The Houston Church Sanctuary goes dark as a psychiatrist and a US Army major prepare to speak.
A power outage has caused technical difficulties, but the dim setting illuminated only by light shining through the stained glass windows seems appropriate, they say, for their purpose: “talking about soldiers who are in darkness.”
Major Jeff Matsler describes a bestseller at the military supply store just outside the gates of Fort Bragg, a large Army base in North Carolina. It’s a heavy-duty black T-shirt with a single word emblazoned across the chest in white gothic letters: guilty.
The fact that the shirt “is purchased and worn by the soldiers of a volunteer army speaks to the very root of . . . the spiritual state of our modern warrior,” says Matsler. The soldiers who buy it feel “at odds with what is right—including God.”
The shirt, says Matsler, an Army chaplain now completing graduate studies at Yale University, “reflects the thoughts of so many combat veterans: Where was—where is—the God who let me experience war? I am without him. He is not here.”
After Matsler finishes his presentation, psychiatrist Warren Kinghorn describes how he diagnoses veterans who come to Durham VA Medical Center, one of the 1,700 VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) facilities set up for veterans and their families.
Then Matsler poses a startling question. “Warren, if one of your patients—a combat veteran—came into your office this morning and said he was living in the ruins of an abandoned church, and during the night the altar crucifix opened its eyes and spoke to him, commanding him to restore the church, what would you do?”
Combat can cause “a sickness of the soul,” Matsler observes. “One of the most obvious markers of the war-torn soul is suicide.”
The statistics are grim: Veterans commit one-fifth of all suicides in America today, at the rate of about 8,000 suicides every year. In 2012, the United States lost more active-duty soldiers to suicide than to combat in Afghanistan. It was the highest number in a year—349—since the Pentagon began tracking numbers in 2001.
While war is everywhere in human history, a clear sign that we live in a fallen world, only relatively recently have we begun to study the psychological trauma it can cause. Now, thanks to new research on combat trauma, veterans—and the church—are getting a better understanding of war’s assault on the human soul.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Annalaura Montgomery Chuang