Legion: For We Are Many

moral injury in sacred texts

Moral injury is one of the priorities of Quaker House, and I have also always had a fascination with sacred texts. So, when Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts, edited by Joseph McDonald and forward written by Rita Nakashima Brock, was published, I was immediately drawn to it.

The book is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.

Remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He correlates the plight of the man living among the tombs to moral injury that stemmed from military experiences and from shouldering the burden of the entire army by his own self-identity. When the man approaches Jesus, he is both seeking out a representative of his victims and also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. Finally, this man, now relieved of some of his inner anguish, is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.

my name is Legion, for we are many

My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If sacred texts are supposed to have some hint of the divine within them, perhaps imperfectly diffused and captured, then equating civil texts with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for the similarities. His essay explains the resulting power of national fervor and patriotism and also clarifies a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelming patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action (that will result in death and destruction) is immediately at odds with this national moral code of sacred patriotism and its portrayal of honor. He refers to this phenomenon as a shifting of the burden of proof.

Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:

  • “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
  • An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
  • “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
  • The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.

“We might look at the parades and celebrations, the tributes and ceremonies, the media frenzies and political scandals surrounding the US military as shackles and chains*–strategies to avoid confronting the trauma of war as a collective community while placing the burden of guilt regarding war on a few individuals. Mercy, healing, and movement toward the divine occur when these strategies are abandoned, when the aggressor [can]** speak the truth of his or her experience and the community is compelled to listen.”

Michael Yandell, “‘Do Not Torment Me’: The Morally Injured Gerasene Demoniac,” in Exploring Injury in Sacred Texts, ed. Joseph McDonald (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 148.

_______________

* The community had attempted to bind the man who lived among the tombs, called Legion, with shackles and chains to keep him from hurting himself.

**I changed the wording here. The original says “. . . when the aggressor is compelled to speak . . .”

Always on the Route to Quaker House

I was always on this road, this road to Quaker House. I just did not know it. 

I was raised in a military family — birth to mid-high school.

One of my original majors in college was International Relations, but it was eventually switched out for English and a minor in biology, partly due to scheduling issues and time constraints, of all things.

When I applied to law school, both times (I transferred from Seattle University to the University of North Carolina), I specifically wrote in my essays that I wanted to practice law assisting nonprofit organizations. And, as a member of the first 1L class to get to choose an elective seminar at Seattle, I chose Introduction to International Law with Professor Chinen — because I wanted to know how to help nations and peoples live in harmony.

After I took the bar and felt like it was finally the right time for me to invest in regular volunteer work, I chose the Red Cross. I had no idea, at that time, that the Red Cross would show up several times in my reading of A service of love in war time: American Friends relief work in Europe, 1917 – 1919 as vital facilitators of the Quaker efforts during World War I. And, I think my high school friends would get a kick out of the fact that one of the key Quaker organizers of this humanitarian work was Rufus Jones. He was from Maine.

But, wait. How did the Religious Society of Friends suddenly start factoring into my story?

Turning right and going 2.5 miles brings you to Spring Friends. Continuing straight, off towards the horizon, another 72 miles brings you to Quaker House.

Well, one Sunday, I visited a Quaker meeting, partly because I wanted to learn more about their Peace Testimony. Many religions espouse peace, but I wanted to see what a longstanding core theological principle of intentionally promoting peace among nations, in addition to in our personal behaviors, looked like. I was fortunate in that I already had a strong religious faith upon which to build.

That Quaker Meeting was Spring Friends and, to get there, my best path included a 10-mile stretch of Route 87 South. That stretch of road became a regular journey for me. Little did I know, it would also become a section of my path to Quaker House, both figuratively and literally.

I got the call at about 9:00 Saturday night that I had been selected to be the next director of Quaker House, to follow in the footsteps of amazing directors before me and to work alongside wonderful experienced staff and a dedicated board of directors. They have a smooth transition planned. I will be learning from their expertise and experience all summer long, and Lynn and Steve Newsom, the current directors, will not be leaving their work at Quaker House until September.

Some of the Quaker House services:

  • Answering calls and providing assistance as a significant component of the GI Rights Hotline.
  • Educating about moral injury and its treatment.
  • Providing free and confidential in-person counseling for members of the military community, including for issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and moral injury.
  • And, of course, advocating for a more peaceful world.

Quaker House assists our military members and families and works to promote world peace. It was established and is supported by a community of faith. My path brought me here. On one hand, it is not surprising.

On the other hand, it is humbling.

A = Burlington, B = Spring Friends Meeting, and C = Quaker House.