“Trauma Healing: Preparing Churches to Receive Returning Military Personnel” was the focus of the JustPeace Gathering I attended on April 1-2 in Nashville, TN. JustPeace is the Mediation and Conflict Transformation movement within the United Methodist Church. While JustPeace members seek to prevent the tragic failure of human reason, imagination, and compassion that is war, they also recognize that we must work to heal the terrible wounds of war – for combatants as well as civilians — if we are to move toward a more lasting just peace. Assisted by military chaplains, veterans, therapists and theologians, we struggled with the challenges of this task.
There are many components of this trauma – neurological, psychological, economic, and spiritual. Spiritual trauma involves the shattering of our systems of meaning. Central to our sense of meaning in the world is the ethical framework we use to guide our actions. Shattering our sense of ethics provokes a profound destruction of the goals, relationships, and boundaries that orient and guide our lives. Warfare in its essence already breaches a fundamental principle of normal human life – You shall not kill.” In justifying this action we construct ethical rules for initiating war and conducting it. The academics call it “jus ad bellum” and “jus in bello.” The “jus in bello” is sometimes called “the warrior’s code.” It is what distinguishes warriors from murderers and thieves. It seems to me that the enormous fallout of trauma among combatants reported to us arises in considerable part because the ethical framework for conducting war has been torn apart by the technology and conditions of contemporary warfare.
Those who actually fight have always known, with General Sherman, that “war is hell.” But whenever the technology of destruction outpaces the assumptions of our ethics of war, the carnage of combat becomes a hell of the soul as well. In our own time explosive power and computerized guidance systems, apart from nuclear devices, have vastly increased the destructiveness of “ordinary” war. In addition, contemporary warfare has broken down the distinction between combatants and civilians that is enshrined in our ethical codes. The formerly justifiable destruction of persons and property in time of war is reduced to near random acts of murder and mayhem. While the justifiable intent to kill hovers in the air, grievously unintentional killing of mothers, children, and the elderly occurs within the soldier’s eye. The report “I thought she had a suicide vest on under her burka. She wouldn’t stop when I shouted and fired in the air. I blasted her to bits. There was no bomb inside the burka…” continues to haunt me as it does, more terribly, that soldier. His warrior code to protect civilians has rebounded as an accusation of murder. His – and our – identity as moral beings is shattered. The moral compass of his life becomes an endless labyrinth of accusations.
According to psychotherapist Edward Tick approximately twice as many American veterans of the Vietnam War have committed suicide as those who died in combat (War and the Soul (2005), p. 165).
How do we receive those traumatized by these experiences? This is not only a question about military personnel. The tragic violence spills over into all our lives. In the past few weeks over 40 people have died in senseless mass shootings in this country. Their killers are deranged, we say. But why? And why are guns, indeed military weapons, flooding our country? Why do we seem to be addicted to violence? Are we all at war, living in the moral vacuum veterans have known and suffered silently? We face a failure of our ethical frame not only in some foreign land, but in every community in our country.
The boundary between warfare and policing is breaking down, and we need to look much more closely at how we can move from warfare among nations to policing among citizens of this precious globe. As we seek to move down that road, we need to heal the traumas that are seedbeds of the violence we suffer today.
Healing our traumas is not easy. There are and will be tragic failures as we lose yet another soldier, another family down the street. For those of us in movements like JustPeace, we need not only to keep promoting and cultivating non-violent relationships of mutuality in conflict transformation, but also to commit ourselves to the healing of the minds and hearts of people frozen in the tragic consequence of war. We are in them. They are in us. We walk this road together.
A Covenantal Imagination: Selected Essays
This collection of my essays from 1971 to 2003 traces the main contours of the development of my thought. At the core of this development has been the rich concept of covenant, with its many expressions in theories of federalism, the dynamics of reconciliation, and ways of knitting together our “oikos” of work, family, faith, and the land.
The essays begin with my struggle to re-imagine images of church and society as “bodies” through the lens of emerging cybernetic theories. They then turn to relations of ecclesiology to social organization and my early engagement with the thought of Hannah Arendt. Ecological themes begin to emerge with an essay on covenantal approaches to land ethics. The covenantal perspective gains further expression in articles about marriage and family in relation to work and the land. Covenantal perspectives on constitutionalism and the dynamics of reconciliation then emerged in the democratic transitions of the early 1990s. The dynamics of reconciliation and their contexts in wider cultural memory take us into the final essays.
For comments on A Covenantal Imagination, CLICK HERE.
Making My Way in Ethics, Worship, and Wood
In this book I lay out the main way of thinking that has emerged out of my personal experience and cultural environment over the course of my life. I call it an “expository memoir” because it focuses on a succinct description of my patterns of thinking as they have developed over time. Through it I have tried to become more self-conscious about the way my origins in Washington and at my family’s farm in Virginia, my education, my experiences in marriage and family, and my teaching and research here and abroad have shaped my concerns and thought.
