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Moral Injury

I just learned that another young veteran has taken his own life.  A recent report indicates that 30% of our post-9/11 troops have contemplated suicide.  The VA informs us that 22 veterans per day decide to end it all.  Something is horribly wrong, and most Americans are not concerned enough to address this epidemic.

Why are the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles of our defenders driving them to stop the pain, once and for all?  Answers I have found include guilt, grief, personal and family issues, substance abuse, and isolation brought on by the belief that no one cares nor understands.

I would suggest an even deeper reason: a dark chasm in the “heart,” the innermost part of our being.  War leaves a blot, a “death imprint,” a mark of evil that is so embedded in our psyche that no light can enter.  Some have called it a “loss of Ich” or loss of Self. This soul wound (or soul obliteration) derives from the programming (brainwashing?) that our warriors receive and then implement on the battlefield.  We are trained to dehumanize the enemy, to regard him as something other than human.  It’s always been this way…in every war from the beginning of time.  Knowing that it is difficult to kill when we see our target as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, our leaders have conditioned us to view the adversary as Japs, Nips, Krauts, Gooks, Ragheads, etc.  The “other”  becomes less that homo sapiens, and we can then destroy him.

This makes it convenient, of course.  But the truth that no one has really faced honestly is this: you cannot dehumanize anyone without dehumanizing yourself.  And so our warriors lose themselves in the wars we send them to fight.  And when they return, we have a hard time understanding why they can’t “just get over it” and go back to normal living.  We need to remember that there needs to be a long process of affirmation, validation, and restoration before our military men and women can find themselves again and rejoin our society. We have a moral…and sacred…obligation to help them.

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Yesteryears’s War Wisdom

As our veterans agonize over the probability of military strikes against Syria, I’m sharing some words from heroes of the past.  These were giants who once stood among us, with piercing knowledge of warfare and wisdom to face evil with resolve, tempered with equanimity.  They admonish us to tread forward with restraint at a time like this.

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.  The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

Sir Winston Churchill, British statesman who guided Great Britain through World War II

There’s no difference between one’s killing and making decisions that will send others to kill.  It’s exactly the same thing, or even worse.”

Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel who led her nation through wars and terrorist attacks.

And this dialogue between two of our Founding Fathers, who argued that only Congress should have the power to send  troops into combat.  In a 1789 letter, Thomas Jefferson expressed hope to James Madison that the Constitution would restrain “the dog of war, by transferring the power of letting him loose from the executive to the legislative body.”  Madison, in turn, made clear his belief that the Congress could end wars as well as start them.  He even suggested that the Commander in Chief couldn’t be trusted with that responsibility.  “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued,or concluded,” he wrote in The Federalist Papers.”

Perhaps we need to listen to our pathfinders.

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Drums of War…Again

Dear Veteran,  Many of you are as troubled as I am over the call to arms we’re now hearing from our leaders.  We are planning to attack Syria, in spite of the fact that the Russians tell us they’ll defend their ally.

I’ve heard this bugle many times, and sometimes for good reasons.  But too often we’ve sent our military into places where our national security was not at stake and where the fate of the nation or tribes (as in Afghanistan) or factions (as in Syria) should have been left in the hands of the indigenous people.

One of the quotes I’ve used many times is that of General David Shoup, Twenty-Second Commandant of the Marine Corps.  He won the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa in the South Pacific, and he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War twenty years later.  In 1966, he wrote:

“I believe that if we had kept and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own, and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the ‘haves’ refuse to share with the ‘have-nots’ by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want crammed down their throats by Americans.”

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Prayer for Holy Rest

I first heard this from a Navy chaplain.  No one seems to know its origin.

“O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world lies hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then in Thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

Good night, dear friends.

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“Platoon”

I don’t see many movies about war; too many triggers.  But once in a while, Hollywood comes close to being accurate when it portrays combat and its aftermath.  Here are the closing words of the Charlie Sheen character in “Platoon” as he is being flown away from the carnage:

“Those of us who did make it have an obligation to teach others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life.  The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, for the rest of my days.”

