Posts tagged " restorative justice "

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Fifth Step – Making Amends)

June 19th, 2017 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.

We continue our conversation on a proposed spiritual therapeutic model toward healing from moral injury. As a reminder, this six step model includes;

  1. Acknowledge (confession) – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. Self-acceptance – renounce self lies like; I’m no good, I’m nothing, I’m worthless, I can’t be loved, and accept the reality of being a child of God
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. Amends – restoration involves a direct way to repair what has been damaged or broken
  6. Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support

We have discussed the first four steps; confession, forgiveness,  self-acceptance, and renewal of the mind.  This month, we will discuss the fifth step, making amends.

BACKGROUND

Making amends is an integral component in any recovery program. Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling creates moral wreckage. Broken relationships and a deep soul wound result.

In these situations an apology will not suffice. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) calls for making amends.

Additionally, AA understands that making amends is a delicate process, therefore the guidance of a sponsor or counselor is required.

Making amends is a critical component toward recovery from addiction. This process also has importance to a veteran regarding restoration from doing or experiencing harm resulting in moral injury. The same components exist;

  • experiencing the reality of broken relationships and a deep soul wound
  • offering an apology is not enough
  • needing someone to be a confidant, listener, counselor or friend

We will look closely at these three factors in making amends as they relate to healing from moral injury.

 THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

Experiencing broken relationships and soul wounds – The conduct of war often descends into brutality. Even when the outcome may bring peace, broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities. A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, others and self occurs and the consequences are grievous wounds to the soul. A soul wound goes deep because the battlefield strips away the veteran’s belief system. At the very core of the wound is the feeling or brokenness and hopelessness.

From the opening pages in the first book of the Torah, the Hebrew scripture tells us something has gone wrong; loving relationships have been broken, creation has been marred, humanity has been separated from God, all resulting in the need for God’s healing. Good news begins right here; God does not simply step in and by coercive force make things right. Rather, love shapes God’s activity; patient and persevering. Love becomes the “healing balm” that galvanizes God’s response to a broken world.

Offering an apology is not enough – The core ingredient to experience healing is restorative justice. Restorative justice becomes the central focus. One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes wholeness, or everything that makes for a person’s well-being, security, and the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Restorative justice is about repairing broken relationships with other people.

For a veteran who may have experienced a moral injury while in combat, it may be difficult to see how they can experience “wholeness” after what they may have done or seen. Yet, it may be in service to others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.

Shalom is not a passive concept, rather it is lived out in community. That is why justice always has to be social. So restorative justice, most simply, means putting things right again — fixing, repairing, and restoring broken relationships. And doing justice restores our relationship with God.

Needing someone to be a confidant, listener, counselor or friend. – The faith community is uniquely positioned to be a blessing to veterans who have experienced a soul wound. After wars of the past, the faith community has 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.  They have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred Love story provide remarkable healing power.

Also, other veterans can be a solace to one another. Through a like minded community, veterans can encourage and support each other.

Restoration will involve a lot of lists. In particular, the veteran should make a list of all the people he/she has hurt physically or emotionally. The memories may be painful, especially when listing family members. When attempting to make direct amends, there might be people unwilling to forgive. This is where the veteran should turn to a counselor or clergy to assist the veteran through the painful process.

BIBLICAL BASIS FOR “MAKING AMENDS” 

We are 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 call for justice is a much deeper and more involved approach. Rather than retribution, justice involves making amends.

The Biblical concept of making amends involves restoration:

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

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 Christians texts that reveal God’s character as the One Who Restores! God reclaims and restores those who in a moment of weakness failed. This is God’s Love in action! Restoration involves;

  • acknowledging the wrong
  • making amends 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 amends 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 VETERAN

Let us briefly explore each of these three areas.

Acknowledging the wrong – “Acknowledge” is defined; to admit to be real or true, recognized the existence, truth, or fact of.  A synonym is confession. Confession is a written or oral statement acknowledging guilt.

Confession. The word stirs up memories. Whatever the memory, most likely it is not pleasant. In fact, for many confession connotes pain from failure and being weighed down with guilt. However, confession offers us healing through a face to face encounter with the grace, love, and forgiveness of God.

The first step toward restoration with God is to acknowledge our sin. Confession becomes a vital part of our fellowship with God as it provides an opportunity to be reconciled within the community.

Making amends with those harmed – An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged – or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we cannot do it directly.

There are many ways for a veteran to make amends, however, amends may not be possible to the person(s) directly injured or wronged because danger remains where the harm occurred. There are indirect ways. 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.

Sometimes it will be difficult to make amends even indirectly. Veterans have another option, to make “living” amends. This simply means that the veteran lives differently. Amends are about genuine change in our behavior instead of a simple apology. We take on a whole new way of living.

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 realities. Communion becomes an act of making peace with God.

BENEFITS TO MAKING AMENDS

If we have not made any effort to make amends to those we have harmed, we may then have a lot of people, places, and things to avoid. We tend to live in isolation. In fact, large areas of our lives become closed off to us. When we make amends, are lives are open to new possibilities. We will experience a new freedom and Shalom.

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.

Next month we will discuss the last step, accountability. 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…

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…

 

 

 

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

August 25th, 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. This week we will discuss the first of four principles of restorative justice, accountability.

BACKGROUND

“Restorative justice is about offender accountability, victim healing, and community safety, through mediation and dialogue whenever possible.” Dr. Mark S. Umbreit, lecture at the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, University of Minnesota School of Social Work, January 2006

Accountability in restorative justice is about creating a process that allows offenders to take responsibility for the harm created by their actions. It is also an opportunity for the community to recognize its role in contributing to the harm.

The connection to restorative justice is somewhat muddled when we link the practice with the veteran community. In the case of offender accountability, the veteran can be both the offender and a person harmed. This dichotomy can complicate the healing process. However,  we can simplify the process if we hold to two elements;

  • taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • taking action to repair the harm

Beyond the legal restorative justice process, accountability holds importance in our spiritual journey. God calls us to be accountable to God’s call for our lives and to be deeply connected with one another. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with stories of people struggling with their accountability with God, and leaning on others for personal and spiritual development and growth. From Genesis through the letters to the churches, there are stories shared about the deep connections that help people through their darkest days and assist them to see what they cannot see on their own. We know of the stories of Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas, and Silas and Timothy. In all of these stories and others, men and women of faith understood the importance to re-connect with God, one another, and with community by taking responsibility for their own behavior and then taking action to repair the harm.

FAITH COMMUNITY IMPLICATIONS

There are two essential components to accountability important to veterans;

  • ability to relate
  • trust

Ability to relate…Relating is the first step in accountability. When a group shares a common bond or its members have been through similar experiences, this often opens opportunities for developing a relationship. Veterans can relate to one another. They can empathize and share with understanding. They can feel comfortable sharing their experiences of combat no matter the circumstances and can feel totally accepted without the concern of judgment or fear of rejection.

Trust…Trust is difficult for veterans, especially trusting someone outside of the veteran community. Most often, a veteran will only trust another veteran. If the faith community understands and accepts that it will be difficult to establish trust and practice patience when it comes to developing trust, a deep and lasting relationship can be formed.

In order for the veteran to express responsibility to another, there needs to be trust. Trust can be established if the faith community;

  • listens with one’s heart
  • cares for each other

Listen with one’s heart…To listen with our heart has two essential aspects; active listening (“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19), and non-judgmental attitude (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1)

Care for each other…Trust is sustained through the ability to be supportive, comforting and honest. As we care for one another, we motivate those who may be struggling with similar life circumstances. (“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.” 1 John 4:21)

With this said, we know veterans feel more comfortable with other veterans and that they will trust another veteran readily, should we (the faith community) even try to pursue restorative justice through accountability?

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

The first step to accountability is for the veteran and the faith community to live out these two essential elements: the ability to relate and to trust become the framework for developing and sustaining relationships, and opens doors of opportunity for accountability.

The second step is for the veteran and the faith community to use the process of;

  • taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • taking action to repair the harm

It is important that both the veteran and faith community accept responsibility because both have caused harm. The veteran has been to war. Violence and killing are timeless descriptions of war. In a way, the community of faith has culpability. We collectively sent the warrior into battle. War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure.

There are several accountability applications that reflect taking responsibility. Both the veteran and faith community can take responsibility for their behavior and actions by facing their anger, hurt, and misunderstanding by engaging the liturgy, rites, and spiritual disciplines of confession, repentance, mourning, and forgiveness. We will look at these in more detail in a few weeks.

Veterans can begin to take responsibility by;

  • creating different goals
  • explore ways to make amends

The faith community can take responsibility by;

  • providing resources to the veteran to seek healing
  • providing education and awareness of war and its affects on individuals, families and communities

In addition, the faith community can offer spiritual mentoring. As the veteran engages with a mentor, he/she takes responsibility for their actions, but they also seek ways to repair the harm they experienced. Veteran spiritual mentoring can accomplish the following;

  • deepen and strengthen the veterans’ experience of and relationship to the Holy
  • assist the veterans to name, understand and work through the harm they caused by using spiritual perspectives and practices
  • guide veterans to take responsibility, not for all that happened to them, but how they choose to react
  • discover ways to make amends

Veteran spiritual mentors serve as guides and companions to other veterans on their journey to wholeness and healing. See Soul Care webpage for specifics on how to establish a veteran spiritual mentoring experience.

