Monthly Archives: October, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Creating Space)

October 27th, 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 concluded our conversation on the third response available to the faith community as we discussed seeking a restorative path. This week, we will look at the fourth response available to the faith community, create space.

BACKGROUND 

A faith community’s priority in mission and ministry should be extending hospitality. What comes to mind when you think of hospitality? Entertaining family and friends? A chore because it demands commitment, but has no lasting results? Martha Stewart? Or, something that brings joy and deep relationships?

For the faith community, hospitality reflects God’s response to a broken world as it becomes the means by which God’s healing strategy is lived out through the witness and work of God’s people. A faith community that lives this role will warmly welcome the veteran and the veteran’s family into the midst and life of the congregation. More importantly, hospitality opens the faith community to the possibilities to be a community of support, healing and well-being.

One of the aspects central to the warrior and her/his family is community. There is a special bond between brothers and sisters in arms, and between military families, in part because of the sacrifice required to serve. This bond extends not only through the support of each other during daily routine activities, but I would offer, even to the point of “laying down their life for their friend.” This is truly community!

When a warrior separates from military service, he or she experiences a loss of community. This loss can be difficult and at times overwhelming. Who or where can the veteran turn for a sense of community? Where can the veteran find persons ready to be supportive, caring, and committed during daily routine activities and the times of challenge?

The faith community can provide this critical function. In the true sense of hospitality, the faith community can provide a friendly reception to the veteran. But hospitality goes much deeper. The faith community can develop a loving and supportive relationship with the veteran and his/her family. Social support becomes a critical component in veteran care. The faith community does this by creating space.

CREATING SPACE 

Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. Hospitality meant graciously receiving an alien or stranger into one’s home or community. It also meant providing directly for that person’s needs. It directly involves creating space.

The story of Abraham points to how God can use the faith community to touch lives in a powerful way. Abraham created space through hospitality by; (Genesis 18:2-8)

  • engaging actively  – He did not wait for the visitors to come to him, Abraham went out to meet them where they were.
  • exhibiting sincerity – Abraham was humble in conversation and action (used humble forms of address, bowed before the guests, washed their feet).
  • providing for their needs – Abraham and Sarah prepared a meal using the best ingredients.
  • committing beyond their initial encounter – Abraham walked a distance with his departing guests.

What spaces can the faith community create through hospitality that will partner with the veteran?

  • Engage actively – We meet the veteran where they are because it is where they feel safe. Safety and trust are paramount to the veteran. It would be wise to explore places where veterans meet; i.e. veteran’s day parades, VFW, American Legion, laying a wreath at a national cemetery, on the job, or at a work site. Engage actively by being interested, but do not push. Be patient.
  • Exhibit sincerity – No matter our feelings toward war or the warrior, we treat every veteran with respect as we listen to their story with our hearts, not judging them or their experiences. We validate the veteran by listening to their story, not trying to fix them. Please understand the importance of what I am about to share.  Members of the faith community CAN BE a great resource. 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 journey.  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.  Just a few things to consider;
  1. A veteran may sometimes make politically incorrect (at least from the listener perspective) comments. If you react negatively, they may conclude you do not have the capacity to bear the brunt of their trauma story.
  2. Sometimes when listening we reply, “I understand how you feel.” A veteran rightfully believes that unless you have been in combat yourself, you can’t fully understand.
  3. Often when telling a war story, the warrior may use a string of 4 letter words. Important not to interrupt and correct. You are to listen to their sacred story.
  4. A veteran may appear angry. The veteran’s anger is not directed toward you.
  5. Don’t change the story. It sends the wrong signal, you are not interested. This is their story.  By understanding their story in the context of spiritual meaning, we then can relate to the person not the war.  This is the most important step toward exhibiting sincerity.
  • Providing for their needs – Whatever that may be, we give the veteran our best effort and resources. We give the veteran our time. We provide the veteran a safe place for worship, fellowship, and service. We offer pastoral and congregational care, if asked. If they feel the Veterans Administration has not been responsive, we offer to walk with and work with them, if they ask.
  • Committed beyond the initial encounter – Once a relationship and trust has been developed, we walk with the veteran on their journey. We do not pass the veteran or their challenges on to someone else. When the veteran feels ready to move on the journey without us, they will let us know.