I’d say this is a good message for all veterans, and I share it especially for our new generation and their loved ones.  You made it.  By the grace of God, you still have your life.  The war will always be with you, and you need to weave it into your life story.  Don’t try to isolate it or numb it with alcohol.  Find a good counselor (free counseling available at www.giveanhour.org), and get the help you need to make the memories tolerable.  Then you’ll be able to join us in teaching a nation that still doesn’t understand the long-term effects of warfare.

Also, I pray that after you are on the road to recovery, you’ll find that there’s still a lot of goodness in this world (and inside yourself).  Please try to notice children playing and people smiling at you on the sidewalks and in the mall.  Maybe you should get a dog or a cat…or a horse (my Vietnam buddy says his horse is the only one who understands him!)

I also want you to find a meaning to it all.  One of the most common expressions in Nam was, “Don’t mean nothin'”  It was spoken almost as a curse and a cry after some horrific event.  We didn’t have the luxury of anything emotional, so this was our way of denying the truth that everything over there did indeed matter.  Sooner or later, most of us found some purpose in the war, as it taught us hard lessons that we couldn’t have learned any other way.  So I hope you OEF and OIF veterans find that your tour (or tours) of duty made a difference, no matter how the conflicts turn out.

Finally, I hope you’ll find a meaning in your life now.  You were spared for a reason, and your life can now be devoted to living, not killing.  Please find something beyond yourself to live for and to give yourself to.  A mission, a loved one, a church, a youth center, a disabled veteran…someone who needs you in their lives.  Just as you’ll come to need them to write your own happy ending to this story.

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Morning Meditation

Good day yesterday.  Oldest daughter’s birthday, middle daughter’s baby shower, and Mom’s return to her apartment after two months of rehab.  Also, sharing the quiet of a late summer afternoon with Martha. The old Sunday School song I learned was “Count Your Blessings.”  I need to do that more and more.

The privilege of going to church this morning, another of the gifts our military gave us by winning and preserving our freedoms.  Looking forward to seeing our “family” as we gather for worship.  I’m getting to know some other veterans in the congregation, and we’re talking about starting a new support group.  The need is so great; too many of them have suffered in silence for years, even decades.  I believe one of the reasons is the fear that no one will care about nor understand their stories (and their deepest terrors). We’re trying to convince them that we know a lot about what they’ve experienced.  The realities of war haven’t changed much since Cain killed Abel.

I scan all my news sources, and I find myself worrying about (and praying for) our nation and the others nations of the world.  Perhaps it’s just media “hype,” but in my many years of living I’ve never seen such rancor, conflict, turmoil, and despair.  Oh yes, there are scattered enclaves of harmony, but the overriding theme seems to be hatred between nations, races, religions, political parties, and other categories that we let divide us.

How we need to find common ground, but more than that, a change in our minds and hearts that will lead us to love and respect those who are different!  To be honest, I haven’t found much hope for this anywhere except in the Christian faith (when it follows the ways of Jesus and not the path of judgmental arrogance and condescension.

These are my ramblings.  There will be more.

 

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Stop, Look, and Listen

Henry James was a literary giant of a hundred years ago.  He once told young writers, “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.”  In other words, pay attention to life as it carries you along.  One author whom Martha and I heard on an Alaskan cruise calls himself a Noticer.  Andy Andrews even wrote a book by that title. He also is urging us not  pass by without  seeing what’s happening around us.  If we’re in a hurry, we’ll miss the things that life is all about.  Another of my mentors, Frederick Beuchner, starts a daily devotional book with this message, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is…Touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it…for all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

So I’ve tried to follow these signposts by gazing through my office window and seeing the lush summer leaves waving againt the steel sky.  And I’ve witnessed the muffled sorrow on a friend’s face as he told me that his wife’s cancer had returned.  I’ve paused to study the magnificent wood of our furniture.  Oak and cherry, grown and nurtured in God’s great forests…and then lovingly shaped by Amish skill and sweat.  And, oh yes, I relished the boyish charm of my 87 year old World War II buddy as he described a fishing trip that he and other vets had enjoyed the day before.  “We all caught our limit by 11:00!” he almost shouted in the hushed sanctity of our Baptist church.

And finally, as I was driving down the freeway in rush-hour traffic, I actually found myself admiring the flow and  rhythm and, yes, the beauty of the cars and trucks sharing the highway with me.  I’ve heard others narrate this stunning epiphany (that is barely believable), but it actually happened to me on that hazy late summer morning.

Let’s remember to thank God for what we so often take for granted or sleepwalk past.

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“Veterans Chapel”

That’s the name that’s been in my dreams for years.  And now it’s a reality.  Why this nomenclature?  Because the blog, grafted to Point Man Ministries, is intended primarily for those who’ve served in our military and are dealing with issues related to that service.  We also invite spouses, parents, children, and other family members to come to the chapel.  My intention is to post with this audience in mind as well.  Further, I believe that Post-Traumatic Stress affects human beings who’ve been involved in any traumatic event.  I’m hearing from victims of accident and crime, from rape survivors and those who’ve been abused in other ways, and from men, women, and children who’ve been battered by natural disasters and by personal calamities like a divorce or the death of a loved one. I invite all  these “tempest-tossed” souls to know they’re included here.

 

“We’re all broken,” our pastor said last Sunday.  How true.  We all are in need of healing and recovery, and I want these pages to offer hope and a pathway toward restoration.  Here is where the “chapel” part comes in.  I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve tried many gimmicks and roads to find answers to the innermost questions of the soul.  My own journey took me through Vietnam, a month-long hospitalization when my body shut down with a neuromuscular disease, and a torturous divorce.  And to cope with these agonies, I cried for help in directions that turned out to be futile.  Then I returned to the religion of my childhood, a mature version of the Christian faith  that offers forgiveness, cleansing, peace with my Creator, a feeling of “at-home-ness” in this beautiful world and also in the World to Come, and a welcoming and affirming community called The Church that kept me safe and secure while I was stumbling through the first steps of recovery.  The Chapel became a haven, a hiding place, a sanctuary of love, and a “family” in all the best senses of that reassuring word. And that is what I want this blog to be.

So, my friends, welcome to Veterans Chapel.  I’m glad you’ve come to spend some time, maybe even a lifetime.

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Homecoming

Dear returning veteran, Welcome home.  Thank you for your service.  Many of us who’ve served in the past are eager for you to meet with us and tell us your stories, when you are ready.  We share many of the experiences that you’ve survived, and we’ve learned ways to handle the memories…and the nightmares. We want you to trust us, but we’re aware it will take some time.  It took me twenty-five years to realize that I needed some support from other vets; I don’t want you to wait that long. Some of us have gained wisdom over the years, and I want you to know a couple of things (that we’ve learned the hard way):

Your nation has a short attention span; many of your countrymen are tired of the war and don’t want to talk about it. Thank God they don’t blame you for the unpopular wars in Southwest Asia, as they blamed some of us for the nasty war on the other side of that continent.  Your family, neighbors, and friends will welcome you home with banners and flags waving; please be grateful for this.  But most people will not want to hear your stories, because either they’re afraid of what you might say, or they know they won’t really understand.  Civilian life and military life, especially combat, are worlds apart.  Always have been: always will be.

