Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Second Intentional Dialogue


Scott Hutchinson and D. Glen Miller

Glen Miller is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He served as an Army Ranger Team Leader from September 1969-September 1970. Six men made up a standard Army Ranger combat patrol. Glen is also adjunct professor for Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He teaches ethics and leadership courses. Glen founded Veteran’s Community Network in 2014. His wife Mary helps him lead VCN. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Scott Hutchinson is Pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ in Perkasie, PA, where he has served for 21 years. He was previously a counseling professional. His areas of focus and expertise include forgiveness, trauma healing, and peace education. Scott is co-founder of Touchstone Veterans Outreach and the COMPASS Healing Circle. Scott is married to Debra, a US Army veteran. They have three children and a grandson.

As a combat veteran I have killed others. In war those killed on the ground, up close and personal, are called enemies. Later on in a veteran’s life he or she becomes more conscious of a nagging feeling, uncertainty or doubt that all killed were enemies.  Some might not be.  I pause and the soul releases a murder, then another.

We, Scott and I, have a relationship that honors truth telling.  We respect and honor each story as part of what and who we have become and who we intend to be.  In our first  dialogue we poked, prodded, and revealed my moral wounds. I had witnessed a murder on my very first Army Ranger patrol. Together we came to atonement as a necessary and powerful step in healing moral wounds.  It is important to note that we chose to represent our thoughts in dialogue.  Our choice reflects the unveiling of truth -telling as an iterative process. I reveal; Scott interprets with wisdom gleaned over the years in battle zones, as pastor, as counselor. I interpret and respond to his thoughts and in dialogue more understanding enters our being.  

In this piece we continue to explore atonement and its twin, forgiveness.  

–Glen Miller


Glen:  You and I have been talking about atonement .  It is a path I step into so that my identity is congruent with my life.   Helping build a school in Vietnam seems like the right thing for me to do.

Scott:  It would enact healing.

Glen:  Yes. I feel the door to healing will open more fully through atonement.  I like engaging  in movement. 
You and I have begun to explore the relationship between forgiveness and atonement.
At first I thought about forgiveness as a kind of “bridge” to atonement.  That to be forgiven might be what empowers me to take action toward healing.  But now I am not so sure.  I think of forgiveness as an internal emotion while atonement requires action. Maybe taking the action first is what opens the door for inner change to follow.

Scott:  That’s compelling. Tell me more.

Glen: I am uncomfortable with the idea of “needing” forgiveness. And I don’t like all the talk about sin and sinners.  Pastors and the Bible say we are all sinners but I’m not buying every bit of that.  If war is a sin then, yes, I have sinned; and so has everyone else!  War may be a necessary evil to prevent further abuse and oppression.  I just don’t accept that my actions as a soldier are necessarily sin.  I survived and most of the people I knew survived.   I do not see that as sinful.

Scott:  Sin is a difficult subject.  In the New Testament, the most common terminology for sin actually means “missing the mark.” For me, “sinner” is unhelpful as a label but much more facilitative when understood as a condition.  I understand sin as the experience of distance: from one another’s humanity; from our own truest selves; from our understanding of God’s will.   These are experiences of sin.  You have very sensitively articulated each one as a part of your own combat experience.

Glen: That helps. Combat did not necessarily set me right with God!  Each patrol was a stride into moral ambiguity.  With reflection, I believe moral dilemmas were commonplace. Innocent people, particularly “mountain people,” were not considered people let alone innocent.  On most patrols the Ranger teams were sent into free fire zones.  In short, we could kill anyone according to war rules. I resisted that command more often than not.  However, there are times when like that first patrol that I feel guilty that I did not do enough. 

Scott: Perhaps this is where forgiveness is particularly important.  Glen, in the Christian gospels “forgiveness” means release or liberation.  To experience forgiveness is to be released from whatever has been binding us, burdening us, distorting our being.  I am interested in where and how you are experiencing release.

