I found myself on the edge of not caring. How had it come to this?
To be inoculated is the process of introducing a microorganism into one’s body, just enough to fight the potential bigger threat. Over the course of our lives, we receive countless inoculations to be pro-active in a healthier life. Given the regular occurrence of shootings in our nation and world I had to consider I may have been “inoculated” to the point of accepting shootings as a more standard part of life and not feeling the horror and sadness as I once felt. This realization shook me. It was anything but pro-active in making my life healthier.
My understanding of the inoculation effect became magnified in mid-July of 2019. In my role as youth minister of a local church, I chose to take some select high school students to our denomination’s once-every-four year national/international leadership conference. For four days they experienced leadership at work on the national stage. We observed different processes of electing leadership, the debate of theological and social justice issues and ratification of new policies to be introduced in the polity of our denomination. In addition, we spent time interviewing various leaders from around the nation and the world to gain a better perspective on what it means to be a leader.
Most of these interviews were planned in advance but one day I was led by a third party to a table in the middle of the exhibition hall where seated were Bishop Lubunga and his wife, Esther of The Democratic Republic of the Congo, who cares for over 500 churches there. Having known a little about the unrest and danger of this country I found myself frozen in where to begin the interview. Out of respect for him, we stuck to very general questions and let he and his wife talk about their leadership role. In their statements, we heard some of the challenges they faced.
Fast forward four weeks and I received an email from our denomination calling for special prayer focusing on our brothers and sisters in the Congo. The ongoing civil war was escalating with waves of tribal conflicts, armed groups causing havoc in villages, houses being burned, animals slaughtered and people being killed. The U.N. refugee agency reported that 4.5 million are displaced inside the Congo. Ebola and cholera are spreading since the U.N. and Doctors Without Borders are unable to operate at full strength.
I had not understood the depth of trauma our bishop and his wife were experiencing - personally, and vicariously as they care for their people. My heart was broken as our congregation came together in the morning worship services to lament and pray for peace and deliverance. As I led the prayer I found myself physically shaking and my heart was racing.
I felt the weight and pain of this beautiful country and yet I was no longer feeling it for my own. How true might this be for many more people in the U.S. who have grown “accustomed” to shooting deaths and fear in our public places?
How do we move from inoculation and apathy to lament, compassion, and action?
In our ICTG Resource Guides, we propose calming, connecting and communicating as core ingredients for healthy trauma response. I would like to also propose those, with a few details, on how we make the much-needed move:
- Take the time to lament – The first sign of inoculation is reading or hearing a story and quickly passing on to the next thing. Stop, take a deep breath, empathize, feel as if this happened in your context.
- Take a break from the news – The sheer volume of trauma around our world could keep us in a constant state of lament, sadness, and fear. Learn when to turn off the news flow. Play, draw, exercise, pray.
- Measure your stress – Assess your own threshold of stress. On a scale of one to five, how is this latest event registering, with five being highly stressful? If zero or one perhaps it is time to lament. If it is four or five perhaps it is time take a break.
- Find a “lament” community – Having a few people in our lives who “feel” more than us can be helpful. They are the ones we can count on to shine the light on those traumatic events and people who have been impacted.
- Get accountability for personal care – As you give priority to personal care you will have more capacity for lament, compassion and action. Invite a few others to be sure you are not either taking on the full weight of the world or allowing yourself to be mired in apathy
- Form an “awareness” and “action” community – Connect with people who do not hide from their awareness of trauma or the importance of taking small action steps to help in whatever way possible
- Understand your physical well-being – This is healthy internal body communication. The title of Bessel Vanderkolk’s book speaks for itself, “The Body Keeps the Score.”
- Bring in the family and friends – Communicate your sadness. Having a safe group around us allows us to freely express our sadness, lament, compassion and desire to act without feeling the need to say “everything is fine.”
- Debriefing with ministries and faith-based care groups – What better place to move from inoculation/apathy to lament and action? Walking together in words and presence brings back the appropriate “feeling” we need
- Trust in the God of hope and peace – God understands the pain and suffering in this world. Communicating our trust in God can bring hope and peace beyond our understanding.
Each is an in-depth training manual for trauma preparedness and response. They include restorative strategies to expand care, build resilient groups, and provide safety for traumatized people to heal and thrive.
Preview the General Ministry Resource Guide here.
Preview the Youth Ministry Resource Guide here.
Preview the Spiritual Direction Resource Guide here.
Preview the Collective Trauma Resource Guide here.
Doug Ranck is Associate Pastor of Youth and Worship at Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, CA. With three decades of youth ministry experience, he serves as ICTG Senior Advisor for Youth Ministry, as well as a leading consultant, trainer and speaker with Ministry Architects, the Southern California Conference, and, nationally, with the Free Methodist Church. He has written numerous articles for youth ministry magazines and websites, and published the Creative Bible Lessons Series: Job (Zondervan, 2008). Doug is happily married to Nancy, proud father of Kelly, Landon and Elise, and never gets tired of looking at the Pacific ocean every day.