Some folks will try to put you in one of two categories.  They’ll call you either a hero or a victim.  Don’t buy into this phoniness.  If you are indeed a hero, the medals on your chest will speak for themselves.  You did the job your country sent you to do, so be content in knowing that.  When you try to wear the label of “hero,” you’re cheapening it…and stealing valor that doesn’t belong to you.  On the other hand, there are many who (because of their hatred of the current wars) will treat you as pitiful victims of either Bush or Obama…or someone else who sent you into battle against your will.  This is also hogwash.  You’re not a victim unless you choose to be.  You volunteered to serve your nation, and you can hold your head high.  If you need help with some physical or mental wound, get it.  And then move on with your life.  Your  community and nation need the experience, skill, and character strength you’ve developed while wearing the uniform.

I’ll have more advice along the path we’ll walk together.  Again, welcome home, brave warrior.

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Writing

This will also become a familiar stream, for it’s where I am (and where I’ve wanted to be for a long, long time).  Some of the best words I’ve ever read on this craft are attributed to Ernest Hemingway, Red Smith, and a few others:

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.”

I take that to mean that good writing is more than “speaking my mind.”  It has to come from the heart, from the innermost part of who I am (or think I am), from the deepest reaches of my soul, my Unconscious, my Self.  It also means I’m willing to pour out my life into the veins (and arteries) of the reader, taking the risk that the “thoughts of my heart” might be misunderstood, mishandled, and used for misguided purposes.  It means that the transfusion might not “take” at all.

But as courageous journalists, novelists, columnists, and others know, it’s worth it.

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Homecoming

I’ll come back to this theme many times; it’s a dream of all who’ve been away at war…and those who’ve been in some other “far country,” fighting the demons and dragons that dwell within.  That includes us all, of course.

A message I sometimes share with veterans who are returning, often very slowly, to a “normal” life is in the form of a question from Phillips Brooks, a Nineteenth Century Episcopal minister and writer.  (He wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”)

“Why can’t we, slipping our hands into His each day, walk trustingly over that day’s appointed path, thorny or flowery, crooked or straight, knowing that evening will bring us to sleep, peace, and home?”

There are no sweeter words than those three to one who’s been gone.  The promise is that we have a Companion to help us get to our place of belonging, no matter where we’ve wandered or what our struggle has been.

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Moral Injury

For the past four years, mental health professionals within the Department of Veterans Affairs have been addressing a concern that was beyond their scope for decades, even centuries.  They’ve begun talking about “wounds of the soul,” in addition to their interest in the centuries-old effects of war on the body and the mind (and also the culture).  The technical name they have attached to this malady is “moral injury,” which stems from traumatic events that involve “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  These events may involve killing or harming others (especially innocent civilians), witnessing death, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders perceived as gross moral violations.  Anyone who’s been in hard combat knows that, in the fog of war, terrible things happen and that the warrior doesn’t have the luxury (not to mention the time!) to make thoughtful and careful decisions. 

Many of our younger vets, when they finally feel safe enough to trust us and talk to us, are describing their tortured consciences and their anxiety that what they’ve done is unforgivable.  “How does God feel about what I did or what I failed to do?” is a question we often hear.  This cry for help is usually accompanied by deep guilt, isolation, shame, low self-image, self-condemnation, an overwhelming sense of loss, and nihilism (in which nothing matters any more. In Vietnam, one of the most common phrases was, “Don’t mean nuthin'”.)

For decades, Point Man has been seeing these “spiritual” symptoms and hearing the plea for relief.  We believe that the answer is found in several steps: (1) validating the veteran’s experience, assuring him or her that these thoughts and feelings are normal, (2) allowing them to tell the story, to “confess” whatever is troubling them, (3) to point them to the One who can forgive them, and to create rituals of absolution that will confirm the truth of this forgiveness (i.e. Communion and Baptism, etc.) (4) making amends to those they’ve hurt, if possible, or find others to help (survivor mission).

I’ll be writing a lot more on this topic, since it weaves together the three themes of my life over the past half-century: the Christian message of redemption, the insights of modern psychology, and the grusome reality of warfare.  Stay tuned, dear readers.

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Deep

Martha heard someone describe me as “deep” a while ago.  And of course I took it as a compliment, although I’m not exactly sure what  my admirer meant. (I think it was right after she’d seen a Carl Jung book on my shelf.)   But it set me to pondering.  If being deep means that I want to look beneath the surface to see what’s really happening inside human minds, even to the ocean bed of the Unconscious, then I accept that adjective.  If she meant that I like to read books that draw me into the matrix of thought, dream, vision, and myth, then I agree with her.  If she meant that, because I’ve seen life at its best and worst…and have been in a few near-death moments, and now have little tolerance for the trivial and superficial, then she’s right on target.  If “deep” means appreciating the Wind of the Spirit and the ways in which God enters our lives through the beauty of Creation, the gift of conscience, the blessing of family and friends, and the ability to say, “Thank you” when I see a golden sunrise over the blue waters of the Gulf, then  I am indeed a deep man.  But not because of any effort of my own, for even the desire to go beyond and beneath the drudgery and the monotony of everyday living is a Heaven-sent gift to be treasured.

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Night

The darkness was one of our worst enemies over there.  The VC knew where everything was; they could travel fast in their own territory…just by smell and touch and sound. In many ways, they owned the hours between dusk and dawn.  We would send out “night acts” to ambush them on their trails, but we failed more than we succeeded.  The blackness was one of the deepest I have ever seen, like being in a cavern…far underground.  No one dared to shine even the smallest light; a mere flicker from our position would become a target for their deadly mortars. 

And so we waited for morning to come.  Or sometimes we didn’t, and the results were horrendous.  I was once ordered to move my company of Marines in the middle of the night.  Think of it: two hundred men with heavy packs and equipment trying to walk quietly through the dense jungle.  Charlie of course heard us coming, and we lost three good men.

One Leatherneck at Khe Sanh wrote this on a C-ration carton:

“Stay with me, God.  The night is dark. The night is cold: my little spark of courage dies.  The night is long; be with me, God, and make me strong.”

Probably a good prayer for most of us.  Because we all have fears of what we cannot see…from our earliest years.  Only God can give us enough light to comfort us and keep us strong until the Morning Star signals the dawning of a new day.

 

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Writer’s Block

Please don’t tell me you don’t know anything about this.  Anyone who’s tried to transfer thoughts to keyboard (or good old paper) knows what I’m talking about.  It happens to the best…and to the “far from the best.”  When I sit staring at a blank page, feeling I have nothing to say (or anything that any sane human would want to read), I recall the words of Ernest Hemingway.  He and I share the same date of birth, and he celebrated (as only he could!) my arrival on his 47th birthday.  Here is what he wrote in A Moveable Feast:

“But sometimes when I was started on a new story and I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence you know.’  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.  It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

The truest sentence I can write this morning is, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

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“Skipper”

Some are wondering who this person is who’s doing all the posting.  Skipper is the nickname given to me way back in 1970, when I became the commander of India Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines.  It is of course  a Navy term, meaning “Captain,” and since the Marines are in the Department of the Navy, the moniker was borrowed by our branch as well. 

I’ve always liked to be called “Skipper.”  And I’m pleased that several of my Marines still call me by that name when we gather for our reunions every couple of years.  It’s a term of endearment, but also one that implies respect for the rank and the position of leadership.  When I hear it, or even think of it, I thank God that I had the privilege of leading over 200 of America’s finest on a mission to secure the freedom of a faraway nation. 

How the war turned out…and how we’ve dealt with that “defeat” are topics that I’ll cover in the days and weeks ahead.  I’ll do so, because many troops returning from recent wars will have to find similar answers to the question we faced, “Was it worth it?”

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Perfectionist

A friend brought up this topic on Facebook this morning.  And, yes, I am one.  Case in point: I spent part of last night scolding and berating myself for double posting on this blog.  “How stupid of you, Clarkie!”  “You’re an educated man.  Why the #%@* can’t you figure out how to operate a simple site?”  And so on…ad nauseum.

