JustPeace staff have been reflecting on the four principles that define the approach that we take when entering into congregational, community, and denominational conflicts.
David Anderson Hooker began our conversation on the JustPeace Way by addressing the first core principle, engaging conflict. He provided us with a foundation when he stated, “In order to engage conflict we must first acknowledge that: People are not the problem; the problem is the problem.”
David then built on this foundation by sharing the second core principle in that “to best engage conflict the JustPeace Way encourages Welcoming Conversations.”
Welcoming conversations “requires an attitude” of being in “open and honest dialogue with those who represent different, and from our perspective, problematic viewpoints,” and “conversations we create should have a welcoming quality.”
David then delved into the third core principle: honoring relationships. He states that honoring is about “preserving relationships”, and honoring “invites authentic self expression and attends to the dignity of all participants”.
Lastly, David shared the final JustPeace Way principle, Transforming Community.
David states that,
“The JustPeace Way takes a systems approach to conflict because we embrace transformed communities – Communities that have space, resources and relational practices that can include all in loving and supportive ways. If conflict is simply two ideas seeking to share space, we don’t always have to change the ideas or the people who have the ideas, sometimes we can change the space in ways that lovingly embrace our different ideas.”
In each of these conversations, we have explored the JustPeace Way through the lens of Soul Care and how the specific topic relates to veteran care.
WHAT IS A “TRANSFORMING COMMUNITY”
When you consider the word “community”, what do you think? Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines community as;
- a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)
- a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.
The dictionary definition of community lacks a key component, connectedness. I believe Jesus, in his life and ministry, points to community as our connectedness with God, creation, and one another. Jesus’ vision of a transformed community is to receive the broken, the lost, the empty, the sick, and the sinner. How do we do that? We practice connectedness through radical relationships (radical defined as different, new, and important).
What may radical relationships look like? Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” But, Jesus takes it one step further in defining radical relationships as he commands, “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Both commands point to radical relationships.
How then do we transform community? We put our neighbor’s interest before our own. We even go as far as laying down our life for our neighbor (John 15:13). This is a radical relationship! Veterans understand connectedness through radical relationships where each day, whether on the battlefield or at home station, they put others first by living out the ethos of duty, honor, respect, and selfless service; not only for country, but for the oppressed, and for their battle buddy.
TRANSFORMING COMMUNITY THROUGH THE LENS OF SOUL CARE
What are the implications for the faith community? We are connected with our veterans and their families in so many ways;
- Our veterans live in our communities – they are soccer moms, employees, employers, entrepreneurs, and students. Some are in veteran’s court, others may be in our hospice care or palliative care communities knowing that they are facing their last days. Our veterans are among us and often we do not know that they are veterans.
- Like us, many are broken, lost, empty, sick, and sinners. War changes all who step onto the battlefield. It is not that veterans are worse, but different. How can one return from war feeling anything but changed? The reality is, the battlefield becomes a test of the soul for our warriors as they confront the horrors of war. Some veterans return from war physically wounded. Others experienced the invisible wounds of mind and spirit. Others return having difficulties with the challenges of transitioning to their new civilian life. And others, although not wounded, are changed in ways we cannot understand.
- Just how connected are we? As the veteran experiences the aftermath of war in mind, body and spirit, so does the veteran’s family and the community.
How can we be a transforming community?
Veterans desire community. But not community in the sense that the dictionary defines. A veteran desires a sense of connectedness through radical relationships, similar to what they experienced while serving in the military. As the faith community, we can connect with a veteran through authentic, genuine, caring relationships.
How can we do this? Recently, following a Soul Care Workshop in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Leslie Mills spoke about how the church can be a transforming community:
To be a transforming community we recognize our connectedness through radical relationships. “We come along side of the veteran with the burdens they are carrying in the same way the Holy Spirit comes along side of us”.
This is the reason why the Soul Care is contextual. It is about process, creating spaces for the Holy to move. Soul Care is relational. It is about creating spaces to be connected with our veterans through radical relationships.
Join the Soul Care Initiative on this journey of transforming our communities as we:
- engage conflict by understanding that our veterans experience extreme stress while at war; through awareness of the challenges of transition and reintegration returning home; and by accepting responsibility as a community for nurture and support
- welcome conversation with the veteran by listening with our hearts to their story, remembering that this is their story
- honor relationship with the veteran by meeting them where they are, not where you are; being patient and understanding, listening to their story without judgement
After taking these first three steps we can become a transforming community with our veterans and their families. As David reflects, “It will emerge from within the engaging, welcoming, and honoring spaces.” We then can truly be a community of grace!