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September 19, 2010: “Creating Peace To Save Our Souls, UN International Peace Day”

This sermon is dedicated to my good friend since 1972, D. Glen Miller, Ph.D., who is the Vietnam vet mentioned. I think we have learned much from each other over the many years we have remained close friends. We were thrown together on my first job after I graduated from college. He was the teacher and I was the Instructional Assistant teaching Woodshop in a Private School for Emotionally Disturbed Adolescents. I was a long-haired hippy peace activist; he had been an Army Ranger, Special Forces, having returned from TWO tours of duty in Vietnam. What was the principal thinking? Was she trying to get me killed? Who would have thought we would become soul mates and remain close friends for the rest of our lives? I’m not sure I have had deeper conversations with any other men I know…

Creating Peace To Save Our Souls
UN International Peace Day
September 19, 2010
Rev. Arthur G. Severance

        A Samurai warrior of Japan requested an audience with a famous Zen teacher, or Roshi, to learn about Heaven and Hell. The warrior finally was allowed to appear before the Roshi and asked again to learn of Heaven and Hell. The teacher, with great contempt in his voice, said: "Samurai warriors are too stupid to understand anything, they are good for nothing. You look especially stupid and your old raggedy sword could probably not cut fruit. Samurai are dirt!"

       The warrior could not bear the insult to his great tradition or to himself, and in a great rage pulled his sword to cut off the head of the insulting teacher. "You shall die for your insults!", he cried and rushed toward the teacher who folded his hands and said: "Thus open the gates of Hell."

      Immediately the Samurai understood what the teacher had done and dropped to his knees, saying humbly, "O great master, I realize now what hell is, and apologize humbly for my actions."

        The Roshi responded: "Thus open the gates of Heaven."

        War is hell, and in more ways than one. Often those who have experienced it tell us that most often. And it is hell after the war as well for many, when if their bodies survive the war, their minds may not. War is hell on the psyche, that word from which we get psychology originally meant the soul, the inner self, the divine spark, the life force, the vital force, the spirit. Creating peace to save our souls is no empty phrase to the millions of survivors, especially veterans of our wars, especially in the last 50 years after WW II. Especially from Vietnam on, including the very war we are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For thousands of veterans, the war they fought has not ended but is played out sometimes every night when they sleep, coming to them in nightmares of remembering- seeing vividly those they killed, friends who were lost in battles, the atrocities they saw or even participated in.

        One of my closest friends is a Vietnam vet who did two tours of duty as a special forces Army Ranger. I was an anti-war peace activist during that same time; we ended up teaching together, finding common bonds and becoming friends. We have learned much from each other though coming from opposite sides. Ironically, he became a UU before I did, since he had always been a lover of Emerson. He lived close to a church that was further away from me, but said he thought of me when he went, and that he was sure I would like UUism and that I should check it out. Then, as you know, another close friend who had also started going to a UU church closer to me INVITED Cathie and I to come, and of, course, our lives were changed forever!

        Talking recently to my veteran friend, he recommended a book as one of the best he had read on the experience of Vietnam; it was called, War and the Soul; Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Edward Tick, Ph.D. in 2005.  I read it and found a different approach to the compelling reasons for working towards peace, the saving of our very souls! No not salvation, but SANITY! For in the last 50 years especially, the veterans who managed to physically survive the hell of war, ended up almost insane from what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- PTSD.

        Tick says it is not so much of a stress disorder, which sounds fairly simple, but a wounding of the very soul, an identity-disorder that a high percentage of veterans, especially since Vietnam, are still suffering from.

        'Through out the ages,' Tick writes, 'communities have made special efforts to protect or restore the souls of their warriors during times of war. Only in our postmodern, technological age do questions of the soul's veracity even arise. Not surprisingly, the soul's fundamental needs for well-being are often ignored nowadays. Yet survivors who will not talk about their violent experiences will engage when invited to speak in terms of soul. Often they see no sense in talking about anything else.'

        Surely, war is the most destructive activity in which we participate, but ancient warfare was limited:  Warriors fought hand to hand, as one warrior or one army against another. The  range of the weapons- rarely went beyond the battlefield, until modernity and the American Civil War with its advanced weaponry and staggering number of casualties; it is considered the first modern war. We have developed technology that now  multiplies war's destructiveness exponentially.  The result is massive trauma- not just for combatants but also for the civilians, who can suffer equally deep emotional and spiritual wounds from their losses.'

        The name for the wounding of the soul has had a long history; as far back as 1678, its group of symptoms was first called 'nostalgia,' among Swiss soldiers, and among German and French doctors it was called homesickness. In Spanish it was estar roto, 'to be broken.'  During the Civil War, it was called soldier's heart, irritable heart as well as nostalgia; W.W.I called it shell shock and in W.W.II, combat fatigue.'

        'Since September 11,' Tick writes, 'PTSD is finally being accepted as a genuine condition. ...ample evidence shows that the war in Iraq is producing psychological casualties at an alarming rate... This high casualty rate is an inevitable cost of all modern war. Summarizing the findings from the field of combat psychiatry, Richard Gabriel writes: 'In every war since W.W.I, more American soldiers have become psychiatric causalities than were killed. We have reached the point where almost everyone exposed to combat will, within a comparatively short period of time, be killed, wounded, or driven mad.'

