After the Yellow Ribbon

How do we promote healing of the hidden wounds of war in our communities and in our lives – what do we do After the Yellow Ribbon?
On November 11 & 12, 2011, the student group Duke Milites Christi, whose primary aim is to develop a pastoral response to the problem of war and peace based on a fundamental conviction that God directs us towards peaceful resolution of conflict, convened a gathering at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina to reflect upon and explore those very questions. The gathering had as one of its goals to stimulate conversation across communities and develop resources that military, academic, and Christian communities could use in order to approach military members and veterans as human beings, and to understand and heal the unseen wounds of war (including PTSD, moral injury, and heartfelt grief) and to consider how we can accept the responsibility of acknowledging and confronting the moral fragmentation that military members suffer as a result of their experiences in war.
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The event drew together practitioners of all disciplines, from music and the arts to theology and mental health, to respond to the challenge presented by the plight of soldiers and veterans in our midst and to invite consideration of how people might work together to improve efforts to prevent future tragedies.
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In preparation for the event Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, Dean Richard Hays, and four other faculty of Duke Divinity School contributed illuminating theological reflections on video that helped to frame the event and introduce initial themes for personal and communal consideration. Once the event kicked off, there were incredibly engaging presentations. Lt. Col. Pete Kilner (ethicist, United States Military Academy at West Point), gave the keynote presentation on The Beauty and Tragedy of a Combat Deployment and a break out session on his rights approach to just war and the obligation of military leaders to instill ethics in their soldiers. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis(retired Army Brigadier General and practicing psychiatrist) and Dr. Warren Kinghorn (Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Pastoral and Moral Theology at Duke Divinity School) were part of one of the plenary panels and discussed The Moral Landscape of War and the need for clergy and families to wrestle alongside their loved ones to reintegrate fully into the community of faith. Finally, Derek Webb (performing artist and activist) gave an interview on Music, Theology, and Conscience as well as a rousing musical performance to wrap up the event on Saturday night.
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All of the interview videos, plenaries, break-out sessions, and other recordings from Milites Christi can be downloaded at no cost on iTunesU: http:// itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/milites-christi/ id477245098 for sharing and consideration in your local setting. The event even made the front page of the local Durham paper and a number of national media outlets wrote about the event’s importance for communities everywhere, which you can read on their site; http://sites.duke.edu/ aftertheyellowribbon/media.
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In one of the event sessions: “Exploring the Moral Landscape: Military, Theological,and Academic Intersections” Dr. Warren Kinghorn challenged those gathered in Goodson Chapel with these comments:“Beyond hiding behind PTSD as a way of describing … veterans’ experiences,universities, churches, religious communities, and families need to listen openly and attentively, without pressing for voyeuristic details, or expecting anything in particular. We need to find ways to help veterans narrate and experience their participation in combat as the properly human and morally laden activity that it is. This sounds easy, but it is not. Listening – really listening – to combat veterans is a hard thing to do. It is costly and many of the things which our culture does ostensibly to support combat vets are, in the end,ways of not listening to them.” The greatest praise that can be offered of the After the Yellow Ribbon event is that it cultivated a place where Kinghorn’s challenge was taken up through truthful narration, listening, reflection, and prayer. After the Yellow Ribbon enacted what it called others to do.
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Hopefully,the seeds sown by presenters, and taken and scattered by participants, will continue to bear fruit in communities which seek to minister to veterans and heal the wounds of war – further forming communities marked by Christ’s love and friendship – ready to listen to and walk with those returned from combat on the long – and often difficult – journey home.
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~Shawn T. Storer and Daniel Baker of the Catholic Peace Fellowship were grateful participants in the After the Yellow Ribbon event. Find out more about CPF at www.catholicpeacefellowship.org