Back in November, I flew down to North Carolina for a very short conference called "After the Yellow Ribbon" put on by the students of Duke Divinity School on their campus. It was my first time at Duke: impressive all around, as expected. Quite a stately campus. I've been on my share of campuses, but I'm not sure that I've been more in awe than at Duke. Of course, the fact that my favorite theologian (Hauerwas) walks those halls might have been a factor (though not for long, this is his last semester, I'm told). And there was indeed a Duke men's basketball game that weekend, making for a crazy campus. Anyway, the conference was bringing together three parties: the Church, the Academy, and the Military to talk about our response to soldiers who have come home from war. Some of my notes and reflections are below.
Overall, I was greatly challenged by the conference, as I knew I would be. I'm not really sure how to be proactive in response. I don't know any recent veterans (in my area, at least). My path to and on nonviolence basically led me to understand that despite my contrarian feelings about the US's military actions, my responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be directed to those who are hurting and those who are ignored. Veterans often to fit both of those demographics.
I was a bit out of place - it was mostly Duke Divinity students (academics) and a few in the military. It only kindled the fire in me to be back in school, but this is to come. There might have been a few other pastors, but I didn't perceive that anyone else really flew in for it.
A lot of this is a sporadism of notes, but glean what you can.
----- Friday Evening: Lieut. Colonel Pete Kilner -----
Lt. Col. Kilner teaches at West Point.
"There are elements of heaven that are only in war." - This is related this to a "band of brothers"-type camaraderie/community. I've actually considered this in relation to the Church and koinonia and have a sermon series on the very back burner along these lines. Good relationship generally cannot be manufactured. Something happens to people when they sweat and bleed together. I've not experienced war, but I've known the sweat and tears of serving for a couple of weeks in an impoverished area. The people I was with and I have bonds that cannot be explained nor recreated.
I was made to consider the notion of selective conscientious objection. Generally, a conscientious objector must object to ALL war...not just the current one. (i.e.: "Would you fight in WWII?") I have had my paperwork to sign and file to my denomination for my conscientious objection sitting on my desk for over half a year. I'm not sure why I haven't sent it in yet. Part of me wonders that if a situation like WWII did come about, I might actually want to participate. Anyway, Lt. Col. and others at the conference talked about "selective conscientious objection." I forget Kilner's feelings about it, but others would lobby for it. And I think I would too.
[paraphrasing] The people are not doing their job in doing a good public debate concerning the just-ness of war.
One take-away was just the notion of creating some kind of a "Soldiers Anonymous" group in our community. I would need a leader(s) though, and it certainly can't be me. But we need to create safe places where veterans can come and talk of their experience together...or at least just be together.
----- Saturday morning, Exploring the Moral Landscape: Military, Theological, and Academic Intersections (Elyse Gustafson, Herman Keizer, Warren Kinghorn) -----
(Kinghorn) PTSD - not just anxiety, traumatic events in the past act determinatively in the course of life in the present; generally considered a medical condition/diagnosis, responded to with medicine and therapy; But Kinghorn, while acknowledging the reality of PTSD, believes it can be an oversimplification for those coming back from combat, as PTSD is a general "explanation". But unlike other physical diagnoses, PTSD is in and of itself the symptoms. (Other diagnoses come about because of symptoms, which point to the diagnosis.) He might consider PTSD as coming about due to the _moral_ effects of war. He notes the difference between recipient trauma and agentive trauma ("done unto" and "done to others"). His belief is that these are the majoritive causes for PTSD in combat-related PTSD.
"moral injury" - perpetrating or failing to prevent the occurrence of moral events. problem: moral injury can hardly be classified simply as a medical term. As such, the issues and thus, the responses, are as diverse as the number of soldiers coming home. Again: create spaces for personal narrative-sharing
(Gustafson) First Liut. Gustafson's presentation was probably the most moving of the conference for me. She told us of her experience in receiving soldiers home as a chaplain.
One such: "Dan" - combat soldier, on going to Church: "I'm treated either as a hero or a monster. Neither is a person." She wrote a prayer for "Dan."
When she read it to him, he cried, and she describes the experience as "the closest she'd ever felt to God." To me, she is describing Matthew 25.
