I attended a vigil tonight, a gathering of the faith community and others to await the verdict of the grand jury on the Michael Brown case. Though most were not surprised by the outcome they were filled with more grief.

For some the shape of that grief bends to the perceived injustice of another white police officer taking the life of another black man. Of course, they said, there will be no trial. The streets are filled with that rage.

Beyond the actual evidence and testimony of the case and conclusions drawn on that, beyond the technicalities and data, there exists a massive history of racism, discrimination, white privilege, lynchings and systematic inequality. That precedes what occurred with Michael Brown, the latest wound covering an even deeper unhealed wound. It is a wound that has festered for decades, centuries, a wound carried by this nation from its beginning. And no matter the strides – and there have been mighty ones – our painful heritage lives on.

It is never enough to say let’s just get over it.

We have to create a way of life in which such things are much, much less likely to happen. Until then justice will not have prevailed. And like the old, old wound from yesterday and the day before yesterday healing will unfold over time. But let’s not tarry. This is no time to procrastinate. Now is always the right time to make a powerful witness for a new way of life. When else?

In Edward Tick’s Warrior’s Return he describes the necessary and daunting journey for those who have descended into the hell of war – its trauma and moral injury – and returned with healing and restoration. This journey requires exposing the wounding and allowing for catharsis, struggling toward self and other forgiveness, reconciliation with those who were enemies, rehumanizing those who had once been dehumanized, reintegrating with community, making amends and restitution for past wrongs, and finally rising to new meaning and purpose.

I was struck by the depth and sincerity of this prayer from wounded/healed veteran Hugh Scanlen, a man who spent decades of work to heal other vets and himself:

O God, as I begin my walk out of the darkness
and turmoil of conflict,
give me the strength to find a lasting and gentle existence.
Give me the desire to treat all living creatures with respect.
Help me to do no harm for the remaining days of my life.
May I accept who I am now –
not who I have been in the past.
Help me to remember and to dim –
not forget — the tragic past.
Take my experiences and teach me to use them
to understand others
wherever I go. To ban fear, hate,
and violence from my thinking.
Let me understand how one person can make
the world a better place.
Show me the reasons I am still here and what I am to do.
Give me the strength to face the time I have left here
to reconnect with humanity. To feel and give love.
O God, make me whole again.
Amen

The Subway Huddle

Posted: November 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m not trying to eavesdrop but it’s unavoidable. I’m eating at a table right beside a 6 top of guys who are sharing a tutorial. When I arrived one guy was drawing a pattern on a napkin and his friends were leaning in and listening. It was a discussion about strategy – how to disciple people. Relationships, content, and setting the hook in that first eight weeks.

By the time I was halfway through my sandwich the topic had shifted to “complimentary” but different roles prescribed by God through the Bible. Men are meant to lead and even though women don’t know it they secretly want to follow. When they don’t they are in a state of rebellion against God’s will…

By the time I was cleaning up my trash they were summarizing – this is the roadmap to get you to the right relationship with God. It’s not easy but it will transform you…

Yes, I thought, it will transform us … into the perfect culturally shaped First Century person, one whose church and concept of Biblical manhood is slowly being left in the dustbin of history…

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Edward Tick, Ph.D., has contributed, researched, helped and written in the area of veterans and their inner wounds as perhaps no other. Two of his books – War and the Soul (2005) and Warrior’s Return (2014) are required reading for anyone who wants to understand or work with our wounded warriors. He has established a healing center and program called Soldier’s Heart (soldiersheart.net). As a clinical psychotherapist Tick has worked with countless vets and their families. Let me share why his work is so important.

Tick has mined the deep history of war, warriors and their wounding across cultures and time. He writes of the archetypes of the warrior and the cultures that depend on them and provide for them.

His work has courageously exposed the dark underbelly of war – American wars – and what they have done and do to those we send to fight them. The proportion of returning veterans who have been emotionally and spiritually wounded to the point of total dysfunction is staggering with more persons lost to the effects of war than actually on the battlefield.