Woven all through this long development were concepts of covenant and federalism, public and reconciliation, and the ensemble of the “oikos” connections of work, family, faith, and land. Themes of ecology steadily shaped my thought in the last thirty years, while a turn to working with wood and constructing worship furniture spoke to the connection of worship and ethics that has flowed through my work.
I hope this memoir not only offers a kind of summary overview of my thought but stimulates readers to reflect on their lives and they ways they have thought about the world around them. I am pleased that the publishers chose to use Sylvia’s stunning tapestry “Terrifying Joy” for the cover. It offers an opening into the light so brilliant we cannot see what it holds. Our journeys always contain elements of both feelings, even as our sometimes frantic hopes urge us on our way. You can find Making My Way in print and digital formats at Wipf and Stock publishers, Amazon, and through your local independent bookstore.
For comments about Making My Way, CLICK HERE.
Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925
Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925: Photographs, Correspondence, and Reflections is available in a Kindle e-book format. Based on my maternal grandparents' involvement with re-opening the ancient copper mine at Skouriotissa, Cyprus, it contains 116 startlingly clear photos of mine life in those years as well as copious quotes from their correspondence.
This memoir not only introduces readers to the people but also to the geography, machinery, and events shaping the early days of re-opening the world’s oldest copper mine. It also reflects on what it is to recover pieces of our past, rub off some of the tarnish of forgetfulness, and try to reconstruct a history that binds us to people and places far from our usual paths.
The book is also an invitation to others, not only to recover forgotten or repressed parts of their memory, but also as a reconstruction of their identity. I am keenly aware, all through writing the book, of how Cyprus’s division between Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking populations has made it very difficult for Cypriots to claim their joint history, appreciate the ecological unity of the island, and find a way toward a workable federalism grounded in a new social covenant among diverse peoples.
To purchase a copy, just CLICK HERE.
For readers' comments about the book, CLICK HERE.
For previous blog posts leading to the book, CLICK HERE.
William J. Everett
In my teaching career I authored eight books and numerous articles in social ethics and religion. After over thirty years of academic work — in Germany, India, and South Africa as well as in the United States — I wanted to turn my hand to writing that was more poetic and expressive. I also wanted a more viable balance between my work with words and my work with wood, especially furniture for worship settings. For more about my woodworking, go to www.WisdomsTable.net, where you will also find galleries of artwork by my wife Sylvia, whose ancestors were the original inspiration for Red Clay, Blood River. READ MORE...
SAWDUST AND SOUL: A Conversation on Woodworking and Spirituality
Sawdust and Soul arose from many conversations and joint woodworking projects I have had over the years with John de Gruchy—friend, theologian, and woodworker who lives in South Africa’s Western Cape but who has also spent extensive time in the US. We’ve talked a lot about our wood projects and how this traditional practice of turning trees into useful and artistic pieces shapes as well as expresses our deepest values and approaches to life as well as its transcendent source. These are conversations about woodworking and spirituality. We’ve included a bunch of pictures of our work as well as some line drawings and poetry by John’s wife Isobel. And yes, our children get in some words along with the woodworkers who have been part of our community of inspiration and support. Our topics range from the shaping of a sense of balance in our lives to dealing with loss, memory, and our wonder as creatures in the midst of an amazing abundance of life and artful design. Whether you’re a tree-hugger, an all-thumbs reader, or an honest-to-goodness woodworker, we invite you into the conversation. CLICK HERE FOR A VIDEO CLIP!
SAWDUST AND SOUL is now available at your local bookstore as well as
Wipf and Stock Publishers
Barnes and Noble
Amazon (also on Kindle)
and other book sellers.
For an EXCERPT from the book, by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers, CLICK HERE.
TURNINGS: Poems of Transformation
Like works in wood upon a lathe, these poems are word-turnings that reveal the inner grain of our human experience. They are bowls to catch our turnings of memory, conversion, falling in love, and passing through our seasons and the wrenching turns that mark our lives. Above all these turnings are a shout of praise, a murmur of wonder, a turning away from life as usual, a merciful re-turning to the songs, images and stories that move our lives.
You can get TURNINGS at:
For More on TURNINGS:
Red Clay Blood River
Red Clay, Blood River is a story told by Earth about two brothers from Germany and an enslaved South African woman whose lives bind together America’s “Trail of Tears” and South Africa’s simultaneous “Great Trek” of 1838.
OTHER WRITINGS – FREE
I am editing and recasting some of my previous writings into digital format to make them available free to interested persons and study groups. To see a list of these books and articles as well as to save them to your own computer, CLICK HERE.
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