I am trying to remember when Facebook told me that David Peters and I should be friends. In an unusual pattern, David and I have social networks that intersect at multiple levels: we have connections in both the church and the military, and he is an avid runner with a military running organization, similar to me (albeit, I am more of a walker these days). Then, I found out that David was a fellow author at Church Publishing Inc (CPI). I was immediately fascinated by the title of his newest work, “Post Traumatic God.” I contacted CPI for the opportunity to get a copy of this book and provide a review since as a military spouse I’ve sent my husband off to war three times now, and as a military kid, I watched my dad become medically retired from the Navy following a traumatic brain injury during a naval exercise. From personal and professional levels, I’ve intersected with the post traumatic God and I wondered what else David could possibly teach me.
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure that David could say anything that resonated with me. After 16 years as an active duty spouse and a civilian nurse with the Army, I’m a little numb to any discourse on readiness and resiliency and anything to do with the war. But I was intrigued with David’s view. I was very interested to hear his perspective about war and trauma through the lens of spirituality.
What I learned was that what David experienced in war and his feelings about God, the church, and healing are not so different than my own feelings after losing my hearing, getting cancer, watching my dad deal with TBI and PTSD, and trying to figure out how to deal with these life shattering events while still being faithful. No, I have never been to war. I have never seen someone shot up or had a bomb go off near to me, but my husband has, my dad has, and I have my own experiences that the feelings David expresses resonate deeply with me. On page 80, David reflects, “The slow drip of anxiety in the back of my brain affected everything I did….” My heart squeezed in response to these words. I know of the feeling that David writes. I may not have been to war, but the words of trauma and our shared experience reflects the commonality in our pains.
When you face a tragic event, you have to rethink your relationship with God and what you hold to be true and dear about your beliefs. Tragic events force us to pause and ask ourselves, “what do you believe?” David frankly shares of his experiences, his thoughts, his beliefs, and how his research into the church fathers experience with war shaped their own beliefs about God and war. The book sea-saws between the raw reflection of grief to glimpses of hope that is found in the resurrection and forgiveness of God. It is with fierce belief that David writes, “[the sacraments] are God’s pledge be faithful to us in times of stress and fear…I knew whatever I had done wrong, no matter how many times I had failed, God still loved me” (pg. 67).
There is an important point I need to make about David’s book: while any lay person can read and appreciate where David is coming from, he digs deeply into the theological study of war and God with an aim of educating other priests, pastors, and ministers with similar educational background. This is a book for his peers, not necessarily the average reader. David wanders through church, theological, and Biblical history to provide evidence of the moral injury of war throughout time, and God’s faithfulness through out. If you go into reading this book with that understanding, you will gain much more from the content and his process. It is not an easy and simple read. It will challenge you to dig deep.
This leads me to a second point of importance about David’s work: his message to churches is critical: there are people in the pews that have dealt with trauma, who have gone to war, who may have killed someone and they do not feel as though they belong to a church or community. Many soldiers and sailors have left the church because they felt that there was no way that God or the church could ever forgive them for what they did during war. It is crucial for churches to minister to those that are suffering from moral injuries and provide guidance towards spiritual healing. A church has a place in the lives of those that are suffering for moral wounds. A church has a role in teaching these individuals that God loves them just as much as the next person. As David discusses in the chapter on the “Post Traumatic Pilgrimage,” the church is ideally suited to provide those with moral injuries a place of solace in which to experience reconciliation through a journey of lamentation, repentance, and redemption.
One of my favorite parts about David’s book is that he not only teaches leaders about moral injury, the perception about war and the church over time, but he provides an action plan for churches to put in place to address these issues. David isn’t just teaching you about the problem, he is also teaching you what you can do about. I am an action kind of girl, a problem solver, and a do-er; David clinched the book for me when he not only told us about the Post Traumatic God, but he also told us how to make our churches havens for those who have met the post traumatic God and still want to be faithful.
Copies of Post Traumatic God can be purchased on all the major outlets as well as from the Church Publishing Website: https://www.churchpublishing.org/posttraumaticgod.
Huffington Post Post-Traumatic God: How the Church Cares For People Who Have Been to Hell and Back "Learning War and Reconciliation," won the Reconciliation Preaching Prize from Trinity, Wall Street. St. Mark's Episcopal Church