He has named a most difficult beast in this whole arena – the failure of society, the VA and clinical approaches to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For one, Tick identifies the way many cultures and societies have already named PTSD in the past, this being the latest iteration. But most importantly, he describes how making a condition of the broken soul into a sterile clinical definition has harmed more than hurt. The words themselves – stress, disorder – actually conceal the real need for inner healing and transformation. Current practices – primarily in the VA – intentionally avoid dealing with the trauma and instead medicate the symptoms. They attempt to keep the wounded vet from committing suicide or homicide, to function in a rudimentary way, but do not address the real root of suffering.

To put it plainly we ask our warriors to protect the tribe or the interests of the tribe. We ask them to kill and risk being killed. But we do not provide for the wounding of the soul that occurs as a result. When a war is particularly unpopular, the warrior, the one who has been sent, often returns to the chorus of “it was an unrighteous war in which you fought.” That simply deepens the wound. If the warrior participated in atrocities, and many do participate in actions that violate their own moral code, their hearts are shattered even more.

I’ll leave you with a tiny tip of the iceberg from Warrior’s Return:

During the Vietnam War, casualties and damage were astronomically higher for the Vietnamese than for Americans. For example, the Vietnamese lost about three million people killed, two-thirds of whom were civilians, and over four million wounded, compared with America’s loss of 58,000-plus GIs killed and 300,000 wounded … Ironically the number of PTSD cases among the Viet Nam People’s Army is very small though severe traumatic breakdown among American veterans was enormous. How can this be? The Vietnamese were invaded and experienced themselves as defenders, not aggressors. A Viet Cong veteran said, “We were only defending our families and homes, so we have no psychological wounds.” (132-33)

We have not begun to scratch the surface of this nasty inner wound carried by those who have not been cared for after returning from the wars we sent them to fight. We conceal the physical and emotional damage from the public at large. We medicate symptoms rather than engaging in healing. All this takes place under the auspicious of  government institutions that were created to help in the first place. They might expertly tend to physical wounds. But the real wounds that end up killing them are far from the battle field – invisible, insidious and pervasive.

They deserve more. And we should offer more than another fine Veteran’s Day speech.

The amending of constitutions, whether local, regional or national, should be a rare and limited occurrence. They should not be altered in order to fast track policy or legislate issues. There are other administrative and decision making mechanisms in place for that. But on the November 4 ballot Missourians will see exactly that, an attempt to set policy and law by amending the constitution in several ways. They are all patently bad and the political originators of said proposals hope to deceive an unwitting public with tricky language.

Amendment 3 would require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using an evaluation system based on student performance data. It also would require local districts to use a standards-based evaluation system if they want to continue to receive state funding. The amendment would also limit teacher contracts to three years and prohibit teachers form organizing for collective bargaining. What great teachers will be attracted with these regressive policies? What teacher will go into the distressed school system with challenged students and low performance in order to make a difference – if they will be evaluated by the student’s performance, always teach to the test, never have job security and be unable to collectively bargain for better salary or benefits? Are you kidding me? This is patently bad for Missouri. Vote no.

Amendment 6 pretends to extend voting opportunity but is really a replacement for the original proposal. It weakens voting access and opportunity in significant ways. This amendment actually attempts to impose limits for early voting as might be provided by an act of the legislature. It limits early voting to only six days (a majority of states with early voting provide 10-30 days), during business hours only and no Sundays. This limiting frame of opportunity excludes the people who need after work hours and weekend voting the most. That is not accidental. The framers of this amendment want to limit the voting of those people, most typically the working poor and large numbers of ethic voters who have traditionally voted on Sundays. This is patently bad for Missouri. Vote no.

Amendment 10 would shift the authority over and and responsibility for maintaining a balanced budget from the Governor to the General Assembly. This is a ridiculous ploy to remove authority from the Governor by those who want to take the power for themselves, the present legislature. It would create a most inefficient system to handle state finances, diluting who is responsible for maintaining a balanced budget. And it politicizes the decision making process even more, placing more roadblocks in the allocation process. Most of all it will corrupt the balance of powers between governmental branches. This is patently bad for Missouri. Vote no.

