The anguish of war movies.

Under fire

When I first wanted to start understand my late husband Colin better, as well as listening to his military experiences, we watched some war movies together. This was to give me more insight as to what war could feel like.

Over time, we watched movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse now, Letters from Iwo Jima. At the time, I felt this was really useful, helping me realise the confusion, brutality, senselessness and anguish of violence and conflict. Another film that was particularly memorable and disturbing was Jacob’s  ladder, thinking of the delusions and sheer hell of war.

Whilst these films enabled us to talk through issues of war, justice, the horror of impossible choices, the loss of humanity involved in battle, I think they often retramatised my husband rather than helped him. They reminded him of duty, comradery and courage, but also reinforced all the nightmares of darkness and pain and questioning.

At this point in time, I can’t  bear to watch any of these movies any more. They just speak to me of the senselessness and savagery of combat, which brings overwhelming sorrow and anguish. The cries of the wounded and maimed seem to echo forever in my head.

And so I look to Jesus for guidance. Our Saviour personally experienced the worst cruelty and violence of humanity, yet His love was never diminished or tarnished. He kept forgiving, was full of goodness, kept working for an eternal kingdom of truth, goodness, justice and peace.

In different seasons of our lives, different things are helpful. Films, plays, books can all remind us of the moral complexities of conflict, their longlasting and often devastating impact on individuals and communities. There are theological and philosophical challenges as to what constitutes a ‘ just war’. Having any understanding or insight into each context, helps us pray and campaign and protest, as our conscience leads us.

I am struck by the extent to which I felt, and can still feel as if I was in some of these military conflicts with my husband, because of all the memories he shared. PTSD is not just experienced by veterans, but also often by their families. This vicarious trauma, is because of their exposure to repeated stories and re enactments of violence and suffering.

My concern therefore is that veterans and their families get the support they need to work through these traumas, and find a self worth, understanding, healing and peace. These can come through various trauma therapies, and ultimately from Jesus Christ, as our Healer and the Lover of our souls.

Meantime, we also need to find balance, by focusing on the good, the brightness of sunshine, the joy of a pet, the taste of a good meal, the encouragement and prayers of a friend, the inspiration of the Holy spirit.

I remember the words from Philippians chapter 4, where Paul writes: ‘finally dear friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things’. As a corollary to thinking of the darkness and barbarism of humanity, we need to remember the light and beauty and nobility, and so these words speak to my soul.

Let us pray, Dear Father God, you look upon us with the mercy and kindness of a beloved parent. On this earth, we fight and squabble, we often loose sight of our humanity, we use torture and violence all to easily, especially in times of conflict and war. Lord Jesus, please forgive us, heal us, restore our humanity, bless our veterans and families, and give us wisdom as to when war is ever necessary. Holy spirit, help us to notice the good, the pure, the lovely things in our midst, and to find our peace, Amen

The scream of trauma.

Edward Munch The scream

When considering the state of the world just now, the scream of trauma seems to reverberate across every land- the child in the refugee camp, the parent unable to feed their child, the person subject to sexual violence, the individual unjustly incarcerated. For no fault of their own, often  people end up caught in cross fire, suffering anguish which can damage and break a spirit. It can be so overwhelming to contemplate, and so we often switch off by not watching the news, saying that these scenes are too much to bear.

As a Christian, I can’t pretend these things are not happening, whether it is the war veteran struggling with violent memories, of the human rights lawyer in a Chinese prison, or a survivor of abuse. Some days I can’t do much, others I can pray, write letters, campaign, give.

Jesus never turns his back on those who cry to him, he understands mocking, physical assault, trauma, to feel alone in the darkness. On the cross he cried:                                             My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’        Matthew 27:46

In Isaiah 42: 3 the prophet says:                ‘ a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuffout’                                                           and this reminds us of the tender care of God, for those who are hurting and feel bruised by life’s tribulations. God has a deep concern for those who are suffering, and in anguish.

So if some one has suffered trauma and abuse, what can we do? There are many routes in different circumstances, judicially involving the police or safeguarding where appropriate, and counselling, prayer and specialist help.

Last year I had the privilege of listening to Dr Bruce Perry talking about childhood trauma, and then reading one of his books ‘ The boy who was raised as a dog’. The book gives different case studies of traumatised children, and offers different approaches as to what helps. It is a hard but beautiful and deeply emotional read.

Dr Perry recounts true case histories of children, and tells us of the impact their trauma has had on their brain development. This in itself is such a detailed area of neuroscience, with so much to learn. And the things that can help bring healing are empathy, understanding, connectiveness, healthy relationships and love.

And so, when we think of that scream of pain echoing round the world, we pray for a powerful wave of God’s love in Christ, to heal and bring forgiveness, trust and places of safety, where people can find restoration and grace. And God often uses doctors, such as Dr Perry, and so many others, to bring understanding and healing for so many. We are thankful for all who work in neuroscience and psychiatry to bring support and help to others. And we are thankful for the wider trauma therapists also, for the wisdom and insight they bring. We need to be discerning in this area, but also to be thankful for God’s healing power in body, mind and soul.

Let us pray, Gracious God, You created this world to reflect the harmony of the trinity, but instead we fight and exploit and tear apart. Forgive us for our cruelty and greed. Lord Jesus may there be many wise healers, who heal not just with medicine, but with prayer and empathy, understanding and love. Holy Spirit, help us not to turn away from disturbing screams, from ourselves and from others, but help us to be honest, and through tears and lament, to find our healing, Amen.