You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1: 19
For three days–March 8th, 9th, and 10th–I sat with people who are retired military, active military, spouses of retired/active military, children of military, widow(er)s of military, and those who are civilians. We came from many different places and stations in life to learn about the soul wounds caused by armed conflict and how those soul wounds affect veterans and their families, particularly. On March 8th, theologians Dr. Shelly Rambo and Dr. Warren Kinghorn presented helpful frameworks that the Christian tradition has to offer as we seek to find meaning in the midst of the trauma and the wounding associated with war. Logan Isaacs narrated his experiences as a Christian and an Iraq veteran. Rev. Bryan Hatcher offered sage advice on how to accompany veterans and their families through the hills and valleys of deployment and post-deployment.
The next two days, Chaplain David Smith (US Army Colonel Retired) led interested folk through a workshop on how to best care for veterans and their families. Chaplain Smith is the coordinator of the Soul Care Initiative with JustPeace, a reconciliation center of the United Methodist Church. On March 9th, Chaplain Smith shared the workshop at Campground United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, NC, a U.S. Army town where, coincidentally, he had once been posted (at Fort Bragg). March 10th, Chaplain Smith presented at Northwoods United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, NC, a Marine town.
You can imagine that there was a wide, wide range of political opinions represented among the attendees on each of those days, however, we were not there to debate politics or policy. We were there to learn how to care for veterans and their families. We were there to learn about the soul wounds inflicted by war and how some of our brothers and sisters endure wounds that can be deeper and wider than many of us know. Speaking for myself, I have no direct experience of military culture or military service, thus, I learned an incredible amount of invaluable information about some of what active military, veterans, and their families experience. On all three days, for example, we talked about how hard it can be for the service member and his/her family to navigate a return from deployment. The spouses and children who have remained at home often have as complex adjustments to make as the service member does. Once the cake has been eaten and the balloons begin to deflate, women, men, and children have to get about the hard business of living with a loved one who is not –and will never be– the same as when he or she left on deployment.
On all three days, I gleaned important information, and I also learned one lesson that extended beyond the particulars of the information shared. What I realized over those days was that those who are service members, veterans, and their families yearn for a safe(r), sacred space in which to tell their stories. Each day, stories of devastation, hope, trauma, and healing spilled forth from the men and women assembled. Anger mixed with peace, tears mixed with laughter, silence mixed with conversation filled the room each day and the stories of the people gathered made each room sacred.
Why has the Conflict Transformation Ministries become involved with care for veterans and their families? As I see it, engaging to the wounds of war is a part of the spectrum of peace and peacemaking. Another way to say it would be that we cannot be people of peace without tending to the wounds of war. We are ALL affected by the wounds of war, some more deeply and widely than others.
What people of faith can do is co-create with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer sacred spaces to hear one another as we engage one another around the issues of war. When we listen more than we speak, we are able to enter into a space where another person’s story can be told in its fullness. We may be challenged to listen to stories that make us uncomfortable because they confront us with the brutal realities of armed conflict. We may be challenged by four-letter words sprinkled through speech. We may disagree with an expressed political opinion. Nonetheless, by listening through the grace of God without judgment or reserve, we hold and honor our brothers and sisters’ stories.
To listen is to honor. To listen to all is to honor all. May I be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to honor all.