What happens when the military chaplain is shaken by war

Source: The Washington Post

The pre-war Pastor Matthew Williams had gone to seminary, was ordained and thought he understood why people suffer. “God allows suffering because this world is temporary,” is how he would have put it.

Then came two deployments as an Army chaplain, one to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. Williams spent a year in an Afghanistan morgue unzipping body bags and “seeing your friends’ faces all blown apart.” He watched as most of the marriages he officiated for fellow soldiers fell apart. He felt the terror of being the only soldier who wasn’t armed when the mortars dropped and bullets flew.

This Memorial Day weekend, Williams is no longer an active-duty military chaplain nor a United Church of Christ minister. He is a guitar player on disability whose outlook on God, religion and suffering was transformed by post-traumatic stress.

“I thought I had a handle on suffering. I thought I had a handle on understanding the sovereignty of God. I didn’t know crap,” said Williams, who now travels across the country, performing music and visiting other suffering veterans in what he sees as a new kind of ministry. “At the end of the day, what I know now is: I’m alive, I believe in God, I have faith, and that’s where it stops. It doesn’t get much deeper than that.”

“I don’t think anymore that there is some grand design,” he said “It just is.”

Perhaps the roughest parts of war — mortality, suffering, the seeming randomness of life — are supposed to be a chaplain’s bread and butter, their expertise. The 5,000 active-duty men and women often called “Chaps” are the ones soldiers seek at all hours, under strict confidentiality, to share their darkest acts, doubts and fears — even the suicidal thoughts that could end their military careers. And yet chaplains experience post-traumatic stress, too, while carrying out their unique mission to shore up others.

The Rev. John Weatherly’s deployments to Bosnia in 2001 and Iraq in 2006 convinced him that chaplains respond to trauma much as other soldiers do: They get scared, they hide fear, they grown numb.

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Categories: Military, The Muslim Times, War

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