Monthly Archives: September, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seeking a Restorative Path – Practice of Restorative Justice, Repairing the Harm)

September 16th, 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 continued our conversation on restorative justice by discussing the second of four principles, storytelling. This week we will look at the third principle, repairing the harm.

BACKGROUND

Obviously there are many theories to justice and specifically, restorative justice.

Restorative justice is an alternative dispute resolution theory that attempts to repair the
harm caused by criminal behavior. Two of its goals are to transform the wrong behavior and to
provide healing for the victim, offender, and community alike. (Repairing the Harm Restorative Justice and its Implications on the Criminal Justice System, Natalie Hogan, Spring 2013)

We have had conversation that the connection to restorative justice is somewhat muddled when we link the practice with the veteran community because the veteran can be both the offender and a person harmed. This dichotomy can complicate the healing process.
Knowing this, we can simplify the process to restorative justice for the veteran by holding to two elements;
  • taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • taking action to repair the harm
So, how do we do this? In an earlier conversation we discussed the principle of accountability for the veteran, the faith community, and the community at large. Restorative justice also aims to put the needs of the person harmed first.
One way of approaching this is through open and honest conversation, storytelling. Storytelling is at the core of restorative justice because storytelling leads to a greater understanding of self. Additionally, storytelling opens doors of opportunity for the healing of relationships. When each participant shares her/his story, it helps put into perspective his/her own harm, but also it invites the hearing of other persons’ stories of harm.

Through storytelling the person harmed shares the event with others and explains the impact that the incident had on them. This process does several things;

  • puts the person who has been harmed back in control
  • helps them to cope
  • recover from what has happened to them (begins the process of repairing the harm)

BIBLICAL BASIS FOR “REPAIRING THE HARM” 

Over the last several weeks we have been discussing some of the theological foundations to justice. We were reminded of the scripture that states, “An eye for an eye.” However, there is much more to Biblical justice than this statement. In fact, the Hebrew and Christian texts that call for justice are much deeper and more involved approach. Rather than retribution, justice involves repairing the harm.

The Biblical concept of repairing the harm involves restoration;

  • restoration of self
  • restoration in community
  • restoration to God

What does scripture share about restoration? Human failure is nothing new. In fact the Bible contains so many stories of people of faith who failed; Samson, Abraham, David, Solomon, Jonah, all of the Disciples, and the Apostle Paul. The evidence of failure is sobering.

But, equally overwhelming is the evidence that God restores those who have failed. There are passages from both the Hebrew and Christian texts that reveal God’s character as the One Who Restores! God reclaims and restores those who in a moment of weakness failed. Restoration of self, community, and to God involves;

  • acknowledging the wrong
  • making restitution with those harmed
  • making peace with God

In the Hebrew texts, the Law of Moses specified the various circumstances and processes for restitution to one’s neighbor (the victim) and sacrifice to God (Leviticus 6:2-7). All are as important as the other.

In the Christian texts, there are numerous examples of restoration, one being the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19). This story reiterates the importance of acknowledging the wrong, making restitution to neighbor, and making peace with God. Zacchaeus shared before Jesus and his neighbors that “I will give half of my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I overcharged people on their taxes, I will give back four times as much.” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham.”

Restoration is not only possible, it is hoped for and encouraged.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY

Let us briefly explore each of these three areas.

Acknowledging the wrong – Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the veteran and her/his family. Services of confession and repentance offer the veteran opportunities to acknowledge the wrong that he/she has committed. Many faith traditions use books of worship containing liturgy that are filled with prayers of confession and contrition. One could easily modify these prayers to be inclusive for veterans who are not people of a faith tradition. Also, confession can powerfully be lived out not in words alone, but through experiential worship. Lastly, confession should always be followed by words or acts of assurance of God’s grace.

There are many resources on the internet from various faith perspectives. From the reformed traditions we find worship resources assisting veterans experiencing PTSD or moral injury. Also, check the Soul Care Initiative Website. You will find congregational resources offering traditional and experiential worship experiences containing services of confession and repentance, and healing. These resources are trauma sensitive.

Making restitution with those harmed – There are many ways for a veteran to offer restitution; however, restitution may not be possible to the person(s) directly injured or wronged because the country remains dangerous or at war. Veterans can offer assistance to organizations assisting war refugees. Additionally, there are non-governmental organizations (many faith-based) serving in war torn countries that are in need of not only financial assistance, but volunteer service. Team Rubicon, an organization of veterans, deploys into austere places following a natural disaster in order to provide crisis care. Service becomes a critical means to make restitution.

Another opportunity is through worship. Persons can experience making restitution through the passing of Christ’s peace. In our day to day experience as community, we engage in harmful behavior to one another. As we exchange signs of peace with one another, this act offers restitution to those in our physical presence.

Making peace with God – In Christian traditions, the prayers of confession and great thanksgiving prior to communion can make peace with God. More powerfully, the communion service is not only a means to confess, repent, and hear words of assurance, but we also participate in the powerful act of receiving God’s grace through the bread and wine. Hope and new life not only become words, but experienced. Communion becomes an act of making peace with God.

Lastly, we are reminded in Micah (6:6-8) that God does not require our words or acts in worship to make peace, but “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” To do this, we become restored people.

What has been your experience in repairing the harm? What practices have been important to bring restoration? Next week, I will be co-facilitating a resiliency event for the United Methodist Endorsing Agency at a horse ranch. Communication is difficult so I will not be posting a blog. The following week we will explore the last practice in restorative justice, follow through. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seeking a Restorative Path – Practice of Restorative Justice, Storytelling)

September 7th, 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 continued our conversation on how to assist the veteran to seek a restorative path by looking at the second practice; restorative justice. We discussed the first of four principles of restorative justice, accountability. This week we will look at the second principle, storytelling.