When the Spartans left their most lovely statuesque horse outside the gates of Troy at the end of a seemingly failed siege, their parting gift was a brilliant deception. The Trojan Horse held a hidden cargo of warriors. After the exultant inhabitants of the city moved the seemingly benign horse inside the gates it soon revealed its deadly contents under the cover of darkness. The gates were opened and Troy was lost. The compilation of these proposed amendments to the Missouri constitution represents exactly that, a Trojan Horse. Residents of Troy be forewarned: Beware of politicians bearing gifts. Do not bring it into your city.

I remember a time when clergy were not provided any time for spiritual renewal. That is ironic, considering that spiritual renewal is their primary business. If there is any vocation in which one needs to stay spiritually and emotionally present and vital this is the one. Not the only one, of course, but most surely this one. It was not that ministers didn’t have vacations; most did and that is fine. But a vacation is not the same thing as intentional rest, renewal and spiritual recharging. Along the tattered way church leaders became convinced that a program of revitalization and renewal was important. The result was the emergence of what has now become standard among ministers, the sabbatical leave with pay after a certain period of service. I’ve earned several of those through the years and relished the time away in order to return renewed.

However important sabbatical provisions are I came to believe that we were still missing the mark. Why? Because the model of sabbatical is based on that found in academia. And ministry and academia are two different things. So I started to imagine what an intentional program of spiritual renewal could resemble. What I came up with is something like this:

Rather than one large chunk of time at the end of five-seven years, we spread out the opportunities for spiritual renewal so that they are shorter and more frequent. For instance, one week a year is provided along with one day in the fall and one day in the spring. That week is not vacation or continuing education. Those are important but have different functions. Then following a certain number of years, say five, the minister takes a month of sabbatical leave. With that he or she could actually have a significant experience of renewal, say in an international program or an inspiring monastery. Perhaps they decide to walk a portion of the Camino in Spain. You get my drift.

When I presented this to my church’s personnel committee and then board, they got it immediately. And that’s what I have now, an alternative to sabbatical, a program of ongoing spiritual renewal. I believe it serves both me and the church more appropriately.

I am on one of my twenty four hour spiritual retreats right now in a place apart. For me that requires solitude, something the inexperienced often have difficulty with. This is different than just “getting away.” The time is intentionally full of simplicity, unplugged time, contemplative walks, reading, meditation, rest and expression of faith in any way that connects, like writing or journaling.

Anyone can do this, of course, and should. It’s hardly limited to clergy. All people who wish to deepen the spiritual life need these islands of stillness, these green pastures. And if you don’t know how to approach a solitary retreat you might try a directed group one first. Later, when you are more experienced, you can try a solitary retreat. It always provides its challenges as we detox from ongoing life.

Right now I am watching the autumn sun disappear behind the trees. I have prepared a simple meal with my own hands. My reading of the evening will focus on some spiritual masters and I will contemplate that until nightfall. I’ll try to keep artificial lights off and allow my sleep pattern to mirror that of nature. I will rise when the sun stirs me. And slowly, slowly, the noise inside my own head will turn to stillness and the cares that seemed so important only a short time before will take their rightful place, making room for what really matters, for real attentiveness to the God who comes, my communion with that, and a compassion that cannot arise as long as we compulsively lope after the dictates of the culture around us.

The Stovepipe Hat

Posted: September 26, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I am presently reading the diary entries of a young Union soldier during the Civil War by the name of George Sargent (For Our Beloved Country: American War Diaries, 1994). Late in the war, during April, as they were stationed near Washington D.C., the troops were notified that they would be reviewed by the President. And here is what he wrote:

The force was between fifteen and twenty thousand strong, making a grand show, a sight not to be seen outside of the army. We were put into the place assigned us, waited an hour or two, heard music in the distance, and presently he came galloping along followed by two or three hundred officers of all rank. We struck up “Hail to the Chief,” playing until the next band on our left commenced then. I must say he is the most awkward looking figure on horseback I ever saw, long legs, dangling down most to the ground, his body bent forward, looking as though he was about to pitch headlong, and an old stovepipe hat many years behind the fashion. … As we stood in front of him, I could not help but notice how pale, haggard, and careworn he looked, as though there was a heap of trouble on the old man’s mind.