Another important step toward accountability, taking action to repair harm.

The faith community can;

  • empower the veterans to make amends
  • encourage reconciliation
  • explore spiritual practices and disciplines with veterans

Veterans can;

  • connect with a community (either a faith community, VFW, American Legion, etc.)
  • serve others (Team Rubicon, Grace Under Fire, Volunteers of America are all veteran groups serving others)
  • experience a peace walk
  • offer restitution (support a refuge charity, etc.)

These applications are only a few that will assist veterans, veteran families, and the faith community to experience support, comfort, and healing. Do you know of other applications for accountability in the faith community? Share your stories and offer your thoughts on how the faith community can journey with veterans through accountability.

Next week, we will delve into the second principle of practicing restorative justice; sharing the story. Until then, thank you for the conversation..

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seek a Restorative Path – Restorative Justice)

August 18th, 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 continued our conversation on how to assist the veteran to seek a restorative path by looking at the first practice; trauma care and healing. This week we will discuss the second practice; restorative justice.

BACKGROUND

About a month ago, we discussed one of the core capabilities the faith community has in journeying with the veteran and the veteran’s family toward healing; restorative justice. Just to re-cap our conversation, restorative justice is an integral part in God’s redemptive pursuit to wholeness.

While restorative justice may have its origins in legal principles, it has as its roots the biblical concept of justice that focuses on three entities; the victim, the offender, and the community. The end-state of restorative justice is the restoration of broken relationships so all may experience God’s wholeness. Restorative justice centers on God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world.

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

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

LIVING LESSONS

As an Army chaplain, I received my endorsement from the United Methodist Church. Over the 30 years on active duty I maintained a connection with my denomination and specifically to my Bishop through reports, visits, and attendance at the annual conference. When I attended my annual conference I did so in uniform.

I often received words of appreciation and encouragement. Numerous clergy and lay persons shared their gratitude for military chaplains because they had sons, daughters, grandchildren, and other family members in the Guard, Reserves, or on active duty. Numerous local churches extended invitations to speak, especially Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

I received words of affirmation and gratitude when persons exclaimed, “Thank you for your service.” More importantly, I heard persons share that our veterans deserve our nation’s support for their sacrifice and service. But, sadly the sharing of God’s mercy ended with words.

I have witnessed the same for other veterans as well. It is easy to pay lip service, but much more difficult to actually engage in sharing God’s mercy as we care for our veterans. Seeking a restorative path is not just in words, but an action, where we practice justice for the veteran and the whole community. Jesus said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) You see, Jesus states that we are to work for peace, not just speak about peace. Jesus’ followers should bring into all their relationships a quality that makes for unity and blessing.

THEOLOGICAL BASIS 

How can we practice justice? The Hebrew concept of justice has at its core the vision of shalom. Shalom generally translates as peace. Peace is much more much than the lack of conflict. Shalom is about what it does; fosters fruitful relationships between God, with each other, and with creation. Justice then seeks shalom.

What does God require of us? One of the most used verses with the faith community that promotes restorative justice is Micah 6:8, “No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what God requires; to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” The answer to Israel’s disobedience and broken relationship with God and one another was not more sacrifices, but something much deeper. The faith community is to act; do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

When a transgression occurs between people, shalom suffers. How can we restore relationship? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God; the community works to resolve the offence and resulting harm. When this occurs within the community, relationships are strengthened and the wounded healed. Peace yields individual and community well-being.

Practicing justice rebuilds and increases shalom for the affected individuals and society. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures reflect that the central actor of restorative justice is the community.

FAITH COMMUNITY

So, how can the faith community share God’s mercy with the veteran? The model for restorative justice practices can be found in prisons, schools (bullying), and in social and criminal justice systems. The faith community can practice justice as we adapt these principles in order to share God’s mercy.

So, how can the faith community live out the biblical imperative of justice? Lets look at several principles with a specific example;

  • 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)
  • follow through (offer opportunities to develop resiliency through study, prayer, fellowship, and service)

Possibly you can think of others to share! Through restorative justice, the faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. Next week we will discuss the third practice; conflict transformation. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

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

June 9th, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

About a month ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Last week, we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. This week, we will share how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration.

