Monthly Archives: November, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Make Meaning)

November 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!)

Last week as we honored our veterans, I shared a personal reflection on the sacrifice our veterans make while serving our nation. This week, we will discuss the fifth and last response of the faith community, make meaning.

BACKGROUND 

Meaning and purpose are central in human life, particularly when individuals confront highly stressful and traumatic life experiences. Some researchers have suggested that traumatic events frequently challenge one’s core beliefs about safety, self-worth, and the meaning of life.

For individuals whose core values are spiritually grounded, traumatic events may give rise to questions about the fundamental nature of the relationship between God and humankind, and between God and self. Survivors may question their belief in a loving, all-powerful God when the innocent are subjected to traumatic victimization. In this way, traumatic experiences may become a starting point for discussion of the many ways in which survivors define what it is to have “faith.“

Trauma can shake one’s faith.  The veteran wants to understand why. Why did the traumatic event occur? Why did they survive? The journey to understand the why can be a long process for the veteran.

Trauma interferes with the practices that embody our systems of belief. The soul of veterans often demonstrate the ineffectiveness of their prayers, their worship, the value of scripture, and their faith. For many of our veterans, their traumatic experiences with which they struggle will affect their understanding of God and faith. The pain and terror of trauma can infuse such doubt in God and God’s faithfulness that the veteran reaches a point of denying God and their faith. The veteran can question God’s ability to intervene in the situation. The veteran can feel that God is punishing them and blame God for the loss.

For others, the presence of a meaning-making system, such as faith, serves as a protective factor when trauma strikes. Faith and spirituality can assist the veteran in developing a sense that love shapes God’s activity; patient, persevering, and long lasting. It is through love that God responds to a broken world.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the primary motivation of a person is to discover meaning in life. Throughout this powerful book Frankl insists that meaning in life can be discovered under all circumstances, even in the most miserable experiences of tragedy and loss. Through his own experience Frankl shared that people can discover meaning through doing a deed, experiencing value, and even by experiencing suffering. Meaning making is a key component in trauma healing.

LIVING LESSONS

During my deployment to Iraq, 2003-2004, I experienced a wounding of the soul. The circumstances of these wounds I have shared in previous conversations. My symptoms of soul loss were the following;

  • shattered self esteem
  • finding it difficult to pray
  • no spirit of thankfulness
  • seeing no value in scripture
  • not interested in attending worship
  • deep self-doubt

These symptoms would ebb and flow for 8 years. At times I would find myself experiencing a sense of peace through the ritual of worship, or a sense of healing through a spiritual retreat, or a sense of community when with other combat veterans.

However, I noticed that many of my symptoms subsided when I began my tour in Afghanistan as the Command Chaplain for all US Forces. Possibly because the mission was so daunting that my focus was on the task at hand. But, I believe it was something much deeper.

It became clearer after my re-deployment. I was re-assigned into a new position where I experienced very little significance, meaning and purpose. I began to exhibit similar symptoms that I had following my Iraq deployment.

I finally recognized that I needed professional help to work through what I was feeling and experiencing. During the course of these last four years it has been the wise council of a therapist and the listening ears of fellow veterans in a support group that have assisted me on a healing journey. But I have discovered that at the center of all of this has been re-discovering meaning and purpose.

After my retirement from active duty, JustPeace hired me as staff to be the Coordinator for the Soul Care Initiative. Soul Care was a new emphasis for the United Methodist Church’s resource agency for Conflict Transformation and Mediation. My responsibilities have brought me great meaning and purpose.

But something else happened. I conducted my first workshop in a small college town in central Pennsylvania. As I look back on that first workshop experience, I believe I provided the participants a very sterile/clinical approach to trauma and trauma care. However, I began to include my personal story in my training presentation. This was not easy to do, but I thought it important to be authentic to those who trusted me to share such important information.

A year later I conducted a workshop in a community in close proximity to where my first workshop occurred. A person who attended my first workshop was in attendance. He commented that he was appreciative how I made myself vulnerable to the participants and wished I had done the same the year prior.

I then recognized that I was on my healing journey. Not that sharing the harsh realities of war is ever easy, but in revealing my journey with others proved to me that this was an important step. My healing journey took a big step when I discovered purpose and meaning for my life as I shared my story.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY 

The faith community can become a part of the veteran’s journey to find the answer to “why?” The faith community can engage veterans in their journey toward finding meaning and purpose by;

  1. Offering numerous interest groups – Research has suggested writing workshops and art therapy have value in spiritual healing. But there are numerous opportunities such as; rock climbing, bicycling, motor cycle riding, hiking, and other high adventure activities.
  2. Providing veterans opportunities for service – This gives them a connection beyond themselves and an opportunity to serve others. Invite veterans to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project, a Volunteer in Mission project, or some other work project that allows the veteran to give back. There are some groups whose focus are veterans; Team Rubicon, Volunteers of America, and Grace Under Fire, are some examples.

What examples can you offer, whether an interest group or volunteer opportunity, where you have seen success? Have you found other methods for veterans to find meaning and purpose?

This concludes our conversation on the faith community response. Next week we will begin to explore the various veteran support agencies that the faith community can collaborate with in veteran care. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Veterans Day – Personal Reflection

November 10th, 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 I had the privilege to share the Soul Care Initiative with community and faith community leaders of Valdosta, Georgia. We had a wonderful conversation on veteran care. Because of travel, I was unable to engage in our weekly Soul Care Conversation.