How can the faith community create space?

  1. Physical space – Faith communities can open their facilities for various veteran group meetings, such as peer support groups.  Peer support groups have provided combat veterans a great source of comfort and care.  The groups comprise of combat veterans who regularly meet to share in their story, struggle, challenges, as well as offer encouragement.  Peer support groups provide their own facilitators. Additionally, military family members have sacrificed much. Some care for their wounded loved one.  The faith community can provide needed support through group meetings and by offering child care. Be aware, the faith community can be a safe haven for the returning warrior and family. However, some veterans may not feel comfortable in the physical space of a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque because of their spiritual wounds. If this is the case, the faith community can lease, rent, or make available other space more conducive to the veteran’s needs.
  2. Resources – Faith communities that have professional counselors can make these resources available for free or at a reduced cost.  Veterans within the congregation can be a great resource through a spiritual mentoring program. A veteran, who is a spiritually mature faith community member, can be a mentor to a more inexperienced veteran. Open the doors of the church and offer “spaces of grace” where the veteran and family feel safe to share their feelings and needs.
  3. Time – A commitment in time becomes critical. Recently, I heard of a church member becoming involved with a veteran who was emotionally and spiritually struggling. The church member would drive an hour across town to take the veteran to his church, and then following services, he would take him to lunch, then back home. He did this for over a year. During the course of this year, the veteran experienced the commitment of this church member and the love and acceptance of the congregation. This veteran now feels acceptance and exhibits a spirit of hope.

As a community of faith, should we not invite and welcome strangers into our midst? Should we not be about creating space for our veterans and their families? When we create space we have an opportunity to touch the lives of our veterans in an intimate and sacred way.

Next week, we will discuss the fifth and last response of the faith community in assisting the veteran, to make meaning. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seeking a Restorative Path, Conflict Transformation)

October 19th, 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 concluded our discussion on restorative justice as we discussed the fourth of four principles, follow through. This week we will look at the third component for seeking a restorative path, conflict transformation. For our discussion this week, we will re-look at a Soul Care Conversation we had in February, as a follow-up to Dr. David Hooker’s January 2016 blog, “Engaging Conflict”. He provided us with a foundational statement when he stated, “In order to engage conflict we must first acknowledge that: People are not the problem; the problem is the problem.”

THE EFFECTS OF STRESS

For the veteran, what is the problem? Extreme stress! The effects of stress during war impact the whole person, the whole family, and the whole world community after the veteran’s return. How does stress affect how we deal with conflict?

Our warriors’ mission is to ensure US security and maintain peace. To accomplish this they are purposely placed at the very center of conflict as they engage in combat operations and/or humanitarian assistance missions. Both require our warriors to live and work in environments of extreme stress.

Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. In previous blogs, we determined that while in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physicalmentalbehavioral, and spiritual health of the warrior. Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror. Extreme stress while in combat may disrupt the warrior’s performance.

After the warrior has returned from war, extreme stress remains ever present as the veteran feels like he or she is at “war.” Veterans carry the edge of hyper-vigilance, grieve the loss of the close bond with a battle buddy and the loss of doing something that holds significance and purpose, and finds themselves in a slower pace of living. It is difficult to shed the warrior mentality, to let go of the behaviors that kept the warrior alive while in combat.

The extreme stress of combat may cause several symptom patterns; restlessness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and hyper-vigilance. These can threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately. When these symptoms linger for months it could lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addiction, abuse, and suicide.

These symptoms are at the heart of the inner-conflict, of soul wounds. But they also become part of how the veteran relates to those around them. How the veteran works through the symptoms of extreme stress will enhance not only how they deal with their inner-conflict, but also how they engage conflict with others.

CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME

How can we engage conflict? Now that the warrior is home, not only will the warrior have to process their personal experiences of war and deal with their inner-conflict, they will also have to face numerous reintegration challenges with their family and community. Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment. Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the veteran and the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. One of the greatest challenges appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure. Typically, over the course of one or more deployments, the at-home parent and children assume new responsibilities. Now that the veteran has returned, the veteran may desire to take back the responsibilities.  This can cause conflict.