Reconciliation for the penitent: confession; examination of conscience - Yes, confession. Growing up, like so many other Protestant boys and girls, confession was this crazy-idea to control people invented by the Roman Catholic Church (Forgive me, please). And even still, I have to remember that confession is only sometimes about culpability. But confession and incarnational ministry is as of Christ - "Taking the sin of the world upon oneself." This sharing in the RESULT of sin is our ministry. Soldiers (like all those who have injuries) need spaces of confession. The complexity of issues, responses, etc. is astounding.
"It's true confession if it brings people into community."
(Keizer) Chaplain Col. Keizer spoke freely and from the heart, obviously from decades of experience.
Reported that 52% of Veterans are reserves, meaning they do not go back to people that understand them. There apparently is a much different debriefing process for reservists. (parenthetical comment by me: so far, my respect for the military has increased and for politicians and citizens has decreased)
"Reflexive" versus "reflective" in making decision to kill.
Again: the opportunity of selective conscientious objection
"If we're no longer able to be critical of our country, then we are unable to be good citizens of our country."
Keizer spoke of two things I need to read: Matterhorn (novel on Vietnam) and his own article: "I'll be home for Christmas"
He encouraged us to use the psalms to help veterans speak and heal.
----- Seminar: Caring for Veterans After War (Chaplains Bill Cantrell & John Oliver) -----
Bill is a Navy Chaplain, working for the VA here in Durham
Often challenges the integrity of our body and our sense of ourselves
Challenges our beliefs about: life, death, meaning, our sense of mastery and potency in the world
Can challenge the very foundations upon which we build our lives
Affects our identity and identification
Moral Injury: Causes & Consequences
[persistent threats to assumptions of right & wrong]
Altered assumptions/changed humanity
Affects decision-making & behavior
Actings out, revenge, retribution
The Emotional Toll
Fear, Anxiety, Stress (Guerilla warfare, civilian threat)
Guilt, Shame (killing, abusiveness, destruction)
Anger, Rage (Helplessness, betrayal/violation)
Sadness, Dysphoria (Loss, hopelessness, witnessing grave suffering)
Spiritual Fitness Guide
The journey home marks the beginning of an internal war for the [soldiers].
Spiritual Aids to Recovery
Values for Living
Finding Meaning and Purpose
George Washington, November 10, 1781: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." (parenthetical: I'm not sure if this is good or bad...)
John Oliver - Pastoral Care
6308 US fatalities
4017 wounded (as of Wednesday of last week)
Vietnam - over 60,000
WWII - hundreds of thousands
So we've kept the casualties down, but this means more wounded coming home. What are the implications of this?
Life Threat (you could die)
Wear & Tear on Body/Spirit/Soul
Ongoing loss of friends and family
Inner conflict of moral dilemmas
Of those interviewed coming home:
92% knew of someone killed
81% attacked or ambushed
75% seen dead bodies
30% of combat soldiers have some kind of diagnosis
So this means that there are 70% who are "resilient" - they are strong people
As pastors, the language of "disorder" is difficult in what it does as a label or even as a self-fulfilling prophecy
There are three people types in regard to trauma:
Been through a trauma
Those who are going through a trauma
Those who will go through trauma
Pattern of Lament:
Life is good.
Life is disrupted.
We can see this in the progression of Psalm 22 - 23 - 24
Let this be a pattern of how we serve as pastor to people through trauma
The removal from the community of the "band of brothers" is so difficult.
Can we bring them "home" into the community of the Church?
...this will not be easy, particularly because of the facade of community in the Church.
Spiritual reactions to trauma:
Confusion about God
Alters one sense of meaning in life
Loss of previously sustained and sustaining beliefs (especially superficial ones)
Questions of theodicy
Questions of God's love ("God can't love me..." I'd rather die than bring this stuff home to my family)
Three stages of recovery:
1. Safety (people need to know that they are safe)
2. Remembrance & Mourning
Sometimes remembering is difficult not simply because they don't want to, but because they can't
----- Mapping the Moral Landscape Discovering Resources for Recovery with Stephen Xenakis, David Miller, Peter Bowen -----
(Miller) Should the first place soldiers return to be a rally or the confessional? Because when they return, they are returning from having done things that no human should ever have to do (Again...confession isn't always about culpability, but about the opportunity of releasing the effects of sin.)
I really appreciated Miller's talk. It again left me wondering if I might be a better fit in an anabaptist tradition.
The Church needs to focus on nurturing the baptized in priority to speaking in the public square.
Trauma results in a disconnection from others.
I love this quote: "May the next generation create no veterans." - David Miller