This week we honor our Veterans on 11 November. As we recognize our Veterans please allow me to share a personal reflection. I have witnessed uncountable sacrifices made by those who serve and have served.

SAINT MICHAEL’S JUMP BACKGROUND

Americans have an appreciation for the sacrifice of those who serve in the military and the military family. However, most Americans do not know the personal stories behind this sacrifice. Having served 30 years as an Army Chaplain I was privileged to witness the personal sacrifice of so many men and women in uniform. This is just one of those stories.

After the 82nd Airborne Division returned from Iraq in 2004, I received permission and support from the Division Commander to re-initiate the Saint Michael’s Jump Program.

Some background on the significance of Saint Michael to the paratrooper: Paratroopers often turn to Saint Michael for protection during an airborne operation. In fact, we wear special medallions featuring Saint Michael attached to our identification tags, carried as a symbol of faith or for some as a good luck charm. The medallion reads, “Saint Michael, Patron of Paratroopers, Protect Us.”

Saint Michael has been associated with the paratroopers since World War II. Prior to a Saint Michael’s Jump, chaplains share with each paratrooper the connection to Saint Michael. The message is simple, Saint Michael serves God, and paratroopers serve their country.

But, the message is also significant. Each paratrooper has the opportunity to receive spiritual fitness. The chaplains share a modified version of the standard jump commands adapted to help paratroopers follow a simple set of commands that will help them be better troopers and people.

In the aircraft before the doors open and the green light illuminates, I have witnessed paratroopers praying. They pray for a safe exit, a safe jump, and a safe landing. I have seen some paratroopers rub their medallion as they pray. It gives them a sense that God is with them. It is a time for personal reflection and focusing on the mission at hand.

PERSONAL SACRIFICE

Prior to every airborne operation, each jumper must complete sustained training. Every trooper must successfully complete 4 parachute landing falls (PLF) off a three foot high platform, practice a mock aircraft exit, and rehearse numerous safety procedures.

I had 450 paratroopers on one of our first Saint Michael’s jumps after we returned from Iraq. We just completed our sustained training and I released everyone to go home because our time on target was early the next morning.

My primary jump master and I were engaged in conversation for several minutes after the troopers were released and we both noticed that most remained in the training area. In fact, the troopers began to gather around the PLF platform. We were both curious as to why, so we made our way through the gaggle of troopers.

As I got close enough to see, I noticed one jumper on the platform practicing his PLFs. From a distance I began to inspect him to ensure he was in proper uniform; ballistic helmet, jacket, trousers, boot, sneaker. Sneaker? It was then I noticed the titanium rod coming out of the sneaker. He was one of our amputees in the Division who desired to stay on active duty rather than be medically separated.

After he completed his prescribed PLFs successfully I made my way to him. Of course I had to ask, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” It was then that I heard his sacred story.

Specialist George Perez lost his leg in a roadside bomb in Iraq September 2003. While he was in Walter Reed’s amputee patient program, he made up his mind that he desired to remain a Soldier, and more than that, a paratrooper. He told me, “I’m not going to let this little injury stop me from doing what I want to do.”

So, he wanted to prove to a medical review board that he could do just that. In order to do so, he had to run an eight minute mile, pass a physical training test, ruck with a 50 pound back-pack for 12 miles, and jump out of an airplane. So this was his first test on an airborne operation.

An interesting note, at the time, Specialist Perez was 1 of 4 amputees in the 82nd Airborne Division. They all desired to remain on active duty to serve their country, but also because of their devotion to other paratroopers who remained in the fight.

As we shook hands I said to Specialist Perez, “You are truly my hero. Tomorrow you will have the place of honor as the number one jumper.”

JUMP DAY

So, the next morning we had a drop zone brief, donned our parachutes and loaded the aircraft for what would be one of my most inspiring and significant Saint Michael’s Jumps. I know I was more nervous on this jump, not for myself but Specialist Perez.

As we neared the drop zone, we were given the commands to prepare ourselves for the eventual green light. Specialist Perez was standing in the door waiting for the jump master to tap him saying, “Green light go.”

I noticed something as he was standing in the door, he is a big man. Gravity does not take pity on paratroopers. Just then the green light came on and out the door went Specialist Perez. I followed.

I heard the loud groan after Specialist Perez hit the ground. Immediately after my legs touched the landing zone, I rolled, popped my canopy release and ran to ensure Specialist Perez was okay. As I got close to him I noticed he was lying there, so I yelled, “Specialist Perez, are you okay?” He replied, “No sir, I think I broke my leg.” “Which one?”, I asked. “My artificial one!” I shouted, “Thank you Jesus!”

SIGNIFICANCE OF VETERANS DAY

Specialist Perez survived the roadside bomb blast, but it killed one of his battle buddies. Each day he lives through pain; the memories of that day and the swelling from the previous days training. Yet he desired to remain a paratrooper. Because of his professionalism, dedication to his fellow paratroopers, desire to do something that has meaning and purpose, Specialist Perez continued to serve.

This is indicative of our veterans’ sacrifice. So, on 11 November, or in our places of worship this weekend, show your support, encourage your veterans, and pray for peace.

Thank you for the conversation. Next week we will discuss the fifth and last response the faith community offers as we review, make meaning.