This post, written by Rev. Doug Ranck, originally was published on September 3, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
Another day, another shooting. Ten people killed and twenty-seven injured in Dayton, Ohio. Another twenty-two killed and twenty-four injured in El Paso, Texas.
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.
... 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.
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.
These leaders understood the value of being ready not for “if” but “when.” They were not comfortable settling for a world swirling with trauma.
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?
A few weeks ago, I was invited to Pendleton, Oregon for the purpose of training faith-leaders on how to shepherd trauma-informed ministries. Whenever I am in the presence of other leaders who desire to be pro-active in trauma work, I am inspired. There is often little to no motivation until an event occurs. These leaders understood the value of being ready not for “if” but “when.” They were not comfortable settling for a world swirling with trauma.
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:
Do you have an ICTG Resource Guide?
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.
In this series we acknowledge that "disasters do not wait until we are fully prepared", that many leaders are learning as they go, and we extend our hope that though sharing perspectives you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm at this time. Read What’s Working For Me Right Now - Part 1 here.
When I was younger in ministry, many years ago now, I remember talking to another pastor who had just returned from a sabbatical. I had never had a sabbatical so I was curious to hear what he learned. Without hesitating, he said, “I found out what kind of a Christian I was outside of my identity as a pastor.”
Those words were a game-changer for me in how I assessed my own identity. I am a professional Bible studier, prayer, leader, teacher, shepherd and a whole lot more but without the role of pastor who would I be as a person, a child of God?
The role of a pastor is to shepherd, guide and be with one’s people, in the same physical space. What happens when that is taken away? In the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, we are finding out.
California was the first state to adopt “shelter-in-home” standards. When the order was given my home became my “permanent” office. Previously, working from home, was a nice little change in the weekly routine. Now, it is the routine.
Presently I feel I am asking the question again, but for a very different reason, “Without the role of pastor, with one’s people, who would I be?”
To get at this I want to share a shortlist of what is working for me, at the moment (Check back with me in a few days or weeks!):
In the midst of all the turbulence and unprecedented circumstances may you find what works for you. May it bring you strength, wisdom and peace to walk forward as you care for yourself, your family and your people.
On Sleep: Mukherjee, S., Patel, S. R., Kales, S. N., Ayas, N. T., Strohl, K. P., Gozal, D., & Malhotra, A. (2015). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 191(12), 1450–1458. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201504-0767st https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.201504-0767ST
On Positive Consequences: Updegraff, J. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 709–722.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.