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The Benefit of Walking with a Limp

I taught Kris in high school. His grade sheets are still on my computer. I cheered him in soccer, where he excelled. I wrote his college recommendations. I also attended his full military honors funeral. Kris shot himself in his backyard, leaving behind a wife and one-year-old baby. Kris was an Army medic. Military suicide is no longer an abstraction.

Suicide has emerged as the leading cause of death for persons serving in the United States military. It was more common than combat-related deaths among soldiers in 2012 and 2013. The invisible wounds of war are deep, persistent, and can no longer be denied. After having volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline, I was interested in an article published in Spirituality in Clinical Practice, “Spiritual Functioning Among Veterans Seeking Residential Treatment for PTSD: A Matched Control Group Study.”

How does religious believe affect suicide outcomes? And what are the lessons here for New Copernicans?

The authors of the study recognize that “Spirituality is a multifaceted construct that often provides a powerful meaning framework for negotiating the reality and consequences of trauma.” But their research made a striking discovery. More than religious affiliation is how somebody is religious is what effect suicide outcomes.

I have often talked about the difference between a closed or open perspective on one’s beliefs. A person with a closed perspective feels like they have a corner on the truth and tends to approach reality with an either/or frame. A person with an open frame maintains their convictions, but at the same time is aware that they might be wrong, there is always more to learn, and specifically they might have something to learn from you. They tend toward a both/and frame. It is the difference between settlers (closed) and seekers (open). It is a crucial difference in how one approaches life. New Copernicans are champions of an open perspective.

When it comes to suicide this study found that those with a rigid closed perspective—where they assume to have all the answers—did more poorly than those with a more open, broad, and humble perspective. In addition, what was more important than doctrine or correct belief was being involved in a supportive community. Thus those who have a humble open perspective on their faith showed fewer signs of PTSD or suicidal thoughts and behavior. This is a significant finding.

Those who assume a posture toward their religious beliefs that are rigidly black and white and overly cognitive (read doctrinal) have a much more difficult time negotiating the messiness of military life under the pressures of combat. New Copernicans would hardly find this surprising, because many of their own negative experiences with religion stem from the fact that a closed perspective does not align well with the messiness of their own experience. Lived reality has a way of putting one’s beliefs under pressure. Jesus promised: live long enough and the floods will come and the winds will blow and the strength of one’s spiritual foundations will be tested. Such is the nature of reality.

The humble, open, always learning faith of New Copernicans proves to be more stable under the extreme pressures of life. Once again spiritually oriented millennials are leading the way toward a psychologically healthier religious disposition. Black and white rigidity does not comport with reality... and cracks under pressure. It is far better to be able to embrace the messiness of life and the inherent ambiguities of one’s own personality. This is the attitude and candor common in an AA meeting. It is when one is able to walk with a limp that one can walk further.

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