Glen: For me, the door has opened in sharing.  I have opened that door with many partners; the most influential is you, my friend.  Perhaps together we move forward searching for the bridge between a whole soul and a fragmented identity.   Scott, you are not innocent!  You, dear peacemaker, are part of a nation that frequently declares war but rarely munches on the pain begotten by its actions. 

Scott: Amen! --to the part about me and the part about the nation! That journey toward wholeness and the healing of fragmented identity is a shared one. You and I have a shared story, whether we have recognized it before or not. You are giving expression to a key truth about forgiveness:  that it is always deeply interactive; an acknowledgment that all of life is lived in relationship.   In my faith tradition, the territory of forgiveness is where God’s story intersects with our stories, and with the stories of our neighbors and our enemies.  When the streams unite we have the makings of a “whole” story!

Glen: Can you connect that even more with what we have been discussing?

Scott: The biblical terminology is rich and illuminating.  The healing power of forgiveness is about restoring sight when it comes to perceiving the full humanity of others, and of ourselves.  Accepting forgiveness is being able to claim our relationship with people we have hurt or failed to protect, or with people who have hurt us.  That is what you are doing right now.  Honestly.  Courageously.

Glen: Wow.  But wait—I thought you received forgiveness from God only if you confessed your sins. I already told you that I am reluctant.  And yet you are telling me that I am already experiencing forgiveness? On top of that, I don’t really want to forgive others until after they have acknowledged their wrong and repented—if then.  So how does this work?

Scott: It’s already working in you!  Let’s get specific.  The Circle that you and I take part in is full of the power of forgiveness, the power for liberation.  It is in the sacred space that we create with one another; it is in the deep listening, and the accountability that does not condemn.  Forgiveness is made real in the articulation of truths that are difficult, and painful, and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful.  It is in community where the integrity of each story, and the pain within it, is honored.

Glen: So in the Circle, we not only receive forgiveness but we are also agents of it?

Scott: Yes. Glen, think about how telling your truth has loosened the bonds that were strangling you; how the sharing of your truth has encouraged and helped other vets, and now civilians who were disconnected before.  Forgiveness removes obstacles. In our Circle, we have been committed to the renunciation of bullshit.  That is incredibly liberating!  And we have discovered that the gift of someone else’s story –their truth--can unlock something deep within us.

Glen: So, to experience forgiveness is to realize the place where our stories, and each of us, can belong? 

Scott: Yes!  Where it becomes real.  It seems to me that the Circle has become a for-giving place for a gathered people with an abundance of truth in their guts; people who, even when hurting and bewildered, have already begun an inner journey committed to authenticity and accountability. 

Glen: So our deepening relationships become outward expressions of at-one-ment, even as they help us to reconstruct a more whole and healthy personal narrative.  I have sought kindred spirits in my life, but haven’t always been able to find them.  Immediately after my tour of duty I would open up to friends.  Most—actually all—turned away from the deeper secrets of war.  When they asked me about my war experience and I answered honestly, they quickly needed to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom or to get a drink or take care of something they just remembered.  I felt very isolated from my community.  The way you are describing atonement is that I am no longer isolated from my growing community. I’m at-one with others who actually know most of me, including my most violent and compassionate self.

Scott: I think of this as holy ground that we sanctify with our trustworthiness and our entrusting.

Glen: And with protection.  In this case, it is not protection from the truth, but protection that enables the truth to be told.  I feel safe in Circle.  The security comes from it being a sacred place.  Security and protection of truth-tellers comes from a common bond.  We are authentic together.  I have looked for that ever since I fought and survived with a bunch of men that I did not know until I went on patrol.  Good soldiers are authentic: they show fear but do their best for all, including themselves.  Bullets fired in your direction are very real.  The bullets intent is not confused; enemies aim to kill.  How one responds is the essence of authenticity.  The question, “Who am I as a soldier?,” is answered the first time someone really tries to kill you.  You either fight or you don’t; that is who you are plain and simple.