In earlier blogs, we looked at some of the challenges each family entity may experience. We reviewed the reintegration and transition challenges of the veteranspouse, and the children. It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. On top of the challenges experiencing extreme stress while at war, the returning warrior now faces the stress of transition and reintegration. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration and also allow for the veteran and family to engage conflict well.

HOW CAN WE ENGAGE CONFLICT WELL?

The trauma of war is a story of the whole community to include the faith community. As we all bear witness to each other’s story we form a foundation for engaging conflict. We begin to develop skills to listen with our hearts, not only our ears. As we listen with our hearts, we accept responsibility for our veteran’s wounds and we open ourselves to being a catalyst of grace.

How can we do this? Our warriors and veterans need our collective forgiveness for what they did and what they saw in the name of freedom and security. They need our support and participation to find meaning, purpose, healing and restoration. As a nation and faith community we must journey with each of our veterans through their pain, grief, loss, guilt and shame. Our veterans seek our acceptance and understanding for the horrors they witnessed and the horrors they committed.

Additionally, our veterans need to forgive us as a nation. We sent them to war to do our nation’s bidding. Each of us must take responsibility in that we could not engage conflict well in the world community.

The faith community has a critical role. At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar that can be identified as a “soul wound.” Soul wounds produce guilt and shame. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that the spirit has left them.

What can the faith community do to understand these challenges and journey with our veterans toward healing? 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.  This is the most important step toward developing a relationship of trust with the veteran and their family. The faith community can role model this technique for engaging conflict.

There are several steps in engaging conflict through the lens of soul care: first, by understanding our veterans experience extreme stress while at war; second, through awareness of the challenges of transition and reintegration returning home; and lastly, by accepting responsibility as a community in nurture and support.

What experiences have you had in your faith community that model how to engage conflict well? Next week we will look at the fourth response of the faith community, creating space. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

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

October 12th, 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!)

Last week I shared some reflections about my recent experience during a retreat for chaplains and their spouses, hosted by the United Methodist Endorsing Agency. The event was a pastoral care and resiliency program for endorsed United Methodist chaplains and spouses, serving in specialized ministries who are exposed to post traumatic and cumulative stress. We will get back on topic for this week’s Soul Care Conversation as we conclude our discussion on restorative justice. We will look at the fourth of four principles, follow through.

BACKGROUND

For the last several months, we have had conversations on how the faith community can journey with the veteran toward healing by exploring the model for restorative justice. We have looked in depth at three principles for practicing justice as they apply to the faith community;

  • accountability (offer a spiritual mentoring program where veterans who have been on a healing journey can serve as a guide and companion to other veterans toward wholeness and healing)
  • sharing the story (offer a peer to peer support group where veterans can share their sacred story and address personal concerns; emotional, spiritual, educational, vocational, transitional, and the needs of their families)
  • repairing the harm (offer through the liturgy of worship, special healing services, pastoral counseling, reintegration services, and appreciation and recognition events; opportunities for healing)

This week we will look at the fourth principle; follow through. Restorative justice largely fails when there is a lack of follow through either by the offender, victim, or the community. The failure in compliance stems from several factors;

  • poor motivation
  • poor participation
  • lack of resources

As we apply the principles of restorative justice to the veteran and the faith community we can ascertain similar challenges with follow through. Of course as the veteran takes steps toward accountability, sharing his/her story, and repairing the harm; they begin on a healing journey. However, that journey will end if either the veteran or the faith community does not follow through.

LIVING LESSONS

Looking back over these last three years, I have participated in a restorative justice process by working diligently on the first three principles by;

  • seeking the services of a therapist three years ago (accountability)
  • connecting with the Pathways Program where a group of 10 combat veterans met weekly (sharing the story)
  • participating in the Journey Toward Shalom and other healing services, and veteran recognition events (repairing the harm)

These three practices highlight the beginning of my healing journey. Because it is a journey, I have had to maintain a high level of motivation and intentional participation, as well as discover critical resources in order to sustain my spiritual resiliency. I have had to follow through.