        As of the late 1980s over 60,000 Vietnam vets had committed suicide, more than were killed during the entire war. Just before the new millennium, that number exceeded 100,000.  'The black wall of names that is the Vietnam Memorial,' Tick says, 'would have to tripe in length to accommodate their names.' This is the insanity of war, the soul wounding results of modern man and women having their souls, consciences, minds, emotions, thrown into nightmares because of the conflicting emotions over a sense of right and wrong being absolutely canceled out by what they were required to do in time of war.

Casualties of Vietnam

US Killed in action 58,178- Vietnam-2.5 million
Wounded 300,000 4 ?
MIA 2,000 250,000
PTSD 1.5 million
Suicides 100,000
Homeless 150,000

The Gulf war, which lasted, what months rather than years. US 148 combat deaths, 235 other deaths 467 wounded. Yet as of May 2002, the VA recognized a total of 262,585 vets disabled, 10,617 dead of combat injuries and illnesses since.

The estimates of Iraq military 100,000 killed, 300, 000 wounded. Civilian deaths estimates range up to almost a quarter million.

        Richard Gabriel, a former intelligence officer in the Pentagon's Directorate of Foreign Intelligence and an expert on combat psychiatry says: 'War has simply become too stressful for even the strongest among us to stand for very long.'

        Now consider the number of wounded and tortured souls this latest conflict will create, as we now have fought longer than W.W.II, longer than Vietnam, and reports that many vets are required to do multiple tours of duty!

        Scholars say that 'During the 5,500 years of written history, 14,600 wars have been waged, that is 2 or 3 wars for every year.' Since 1990, world wide, it is estimated 3.6 million people have been killed in wars, many in civil wars and almost half have been children. And this was written in 2005.

        Tick works with Vets who are suffering from PTSD, especially Vietnam vets. He has made trips back to Vietnam with these vets who find the Vietnamese to be welcoming and often work with Tick and the vets in helping the vets to start healing, to feel forgiven for what they felt they had to do.

        He postulates that perhaps the reason that the Vietnamese seem more well adjusted is that they were defending their homeland and therefore had less guilt about killing because they felt that they had to kill or be killed. We were, after ar all, the invaders! It is hard for many of us to even remember the purpose we were supposed to be there for, since we were not threatened by the Vietnamese. Looking back now, was it worth the millions of lives lost and more millions of men and women whose souls were lost or irreparably harmed by PTSD, say nothing of the billions of dollars spent and amount of environmental destruction?

        W.W.I  was supposed to be the war to end all wars because of the horrors of new technology of mass killing that seemed to decimate the young male population of Europe. Yet, the arms race continued with the Spanish Civil War and then W.W.II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan

        I think of all the protest songs I heard or sang during the Vietnam era, and hear them still today, though in a different context. 'Where Have all the Flowers Gone?' and the haunting chorus '

Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

        And the soldiers, now men and women, have all gone to graveyards either literally or psychologically. When will we ever learn? Why is it, with all our intelligence, with a great country that we have, we can't stop wars? The cost is becoming increasingly our very sanity, certainly we have to question our morality, and ask at what cost we are willing to continue to wage war. The price, in money, in lives, in sanity, in nature, has increased so much that surely it has impacted on this time of economic crisis, but also this time of soul crisis.

        While we know there are no easy answers in this complex world, we must encourage our government to find peaceful solutions, and indeed examine our own responsibility for past economic and social behavior in the world where we have made enemies by our history.

        Those of us who waged peace during the Vietnam era had a tremendous influence on ending that war. No, of course, war will not end; it is deeply ingrained in the world's cultures, mythologies and even religion, yet we must work towards peace and deeply examine ways our country, our military industrial complex, which former W.W.II general and President Eisenhower warned us against after W.W.II, has sometimes perpetuated war.

        We must find a way for the political parties in this country to work together; has there been a time when it seems like there is such partisanship  separating this county? It seems like so many politicians are more interested in advancing their party's interest than the country. The soul of this nation is wounded, and we must work on its healing by coming together, forgiving each other's past mistakes, and working for peace, justice, economic equality and environmental harmony in the world.

        How shall we do it? We can only begin with ourselves and with our families, friends, yea even churches by practicing peace in our hearts as well as our actions, our relationships, and our spirits. Examine ourselves and our government and find a way to make a difference, to help make a peaceful world. Yes, it sounds simplistic, until you think of individuals like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, who lived their peace and influenced nations and millions of people.  Let us begin by believing that peace is possible, that the love that Jesus taught may still change the world.

‘What if,’ writes Tick, ‘it is a national disorder that the individual carries? What if PTSD perpetuates the circumstance of lost souls imprisoned in their private terror while allowing the rest of us along with our leaders to perpetuate the public fantasy of our own innocence. We speak of the soul of a nation. Is PTSD our country’s soul sickness?

        We must return our charges- our children and our veterans, our deeds and our dreams, our soldiers and our adversaries- to the path of the mystic warrior. And we must do so in the name of healing, reconciliation, and restoration. We must make the pursuit of peace as mythic as the pursuit of war has been. The fate of our world depends upon how successfully we undertake and carry out this great task.'

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry, ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ So I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con Su Dios,’ ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios