This is a beginning in a sermon series in helping to create environments where our souls are cared for and protected. We think about our bodies, and we worry about them being injured. We take precautions to make sure that our body is cancer free or that our bones heal from breaks and such. We try to reduce stress and avoid trauma so that our minds are at peace. But what do we do for our souls?
The questions that Julie read about is one exercise in soul care. Going through the queries used to be the Quaker way to soul care, meant to be conversation starters with our souls and listening to God’s answers. It is more than food for thought. It is communion, taking in the bread and the wine of Christ when we take time and commune with God. So I have printed out the 100 questions for you that Julie’s reading alluded to, and I hope you use them for your spiritual reflection time this week.
Our souls need our care. We need to think about how to keep it fed and protected. Micki read about the different parts of the armor of God outlined in Ephesians. Imagine how cumbersome these parts are: a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes for the readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. We want to be unencumbered with these things – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God – we want to be free to do as we please how we please without any consideration to how it affects us or others. But we are advised to care for our souls. We want for our yokes to be light as promised. And given what all we are told to carry from shields to helmets to breast plates, these things are not light but in real life were very heavy.
The armor that we know the most about are related to knights of the 15th and 16th centuries. What we know about these armors is that given how small people were at that time, their armor weighed roughly as much as they did. Walking, let alone running, were out of the question most of the time. What knights calculated the weight of their armor on was not what they could carry but what the horse that took them into battle was equipped to handle. They literally put on as much armor as their horse could carry.
For those of us who are pacifists, we steer clear of war analogies for the most part. But when we do this too much, we don’t realize that we are ignoring that we are definitely in a fight for good in this world. We are in a fight for love, integrity, honesty, responsibility, self-control, kindness, grace – the list goes on. If there is a fruit of the spirit, we are to protect that fruit as if it is the King’s harvest set on the table before God to eat. If we believe in love, we are to protect the values of love outlined in 1 Corinthians 13: not irritable, not rude, not resentful, but forgiving, and merciful, and enduring.
We have set up a society that has been characterized by those who are churched and unchurched. We did this because we came here for freedom to do this in America, as Puritans from England and the Netherlands, as missionaries from Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, as Quakers with great experiments and dreams of a city on a hill.
But in many cases the churches that were supposed to be places to protect souls became the steeple houses that provided sanctuary for those who injured others’ souls and their own. Religion is supposed to be about helping the souls of people to prosper and to provide places of safety.
Religion also attracts the insecure, but long-term security is not found in religion, but in faith and in goodness, in respect and refraining from brash actions. We can set up structures for people to help them learn to make good moral decisions, but we if we allow the soul to be dictated by someone else, we lose our direct relationship with God, the provider of our soul care. We should not take that responsibility away from the person and hand it over to a minister or a church. Any good minister is not going to set up dependence spiritually of their 19 congregants on them for all of the moral leadership. I can’t go home with you. I should not make your decisions for you. You are on your own path, but your actions do affect me and other people. The Bible asks us to walk our own journey and be supportive and encouraging of one another, but we are not responsible for each other’s decisions. We are responsible for our own and all of the effects of our own choices.
Jesus and John the Baptist used totally different ways of dealing with soul care. What is right for me may not be right for you. What injures your soul may not injure my soul. Your relationship with God is supported by this community, but it is reliant on you. You are responsible for making choices that help your soul to grow in positive and good ways. And what and how your decisions should take into account if the choice feeds your soul and does it hurt or feed anyone else? Making those choices based on what is good for your soul will feed not just your soul, but the rest of your life.
In his book entitled Moral Injury: Restoring Injured Souls recently released and written by Larry Graham, Graham says “When we as Christians commit to the moral obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves, we commit to standards of actions that aim to result in morally positive outcomes such as healing, beauty and justice… In these circumstances we begin to see the meaning of the aphorism, “It is more blessed to give than to receive…Such giving and receiving spin a rich and enduring web of life that holds and nurtures us and all other living things.”
On the other hand, we have moral injury. Moral injury is the effects of having to do things that your conscience knows is wrong. If we set up societies where people’s souls are not considered, where all people’s welfare are not considered equally, then we set about not just 22 doing moral injury to others, but also losing the whole idea behind have a breastplate of faith.
The last thing we want to do is inflict moral injury. The biggest deterrent to Christianity has been the moral injury set out by those who are associated with the Christian church, the problems inflicted to the souls of those it has encountered within and outside of its walls; the snake oil salesmen and the living water salesmen, the adulterers, drunks, and pedophiles of the church, invasions and wars started in the name of Christ and laws and policies passed that are entrenched in inequality that we enact as “Christians” while ignoring the faith and feeling of others. We have made the matters worse rather than better, more injurious rather than better.
On May 18, 2012, Tracey Nelson published online part of her book, Accelerated Transformation: Maturity, Intimacy, and Unity through Emotional Healing by Tracey Nelson, M.Ed. In it she speaks about Gandhi’s remark that, “If Christians were like Christ, all of India would have believed.”
I think about this, particularly as a pastor. I consider the texts as she does of John 14- John 17 and what it means to be in communion with Christ and to be in communion with the world.
I think of what Christ must have been feeling on that Maundy Thursday when the Passover began, and around his table sat those who would ignored God’s leading, who would follow self-indulgence and wrong-thinking, who would give way to impetuous behavior and fear controlled responses, a group of disciples that on that Thursday night sat there, and instead of being in communion with pure and clean hearts, after three years of guided teaching by the Christ in person, these disciples, particularly Peter and Judas, still failed and shed their feet and then gave them bread and gave them wine, but they did not realize that it was truly his spirit and his life that he had given to them, and 25 that they had to take this and manifest it in their hearts, digest it in their lives for it to help shape their behaviors, their thoughts, their emotions and their choices. They still made the mistakes human beings make when confronted with difficult tasks combined with lack of faith and lack of dependence on God. They inflicted on themselves moral injuries as will happen every time when we do not have on the correct armor of God.
The word armor and the word for love, amore, are from the same root for a reason. Love is what covers and protects your center of emotions in your life. Without love, moral injury happens repeatedly to us, and without love we inflict injuries on others.
The term moral injury is a new term. It began being used during and right after the Vietnam War, but has only recently gotten the attention it deserves. Moral injury is the injury done to the soul. Moral injury is what happens when we forget that we are at war with evil and not each other; when we forget that we are supposed to put on this armor of God, lest we end up with deep war wounds on our souls. It is the result of mistakes we make to ourselves and to society when we forget that human beings are designed to be moral people, to be loyal people, to be good people that don’t assault and who don’t kill other people. And to do less hurts us, injures us. Yet we are prone to fail unless we have the support and encouragement of other Christians and functional support groups, and until our society reflects the values of peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. Churches are supposed to be the places that help people be held accountable with those they can love and trust completely. But we have failed by being places of scholarly jurisdiction, or moral high ground, and of self-righteousness. This causes more moral injury than all the wars of all time.
The reason this term, moral injury, became better known now is because our nation didn’t have any words to describe what was happening to our military soldiers who showed signs of anxiety and depression, but had not been in direct combat, but had used drones for killing others. We put little cameras on the drones and sent the drones into service trying to protect the lives of our military personnel. Yet the people who ran the drones were almost twice as likely to suffer from something that looked like PTSD and they were as likely as soldiers who had directly entered into battle to 29 suffer from depression. In fact, they have a harder time coming back into society, and they commit suicide more than people who are in special operations and special services and are trained and vetted for direct combat. But even that vetting and training does not keep people from moral injury. Removing them from the battlefield and placing them back stateside does not keep them from interacting with the bad side of human nature either and war is not the only place that moral injury happens. It happens in churches and it happens in life. Because while God made us to be empathetic and compassionate, we have a nature that is sometimes more animal than godlike.
Moral injury is caused when the good of society clashes in our souls. It is the wound that happens when good people allow themselves or other people to do bad things. We are responsible for the sustainability of our souls, and we are responsible for helping to create societies of compassion and grace, of healing, of safety for all people. Finding that boundary line while being nonjudgmental is almost impossible at worst and it is very hard to do in the least. We cannot do it without God’s leadership and help.
Moral injury is what happens when we don’t realize that we are designed by God to act in 31 loving and good ways. We are designed to return hate with love, and to give grace and forgiveness to others. We are designed to be empathetic and compassionate. We are designed by God to be like God in our ability to have our hearts broken open. We can have all of the military training and all of the desensitization of special forces and of society, but down deep we have the Light of God that will illuminate the soul anytime it can.
We talk about casualties in war, but we don’t mention how people behave in the field of war, and in the field of family or in the church or in the community or at work, and how horrifying 32 life really is. It’s not the casualties of war – it is the casualties of life, and human nature – this is how people act. The bible is a lot more open about this, that we as humans, do not always act in loving or kind manners, and we can be quite depraved and indifferent when it comes to how we relate and choose our behaviors.
We, under stress, do not always think of the good of others first, or put their best interest at heart. We don’t even hold them in the Light. And when we really fail, we do so by not looking at the moral injury we cause ourselves and others. Yet we do this in a supposedly Christian society. And sometimes, those of us who are church goers are the worst offenders.
Human nature at its worse is horrifying, yet it resides in all of us and it resides in this world. We are terribly unkind to ourselves if we don’t live by faith, when we don’t ask ourselves the questions that Christ asked us to ask ourselves. These questions and others Christ asked in the Bible help to vet us and help us to be able to withstand potential moral injurious situations.
We are morally injured when we choose to not respond to hate with love in this world, when we either put the Bible away or use it to thump on the heads of others, we morally injure our own souls and the souls of the people around us. If we want to live in this world and truly be 34 people, humans, who love and honor God, we have to be people of Faith and of Love and of Commitment. We have to have peace like a river in our souls. We have to let Love Divine be All Excelling in all that we do. Christians aren’t and won’t ever be known well by how well we follow the rules. We are known by our love or lack of it, and this contradiction between what we are designed by God to do and what we as humans can stoop to doing and which causes us great internal problems.
We have to be followers of Christ, people who clothe ourselves in the garments of God’s love 35 and God’s grace. Tracey Nelson in her writing about Gandhi reminds us that
“Gandhi’s statement reflected the prayer of Jesus Christ for Christian unity in John 17:21-23. Jesus said if His people loved one another and walked in unity, the world would finally believe in Him. This was a powerful statement for worldwide revival. Seems the answer to world evangelism has been staring us in the face!”
She reflects on what it would mean if we as people who attend church or who call ourselves 36 Christian truly embraced living in a way that reflected Christian values and faith.
“It is important to mention that when Jesus prayed this prayer for oneness, it was around the time of the Communion/Passover supper. This fact enhances its significance even more as this ritual (in the Christian tradition) reflects our communion with Him and with one another. It is likely this was why the apostle Paul said when Communion is taken unworthily some get sick and die (I Corinthians 11:30).
There is some debate to his exact meaning here but one can plainly see that divisiveness between believers was one of the problems he was addressing in this chapter. Jesus reflected the same sentiment when he said if you remember that a brother or sister has something against you when offering your gifts, “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23). With these things in mind, it would be important for Christians to reflect on how they treat their brothers and sisters before they take the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). Jesus told us in John 17 how much it would it benefit the whole world if they did!”
If we live in communion as we as Quakers are supposed to do – we do not take Eucharist but are supposed to live it day in and day out – as if the world is not just a battle field of faith but also a table in the presence of our enemies and our friends where we share the cup and the bread of Christ. We are to continually live in our seats around that Maundy Thursday table taking in Christ’s spirit and digesting Jesus’ love. Our diets have to be of love and goodness, grace and compassion, mercy and perseverance. Our tables have to be lined with the fruit of the spirit. If we allow only these to empower us, our lives will be much better examples of God’s love and grace. We are much less likely to be injured morally or to injure others.
Contact Tracey Nelson to speak at your event at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Samuel, D. (2008). “Mahatma Gandhi and Christianity.” Christian Today. Retrieved on May 18, 2012 from http://in.christiantoday.com/articledir/print.htm?id=2837
- Slick, M. (2012).
- “What does it mean to take Communion in an unworthy manner?” The Voice of 40 the Martyrs. Retrieved on May 18, 2012 from http://carm.org/questions/about-church/whatdoes-it-mean-take-communion-unworthy-manner © Tracey Nelson
- https://thespotlessbride.wordpress.com/2012/05/1 8/gandhi-if-christians-were-like-christ-all-of-indiawould-believe/