As I was once ranting about my faults and foibles, a colleague asked, “Is that the way you’d talk to a good friend, someone you cared deeply about?”  Of course I said, “No way!”  And then she responded with that look counselors must study to perfect somewhere in their training, “You just did that to yourself. Why not treat yourself with the same patience, compassion, and overlooking-of-mistakes that you offer to others?”  And I was silenced, which is usually what happens at the end of a lesson-learning session.

So, why don’t we all follow this advice today?

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Soul Survival

It took me twenty-five years to get the help I needed after Vietnam.  I really never understood why I waited so long, but I’ve vowed to share my story of fear, mistrust, and bravado with this new generation of veterans…and also with those who’ve never really come “home” from World War II, Korea, Nam, Desert Storm, and many other man-made hells.  Our prayer in Point Man is that God will give us opportunities to intervene, so that our nation’s defenders will turn from death to life, from destroying to building, and from killing to loving…themselves, others, and God. 

Of course we know this will take time and patience, but we are flesh-and-blood evidence that it’s possible.   Sometimes  the transition begins imperceptibly, when the soldier realizes that others care enough to listen.  Often the change that God works is like the one described in the American classic The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. Here is the way The Youth moves from darkness to light:

“He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle.  The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war.  He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks- an existence of soft and eternal peace.”

It’s time to let the gentle breeze of God blow in your face, brave warrior.

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My Last Fifteen Years

And now in age I bud again.

After so many deaths I live and write.

I once more smell the dew and rain

And relish versing: O my only Light!

It cannot be

That  I am he

On whom Thy tempests fell all night.

George Herbert (1593-1633) British priest and poet

 

 

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My Last Fifteen Years

And now in age I bud again,

After so many deaths I live and write.

I once more smell the dew and rain

And relish versing. O my only Light

It cannot be

That I am he

On whom Thy tempests fell all night.

George Herbert (1593-1633) British priest and poet

 

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Sounds Around the World

I remember talking to an old missionary many years ago.  He was a man who had traveled to over a hundred countries, sharing the Good News as he went along.  I was fascinated by his description of the various and disparate parts of the earth he’d had the privilege of visiting.  One particular thing he said has stayed with me ever since.  His words were, “All around the globe there are three sounds that are always the same: a rooster crowing, a dog barking, and a baby crying.”  I’ve thought about that many times, as I ponder the mystery of what we call life.  All those sounds are means of self-expression, which I consider to be the  need of all living things.  The old rooster says, “It’s morning!  A new day is beginning!  So get up and start making the most of it!”  The dog must say, “This is what I do to let people and other animals  know that I mean business.” And the dear little infant is proclaiming, “I have arrived, world!  You need to notice me, make room for me, and pay attention to the sound I’m making.  I may grow up to be somebody important, but even if I never see my name on an office door or in the headlines, God placed me here to make make a difference.  So I’m starting right now!”

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Signs of Recovery

Someone asked me recently, “What do you look for as a sign that the veteran is making progress?”  Some answers I’ve found include: (1) When he or she begins to laugh again.  War shuts down emotions in so many ways, and it often takes a long time for any feeling to return.  If the vet can start to smile…and then laugh, it’s a marker on the path to healing.  (2) When the man or woman feels the need to create something…to write, to draw, to paint, to build, to express themselves in positive and constructive ways. (3) When they are able to begin integrating their war experience into the narrative of their lives.  Often the time served in a combat zone is a piece of horrible memory that doesn’t “fit in.”  When it can be woven into the fabric of a veteran’s life, it is “owned” and no longer denied or repressed. ((4) When he or she can begin to trust again and show affection for someone else, perhaps another group member. (5) When the warrior begins to have enough energy to work, even if it’s gardening or light woodworking.  Often, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder saps all the strength and the will out of a person, so when…through therapy, medication, and a support group (plus a good regimen of diet, exercise, and sleep), the veteran gets strong enough to get busy, it’s a promising sign. (5) When the pers0n begins to develop a mission, a life calling, a new direction and a new purpose.  This gives a young man or woman the “will to meaning” that Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote so much about when he founded the school of logotherapy after World War II.