BACKGROUND

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

  • victim
  • offender
  • community

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVING LESSONS

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

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

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

THE FAITH COMMUNITY

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

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

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

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

Soul Care Conversation (Toward a Theology of Healing)

March 30th, 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!)

Over the last several weeks we have explored the various components of spirituality, as spirituality pertains to trauma and trauma care. This week we will begin to lay the foundation toward a theology of healing and the faith community’s role in journeying with the veteran and the veteran’s family toward well-being and healing.

BACKGROUND

From the opening pages in the first book of the Torah, the Hebrew scripture tells us something has gone wrong; loving relationships have been broken, creation has been marred, humanity has been separated from God, all resulting in the need for God’s healing. Good news begins right here; God does not simply step in and by coercive force make things right. Rather, love shapes God’s activity; patient and persevering. Love becomes the “medicine” that galvanizes God’s response to a broken world.

The core ingredient of God’s healing “medicine” is restorative justice. So what is justice? According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the Hebrew words tsedeq and mishpat are all used to describe “justice” in the Bible. These words are interchangeable with the words for “righteousness”. The ideas of justice and righteousness are deeply intertwined in the Hebrew scripture.

However, the basic meaning of “justice” is “what is right” or “what is normal”, or the way things are supposed to be. Restorative justice is part of God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world. But justice is also about restoring our broken relationship with God. Justice relates to fairness, judgment, love, and healing of God, a Love story. All of this has great importance for the veteran.

GOD’S “MEDICINE” TOWARD HEALING

So, let’s look at this Love story. It is a journey that begins in Genesis 1, “Then God looked over all God had made, and God saw that it was excellent in every way.” However, this exceptional, superb, and tremendous story shifts drastically into a story of a broken, weak, fractured, and shattered humanity as we read in Genesis 3 of the break in the relationship between human beings and God. However, something new emerges. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and Sarah into a relationship as they begin a community.

God’s “medicine” for healing begins in this promise as summarized in Genesis 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s calling of a people included two elements; “I will bless you”, God said, “so that you will be a blessing”. God’s healing “medicine” is in and through community.

The Love story tells of a God who responds to human brokenness with continual creativity in healing a broken world! During this journey God’s creative involvement centers on restorative justice. What does this look like?

God’s response to heal human brokenness is powerfully lived out in the midst of the Love story that comes in the saga of the Exodus. As we look at God’s involvement in restorative justice, it is interesting to note that God;

  • is not a God of people in power who lord it over others
  • hears the cries of those being oppressed

As the Hebrew people understand God’s involvement in restorative justice, the Torah (the Law) becomes central to their understanding of their call and their covenant with God. When God gives the Hebrews the Torah following the exodus, they understood the Torah being;

  • a work of God’s grace
  • a resource for ordering peaceable living in community
  • a guide to wholeness that serves justice

Following the exodus, the Love story continues. However, the Hebrews did not heed the prophets and turn from injustice. The prophesied consequences came to pass in that the center of their religious life, the Temple, was destroyed. So too the center of their political life, the king’s palace, was destroyed. Additionally many Hebrews were exiled.

The prophet Jeremiah linked Israel’s conformity with the injustices to the end of their Hebrew nation. Jeremiah laments this end with profound grief. However, Jeremiah points forward by indicating God’s promises. Jeremiah’s words fortified the Hebrews to survive as a people. He encouraged them to seek the well-being of whatever society they were part of (Jeremiah 29:7) while at the same time maintaining their distinct identity as people of the Torah. God’s healing “medicine” continues as the Hebrews remember God’s blessing in order that they too may “be a blessing”.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE 

How can the faith community “be a blessing” to the veterans and their families? Restorative justice takes on a central focus. One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes wholeness, or everything that makes for a person’s security, well-being, and the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Restorative justice is about repairing broken relationships both with oneself, other people, and to structures and organizations.

For a warrior that may have experienced a moral injury while in combat, it may be difficult to see how they can experience “wholeness” after what they may have done. Yet, it may be in service to others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.  This can be done by providing support to the family of the battle-buddy who was killed or wounded.  Or by connecting to an organization formed by veterans to make reparations or support refugees.

Shalom is not a passive concept, rather it is lived out in community. That is why justice always has to be social. So, restorative justice, most simply, means putting things right again — repairing and restoring broken relationships… and doing justice restores our relationship with God.

The faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. 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 through their actions have offered hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort.  Clergy have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred Love story provide remarkable healing power.

So how can the faith community “be a blessing” to our veterans? Next week we will continue our conversation on a theology of healing…until then, thank you for the conversation.