Engaging Conflict through the Lens of Soul Care

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Chaplain Dave Smith

On January 11, 2016, David Anderson Hooker began a four month blog conversation on the core principles that define the approach that JustPeace takes when entering into congregational, community, and denominational conflicts. These principles include;

  1. Engaging Conflict
  2. Welcoming Conversation
  3. Honoring Relationships
  4. Transforming Community

David kicked off our conversation by addressing the first core principle: engaging conflict. He challenged us to consider why and how to engage conflict as individuals, faith communities, and within the world community. How can we engage conflict well? David provides the foundation when he stated, “In order to engage conflict we must first acknowledge that: People are not the problem; the problem is the problem.”

ENGAGING CONFLICT THROUGH THE LENS OF SOUL CARE

So, what is the problem? Extreme stress! The effects of war impact the whole person, the whole family, and the whole world community. For our conversation, we will briefly look at each of these in how soul wounds affect how we deal with conflict.

Our warriors’ mission is to ensure US security and maintain peace. To accomplish this they are purposely placed at the very center of conflict as they engage in combat operations and/or humanitarian assistance missions. Both require our warriors to live and work in environments of extreme stress.

Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. In previous blogs, we determined that while in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physicalmentalbehavioral, and spiritual health of the warrior. Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror. Extreme stress deeply affects the warrior.

After the warrior has returned from war, extreme stress remains ever present as the veteran feels like he or she is still at “war.” Veterans carry the edge of hyper-vigilance, grieve the loss of the close bond with a battle buddy and the loss of doing something that holds significance, and find themselves in a slower pace of living. It is difficult to shed the warrior mentality, to let go of the behaviors that kept the warrior alive while in combat.

The extreme stress of combat lingers and may cause several symptom patterns: restlessness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and hyper-vigilance. These can threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately. When these symptoms linger for months they can also lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as depression, PTSD, addiction, abuse, and suicide.

These symptoms are at the heart of the inner-conflict, wounds of the soul. But they also become part of how the veteran relates to those around them. How the veteran works through the symptoms of extreme stress will enhance not only how they deal with their inner-conflict, but also how they engage conflict with others.

CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME

How can we engage conflict? 

Now that the warrior is home, not only will the veteran have to process their personal experiences of war and deal with their inner-conflict, they will also have to face numerous reintegration challenges with their family and community. Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment.  Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the veteran and the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. One of the greatest challenges appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure. This can cause conflict.

In earlier blogs, we looked at some of the challenges of reintegration and transition that the veteran and family may experience. We reviewed each family entity; veteranspouse, and the children. It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. On top of the challenges experiencing extreme stress while at war, the returning warrior now faces the stress of transition and reintegration. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration and also allow for the veteran and family engage conflict well.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

How can we engage conflict? 

The trauma of war is a story of the whole community to include the faith community. As we all bear witness to each other’s story we form a foundation for engaging conflict. We begin to develop skills to listen with our hearts, not only our ears. As we listen with our hearts, we accept responsibility for our veteran’s wounds and we open ourselves to being a catalyst of grace.

How can we do this? Our warriors and veterans need our collective forgiveness for what they did and what they saw in the name of freedom and security. They need our support and participation to find meaning, purpose, healing and restoration. As a nation and faith community we must journey with each of our veterans through their pain, grief, loss, guilt and shame. Our veterans seek our acceptance and understanding for the horrors they witnessed and the horrors they committed.

Additionally, our veterans need to forgive us, we who sent them to war to do our nation’s bidding. Each of us must take responsibility in that we could not engage conflict well in the world community.

The faith community has a critical role. At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar that can be identified as a “soul wound.” Soul wounds produce guilt and shame. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that their soul has left them.

What can the faith community do to understand these challenges and journey with our veterans toward healing? The veteran’s story is sacred as is the faith community’s story. By understanding the veteran’s story in the context of the spiritual meaning within a particular faith community context, we then can relate to the person, not the war.  This is the most important step toward developing a relationship of trust with the veteran and their family. The faith community can role model this technique for engaging conflict.

How can we engage conflict through the lens of soul care?

  1. By understanding that our veterans experience extreme stress while at war
  2. Through awareness of the challenges of transition and reintegration returning home
  3. By accepting responsibility as a community in nurture and support

If you desire to be engaged in conversation on these challenges and discuss possible strategies of care, please see the Soul Care Conversation on the website at www.soulcareinitiative.org, click on blog.

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