres of music, to our politics and our world view. We have differing theologies on war and peace, and ideologies on the role of the military in US foreign policy. Knowing and understanding what we believe when it pertains to warriors and veterans, and US foreign policy and the use of the military will often form our thoughts and feelings that will motivate and shape our conversations. How we say or what we say in our conversations can either be helpful or hurtful.

How can we walk with one another knowing we have different personalities, priorities, and perspectives? Having self-awareness and understanding the differences between individuals will influence how we develop our relationships. Seeing ourselves through the prism of our motivations, theologies, and ideologies will help us see and understand these qualities in others. This becomes helpful in developing and sustaining relationships.

Second, as you consider a mission and ministry with veterans, it is important to consider the following relational awareness aspects;

  • conduct an inventory of why you desire to develop a relationship with a veteran (Do you have a personal agenda?)
  • pray about your thoughts and feelings toward veterans (Do you have a desire to “fix” the veteran, or just be with the veteran?)
  • consider your theology and ideology that may be different than that of a veteran (Do you desire to convert the veteran to your way of thinking or do you desire to understand the veteran’s way of thinking?)
  • contemplate the experiences of the veteran returning from war and his or her family challenges (This deep relational facet requires time and commitment. Are you willing to go the distance?)

The stakes are high and the costs of war are very personal for the veteran. As you engage in relational awareness, consider attentive and non-judgmental listening. Many veterans have experienced telling a friend or family member their war story only to be met with silence or judgment. Experiences made normal in the military may be offensive to a civilian. I like to say, “Listen with your heart, not your ears.” Deep 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.

Third, in order to journey with the veteran community, we also need to have community awareness by;

  • developing cultural competency with the military and veteran community in order to understand the unique experiences and contributions of those who served
  • discovering the resource agencies and organizations within your community that help veterans
  • exploring the challenges that the veteran must overcome in your community like homelessness and unemployment

Warriors, veterans, and their families have unique needs that require a culturally competent approach in care. It is particularly important in the veteran community. If a veteran suspects a lack of understanding, they will walk away. Veterans already feel under appreciated by the civilian population at large and this shortcoming may create an obstacle for the faith community to understand or reach the veteran’s spiritual needs.

Faith communities that have a military or veteran population have the potential to develop and sustain relationships outside the walls of their campus. Cultivating military and veteran cultural competency will prove beneficial as it will translate into the acknowledgement of the veteran’s unique experience and significance.

So, next week, we will continue this conversation on cultivating awareness as we will look at some practical steps to do so. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (The Faith Community Response, Overview)

July 2nd, 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. We then 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. Our forth topic was how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration. Last week we looked at how the “sacred story” can be a means of healing for the soul.

Faith community, recognize and celebrate your strengths and capacities for care! For each is a gift that can become a part of the foundation on which you can now move to respond in developing a relationship with a veteran and their family.

BACKGROUND

While the primary role for caring for our veterans lie with the Department of Veterans Affairs; community leaders and groups, and faith communities have engaged in an increasing role supporting veteran challenges. Community groups and faith communities often fill the gaps in meeting the needs of the veteran community. Partnerships form in order to provide housing, employment, education, reintegration resources, and mental health care. However, the faith community can provide an additional role, helping veterans recover from spiritual wounds.

The faith community’s role has importance. Research suggests,

At the same time, higher levels of religious belief, as measured by frequent attendance at religious services, dramatically increases the odds that a post-9/11 veteran will have an easier time readjusting to civilian life. According to the analysis, a recent veteran who attends religious services at least once a week has a 67 percent chance of having an easy re-entry experience. Among post-9/11 veterans who never attend services, the probability drops to 43%. (The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life, Pew Research Center, December 8, 2011)

Does the faith community have relevance? It is interesting to note that returning veterans are among the demographic least likely to attend church, synagogue, temple or mosque. The millennials, which make up the largest demographic in the military, are largely second generation un-churched.  But, many millennials have loved ones who attend religious services regularly. Additionally, faith community members live out their faith with compassion, love, and care in their community.

Important to note: less than than 1% of our nation have served or participated in the Post 9/11 wars. If you add direct family members it still is only 5% of the population that understand our veterans’ experiences or challenges. How can the faith community be supportive? With awareness, training, coaching, support, and resourcing; caregivers (faith community leaders, parish nurses, congregation members, loved ones and friends) can be empowered to render an invaluable service to the returning veteran and their families.

However, some returning veterans do not desire to return to their places of worship. They are;

  • afraid of being judged for their actions in war
  • concerned that the faith community is uninformed or ill-prepared to meet their needs
  • troubled of being told they are no longer welcomed in the community
  • lacking in the trust of God or the people of faith with their stories

It is not just the veteran that may be the obstacle. Some faith communities that hold an anti-war stance often do not know how to reconcile their views with the fact that they have veterans in their community with spiritual needs. In fact, in a workshop I conducted for clergy, a pastor explained that he was anti-war and did not know how to welcome veterans. Some faith communities approach veterans on the other side of the spectrum. They laud over veterans, calling them heroes and placing them on pedestals.

POSSIBLE FAITH COMMUNITY RESPONSES

How can the faith community better help veterans recover from spiritual wounds? The faith community is uniquely positioned to respond. When a warrior has a soul wound, people of faith can live out a critical role in the warriors’ journey.  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 have offered through their actions hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort.  Clergy have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred story provide remarkable healing power.

In spite of all of the challenges mentioned, the faith community is uniquely suited to be in relationship with the veteran. The church, synagogue, temple, and mosque do the following;

  • make a lifetime commitment of care
  • understand fear, shame, suffering and grief
  • know how to be supportive of persons having spiritual wounds

The faith community’s responses center on several core competencies such as;

  • cultivate an awareness within the congregation and community
  • provide support
  • seek a restorative path
  • create safe space
  • make meaning
We will explore each of these competencies in detail over the next month or so.

PRESCRIPTIVE OR DESCRIPTIVE?

An important factor that we must address, the context within our communities is very different. We may attend religious services in a United Methodist church in Iowa, a Hindu Temple in New York City, a mosque in Washington, DC, or a synagogue in Boston. The various community and veteran challenges will be unique to each particular context. As the Soul Care Initiative developed the core competencies, we did so not intending that they provide answers, but are a means to discovery. The Congregational Tool Kit is a guide for the faith community to begin a conversation with leadership in the community and faith community, interested faith partners, congregants and veterans. Conversation will open doors of opportunity for the faith community to develop relationships and trust with veterans.

Next week, we will look in detail on how to cultivate an awareness within the faith community. In the meantime, Happy Independence Day and thank you for the conversation…