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Homecoming

I’ve been working with veterans for twenty years or so, the last eleven as an outpost leader with Point Man Ministries.  Along the way, my group and I have learned to see and to hear the red flag indicators as we listen to the stories from our returning troops.  Some of the classic cries for help come in the form of agitation, anger, numbing (often with the help of drugs and alcohol), insomnia, depression, isolation, flashbacks and nightmares, startle responses when “triggered” by a combat-related sight, sound, or smell, and a host of other symptoms.  In other words, we know from our own experience and from these stories that war (and especially combat) leaves a lasting mark on the mind, the emotions, and the  soul.  A starting point in meeting these needs is to offer a safe place where the vets can learn to trust again.  Then we encourage them to tell us what happened to them and what they felt when it occurred.  There can be no pressure on the soldier to get him or her to open up.  They’ll talk when they’re ready.  When the words start coming, we offer careful listening and compassion, and then encouragement as they walk the journey toward healing.  One of our messages to these men and women is to refrain from mind-altering substances, which many of us have used in the past to numb the pain and to forget the horror.  We gently share with the veterans our own stories of the wrong ways we have taken, with the hope that God will use our testimonies to let our younger warriors know that we understand.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.  But we’ll keep trying, because for many of us, this is our “survivor mission” and our answer to the common question, “Why was I spared when my buddies were not?”

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Lessons from the Zoo

We spent a great day at our Columbus Zoo, one of the best I’ve ever seen.  I was reminded of something I first thought of many years ago; that the animals there seem to be enjoying just being themselves.  A bear doesn’t try to be a lion, a manatee is content to be a manatee, and a bonobo has fun doing what comes naturally.  I observed this again today, and my mind then did what it often does in these situations.  I wondered why, among all the creatures on earth, human beings don’t seem to enjoy being and doing what the Creator put us here to be and do.  I’ve been to social gatherings where it seems that many folks are trying to be something…or someone…they’re not.  They want the rest of the crowd to think they’re more than they really are, that they earn and have more than they really do,  and that they have only success in what they try to accomplish.  In other words, we humans play a lot of games with one another, and we are miserable when we consider what we really are.  Maybe we need to apply the words of St. Paul to our lives, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. ” (Philippians 4: 11)  The Apostle could say that because he found his identity and sense of self worth in his faith in Christ, so he found contentment and inner peace that didn’t depend at all on the values and opinions of others, who chose the rat race that leads to nothing but despair.  Gentle beasts, our brothers and sisters in the zoo and in the wild, please teach us to be more like you.  If we do so, God is sure to smile and say, “Ah, at last they understand!”

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Gratitude. August 9, 2013

I’m thanking God this evening for my wife, Martha, who is walking with me on my journey of recovery from PTSD.  She is patient beyond what I deserve and eager to learn as much as she can about my war experience…and how it has  shaped my life for the last four decades.  My heart goes out to veterans of any war who feel isolated from the ones they love most.  My prayer is that those who fought for our freedoms will find the listening ear, the caring heart, and the assuring hug that they deserve.  For many of us, this is a moral imperative.

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Welcome to Vet Chapel. August 9, 2013

I’m pleased to welcome you to Vet Chapel, the blog of Pastor Russ Clark.  I’m a Marine Vietnam veteran, a retired United Methodist minister, and a volunteer chaplain and counselor with Point Man International Ministries (www.pmim.org). I intend for this site to be my opportunity to share what God has allowed me to learn over the 67 years of my life.  The themes will be Christian spirituality, war and its impact on all of us, and the ways in which the science of psychology can be used to understand the human mind and spirit .  My graduate degrees in Biblical theology and mental health counseling have equipped me to blend the great historical truths about human nature that God has permitted mankind to learn.  To Him be the glory!