This has not been easy. I have experienced several obstacles along the way;

  • change of therapist – retirement from active duty ended my relationship with my therapist at Fort Belvoir Community Health Department
  • cessation of the Pathways Program – the design of the program was for one year
  • the liturgy of worship does not always speak to my soul and veteran recognition events at times bring me discomfort

I faced another obstacle just as I began on my healing journey, retirement. Retirement not only changed my relationship with the psychological/emotional care services offered by the military medical system, but the meaning and purpose in my life drastically changed. For the first time in 30 years, I struggled to find purpose.

So, what could I do? I had to remain vigilant in maintaining self-care by following through. Some of the ways forward have been;

  • seeking the counsel of a therapist at the Vet Center (accountability)
  • participating in a Combat Veteran Support Group (sharing the story)
  • serving as the Coordinator, Soul Care Initiative (repairing the harm)
  • connecting with my faith community (all three principle components are involved)

These four specific experiences are just a few ways that I have developed and sustained my resiliency. All are a part of my follow through. But, my participation is only a part of the restorative justice process. There remains another important entity in the process, the faith community.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY

Restorative community building is fundamental to the mission of the faith community. This mission has often been difficult for the faith community to pursue whatever the social justice challenge. As it pertains to the challenges of the veteran community, I can only speak from my personal experience. In my opinion, the faith community has been lacking in not only the follow through in restorative justice practices, but also entertaining the idea of partnering with the veteran on a healing journey.

In previous conversations I have shared some of the reasons why this may be so. For our discussion this week we will not focus on the reasons, but explore the opportunities open to the faith community to be part of a restorative justice process. I believe there are two important considerations involved;

  • the capacity and skills to learn to participate in restorative practices
  • the responsibility to support veterans and their families irrespective of the veterans participation or lack thereof in a restorative justice practice

Both of these considerations should be accomplished with intention and attention.

An important note, central to follow through is that the faith community learn the skills and attitudes that result in effective communication such as empathy and compassion. These skills will sustain relationships!

So what steps can the faith and veteran community take to begin and maintain the restorative process? Opportunities for follow through may include;

  • learning the skills for restorative justice practices (faith community)
  • learning to trust (veteran community)
  • initiating a conversation about the needs, harm, and reparation experienced/required (both communities)

Once the skills and trust have been developed and the conversation begins, the faith community can offer opportunities to develop resiliency through;

  • study (find or develop a Bible study or book study on topics such as forgiveness, healing, exile, restoring of the soul, post-war rituals, etc.)
  • prayer (discover resources on the healing of a warrior’s heart, incorporate in the worship service prayer of confession and absolution including war, returning warriors needs, etc.)
  • fellowship (initiate opportunities for veterans to meet with other veterans in support groups and spiritual mentoring groups, also initiate opportunities for veterans to be involved with faith community members)
  • service (explore ways for veterans to be involved in Volunteers in Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Appalachia Service Project, or other mission service organizations where they can give back)

These are a few examples of how to follow through in sustaining spiritual resiliency. What have you found to be effective opportunities in your faith community to follow through?

Most faith communities have the resources. Get motivated to participate! Let’s build a restorative community. Thank you for the conversation…

Healing of the Soul: The Horse that Whispers

October 4th, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

resiliency-event-golden-aspen-sep16Last week, with the grandeur of Pikes Peak and the beauty of the golden Aspen trees as the backdrop, ten persons met for a four day retreat. The United Methodist Church General Board of Higher Education and Ministry partnered with Centered Life: Education, Counseling, and Spiritual Care of Colorado Springs to offer the program “Resiliency Care Support for Post Traumatic Stress and Cumulative Stress.”

This event was a pastoral care and resiliency program for endorsed United Methodist chaplains and spouses serving in specialized ministries who are exposed to post traumatic and cumulative stress.

In the previous six years the United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA) has reached out to military chaplains and their spouses who have experienced the challenges of reintegration after returning from war. The retreat centered on equine assisted learning. The event provided opportunities for the chaplains and their spouses to share their sacred stories. It was a time of conversation, relaxation, mutual support, worship, refreshment, healing and growth.

This year UMEA broadened the focus. Military chaplains returning from war are not the only ones affected by post traumatic stress, so too are chaplains who serve in other difficult settings. Often hospital chaplains confront the after effects of the horror and hardships of violence in their communities. As people who have been wounded by shootings and other forms of brutality enter emergency rooms, chaplains provide immediate crisis care to the wounded and to their families.