BACKGROUND 

Restoration refers to the overarching goal of restorative justice. Storytelling is at the core of restorative justice because storytelling leads to a greater understanding of self. Additionally, storytelling opens doors of opportunity for the healing of relationships. When each participant shares her/his story, it helps put into perspective his/her own harm, but also it invites the hearing of other persons’ stories of harm.

Restorative justice aims to repair the harm, make things right, and to heal relationships. It involves giving everyone a voice, allowing for stories to be shared and heard. Restorative justice strives to make the story not only heard, but listened to, meaning each person puts aside their preconceived judgments and ideas and opens their hearts to hear the other’s story.

Restorative justice honors the stories of each person. But, it leads to something much deeper, an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of each person and their perspectives. When we bring disparate people together to share their stories, this leads to a greater understanding of one another. As we engage each other in our storytelling, we discover great truths about ourselves and each other.

Because restorative justice is a process, the story may be told and re-told numerous times. It is through this cathartic experience that storytelling may lead to a transformation. Transformation occurs when the story no longer holds the power of shame and pain over the person harmed, but the story becomes restoration and healing.

LIVING LESSONS

Stories can bring laughter and honor. My family has been storytellers for years. Each time we gather we share in story. Usually, we share the same stories over and over because they initiate laughter, and laughter brings healing. Our stories are about one of us doing something out of the ordinary or funny. When we share a story about a particular person or experience it is not to make fun, but to honor that person because it acknowledges that specific person for their uniqueness and the gift that they are to the family.

Also, we all have stories that bring hurt, shame, and pain. Some stories are about trauma. Most families have stories in their history that are difficult to tell and to hear. So too, our veterans have difficult stories of hurt, shame, and pain.

What can bring healing? While in Afghanistan, I made an assessment of a particular unit and its Soldiers that had spent 18 months in a very hostile and kinetic environment. I impressed upon the commander and the leadership that they would have some serious challenges once they returned home. So, I recommended to the commander a course of action to take a different approach in the reintegration process.

After in-depth planning and preparation, the Commander established some re-deployment protocols as part of the Soldier’s out-processing requirements prior to their return home. Every Soldier had to out-process and transition through Bagram, so the Commander coordinated mental and spiritual health providers to assess and assist every Soldier. The protocols dictated that every Soldier do the following;

  • be cleared by a psychiatrist (The commander requested the psychiatrist from each post back home deploy 3 months prior to re-deployment to provide a critical assessment on each Soldier. The psychiatrists would have an unbiased and fresh perspective.)
  • be cleared by the one of the unit chaplains (The chaplains spent the entire time with their unit in combat. They knew where the vulnerabilities and challenges existed with their Soldiers. *Note: As part of the out-process experience for the unit chaplains, I provided pastoral care to each prior to his re-deployment.)

There was an additional key component to the plan. Over 6,000 Soldiers rotated through Bagram for about a month. In order to provide for lodging, the Commander coordinated for a large fest tent. Every Soldier slept and spent time together in this tent between appointments, cleaning equipment, chow, and conducting physical training. The wonderful bi-product of this component was that Soldiers spent time together.

I would walk each evening through the fest tent to be available for conversation or “foot locker” counseling. I witnessed Soldiers with guitar, usually in a group around a cot, singing. I saw Soldiers telling stories from their combat experiences. Most often, these stories were difficult to share and to hear. Some were stories of trauma. Most were stories of deep emotion and community. These were stories that encouraged one another. I saw tears and I heard laughter. At times I could hardly make sense of it. But, sharing the story out loud helped these Soldiers get their feet back on the ground.

By the Commander setting up a safe place for these Soldiers to hear each others’ stories, doors of possibility opened that some kind of understanding or empathy occurred. The harm that they brought on others and they experienced themselves could begin to heal. Each of these storytellers opened minds and transformed hearts.

FAITH COMMUNITY ROLE

So, what can the faith community do to foster storytelling? The ultimate goal of restorative justice is one of forgiveness, healing and the fostering of compassion. Story becomes the means to do just this. The faith community can;

  • provide safe space for story telling
  • conduct veteran appreciation events
  • initiate and sustain a Vet to Vet peer support group

Safe space – Many faith communities have opened their spaces for various group meetings; 12 step, exercise, Scouting, etc. Here is another opportunity to reach out into the community by providing space for veteran storytelling.  Several cautions should be observed;

  • neutralize the space (Some veterans express anger toward God and the faith community. Religious icons and symbols may be a hindrance for their participation or attendance.)
  • provide an inconspicuous entrance (Veterans desire to remain anonymous.)
  • establish room seating in semi-circle so that no one has their back to a door

Veteran appreciation events – When the faith community invites veterans from the community to share in various events designed to recognize their sacrifice and service, it provides opportunities for veterans to share their stories with another veteran. Most likely the congregation will benefit from listening in as veterans share their experiences with each other.

Vet to Vet Support Group – Peer support offers veterans a common purpose, language, and code of conduct through shared experiences and through story. Sharing one’s story supports life review and opens the veteran to healing.

See Soul Care webpage for specifics on how to establish a peer to peer support group. When veterans come together to tell story, they are creating a new story, a story of community and healing.

From your various contexts, how have you used story to begin healing? Next week, we will discuss the third principle of restorative justice, repairing the harm. Until then, thank you for the conversation…