The hospital chaplain’s care does not end here. In the face of traumatic events, they also provide long term care to the first responders, the hospital staff, and to the wider community. Because of this, hospital chaplains often experience trauma and cumulative stress as well.

Last week, a military chaplain and hospital chaplains from Dallas, Orlando, Baton Rouge, Kansas City, and Michigan converged at the John Wesley Ranch near Divide, Colorado to be in a community of support, care, and healing. The journey toward healing and restoration began and concluded with worship. But, what occurred in between?

Partners of Florissant, Colorado, owner and chief wrangler Reverend Pam Roberts (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor and Licensed Profession Counselor ), along with four top notch wranglers, partnered with four program leaders who have passion and experience in offering healing and restoration to those impacted by stress. The program consisted of an intentional integrating group process, equine engagement, counseling, spiritual reflection, fellowship, and relaxation on a ranch in the mountains of Colorado. It was a powerful time working and learning from horses as the participants built resiliency.

In a way, each person became a horse whisperer. A “horse whisperer” is defined as a horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on modern equine psychology. I would suggest that it was more than understanding equine psychology. Each horse provided a theological perspective about the Holy and community.

resiliency-event-umea-working-with-horse-sep16During the four days, the wranglers and program leaders partnered with a talented group of chaplains and their spouses – all of whom have been impacted by the pain and stress of violence where they serve in ministry. The group openly shared many stories about how the horses were teaching them something about their souls. One experience, in particular, I would like to share.

We conclude our week at the horse ranch with a “memorial service”, during which we bury a regret, shame, guilt, or a burden. Each participant is invited to take a half mile walk that symbolizes our journey in life. Along the way, we consider those things in life that we desire to bury; possibly an experience, a relationship, or an action. During our walk we may find a flower, pine cone, rock, branch, or even horse manure, that may be for us a symbol of that which we want to bury. Our walk concludes at an open meadow. In this meadow Pam has buried her horses that have died over the years. There is a hole dug near a tree where each person has the opportunity to bury that which has wounded their soul.

This year our memorial service was different than in years past. The horses accompanied us on our journey. As one of the chaplains buried his burden, he shared from deep pain and in tears about a difficult relationship. After covering his burden with a shovel of dirt, he stepped away. One of the horses followed him to where he was standing and stood next to him. After a moment the horse laid his head over the chaplain’s shoulder. This powerful moment reminded us that even when our souls are wounded, we are not alone. The Holy reaches out to us through community.

Horses are part of a herd. The herd (or community) teaches us that;

  • When one hurts, we all hurt.  Whether it was through the violence of war, sexual trauma, robbery, or shootings; or a house fire, automobile accident, or tragic death of a loved one, we have persons affected by trauma. The impact of trauma reaches beyond the person affected. It extends to the family and community.
  • We are in community, together. As we heard each other’s sacred story and encouraged one another, we learned how connected we are. As the horse stood next to the chaplain, that moment reflected to this chaplain that he was not alone, that in community we can experience the transcendent love of God.
  • The horse whispers to us. Over the course of two days on the horse ranch, Pam and her wranglers encouraged and taught the chaplains and spouses how to listen to the horse as the horse reflected their soul; the inner feelings, hurt, pain, compassion and spiritual fatigue of each person.
  • In brokenness, we find healing in community. We began and closed our week’s experience by celebrating the Eucharist. As we shared in the bread and the cup, we were reminded of the Good News, that Christ died because of our human brokenness and that through this sacrament, we receive visible grace knowing that not even violence and death can separate us from God’s presence in our lives. We also realized that each time as we sat around table, we broke ourselves to one another through story. As we live out this grace, we can bind one another’s wounds and discover healing for our own. This is Eucharist! This is community!

In the midst of our deeply conflicted world, we are called to bring a culture of Shalom, called to bring healing in places of pain, called to be reconcilers in places of conflict, called to be in community. Explore with us a holistic approach that seeks to transform body, mind and spirit of individuals, groups and communities affected by the wounds of trauma and violence. I invite you to learn more about JustPeace and the Soul Care Initiative.

Discover the power of a horse’s whisper!

resiliency-event-umea-group-sharing-sep16