Scott: Isn’t your authenticity an expression of your deeper humanity?   You once told me, “I learned in Vietnam that I am a warrior and enjoy that role.”  That is both a statement of acceptance and a declaration!  A primary self-understanding, even vocation, is realized.  And there is a paradox interwoven with it.  Even as you have described so vividly an environment where moral rules were officially suspended and where it was kill or be killed, you also discovered the freedom to flesh out that warrior identity in much fuller and deeper human terms, with each decision you made, some of them unpopular with your men.

Glen: Morality is tested every day in a war zone. In Vietnam mountain people were basically caught in the middle. As a Ranger our war zone often included where mountain people lived.  My orders were to gather intelligence and kill anyone in the “free fire zone”.  I just could not obey those orders. One time three women, an older man and one child walked out in front of my Ranger team. Being in charge, I was in a moral dilemma. Let them go, call in a helicopter to extract them or kill them. I chose to let them go and the mountain people were later pressured by Viet Cong to describe our whereabouts. At dusk mortars were fired into our position where we saw the mountain people. Fortunately I had moved the team onto the other side of high ground.  No injuries or death but the story illustrates the challenges to morality. 

Scott: And in  the release you are now experiencing, four decades later,  you are able to claim that even then you functioned as a moral agent!   So you are able to teach me about integrity.  And as you continue to embrace this “letting,” this permission to reconstruct and reinterpret your story, I would call it accepting for-giveness;  engaging your role as a valued teacher, a person of wisdom.

Glen:  I think I have been working on telling my story for many years.  I survived combat.  I learned a lot about myself and the world because of that year in combat.  I instinctively know that my combat experience was blood real. As I accept what I did and what I learned, I want others to learn from me.  

Scott: Accepting your experience is a move toward wholeness.  Also, it frees you to seek justice and peace because you know the disruption and pain of war.    

Glen:  Yes, I think that anyone who has fought to the death has experienced that reality as transformative.  I am in fact different than I was before I fought in combat.

Scott: Our colleague Roger Brooke says that as a warrior you have learned lessons:  about the nature of evil; about politics; about duplicity; about life; about the human condition. ‘
“There are lessons learned and it is difficult to find peace ultimately . . . until you’ve taken up the lessons and somehow carried them back into the culture that could surely do with those lessons.” (1)

Glen: That is what I have started to do over the last couple of years. Back in 2003, I was furious when the commander- in-chief stated “mission accomplished.”  I had no idea what to do with my rage at the time.  Now I am speaking out so that others may learn the realities of war.  It is not glorious.  It is never over. 

Scott: Early on you said, “Helping build a school in Vietnam seems like the right thing for me to do.”  That is also a clear assertion full of heart and vision!  How do you get from here to there?

Glen: By continuing to step into that path that enacts healing.    For example, I now look forward to Veterans Day.  I never celebrated or acknowledged that holiday until a couple of years ago, when we started witnessing to the high suicide rate among veterans and active duty military.  Now from November 1st until Veterans Day I am getting up every morning to gather with others to bear witness to the soul pain that ends up in suicide.  We hang sets of dog tags on a tree in a public place, one set for each warrior who has taken their life, over a period of eleven days.  Publicly witnessing, bowing our heads and praying and caring about the fallen is conscious action to bring attention to a wrong. 

(1) Brooke, R. (2015). Project 22 Interview. At: rogerbrookephd.com

First Intentional Dialogue


Scott Hutchinson and D. Glen Miller

Glen Miller is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He served as an Army Ranger Team Leader from September 1969-September 1970. Six men made up a standard Army Ranger combat patrol. Glen is also adjunct professor for Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He teaches ethics and leadership courses. Glen founded Veteran’s Community Network in 2014. His wife Mary helps him lead VCN. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Scott Hutchinson is Pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ in Perkasie, PA, where he has served for 21 years. He was previously a counseling professional. His areas of focus and expertise include forgiveness, trauma healing, and peace education. Scott is co-founder of Touchstone Veterans Outreach and the COMPASS Healing Circle. Scott is married to Debra, a US Army veteran. They have three children and a grandson.

"Well I am almost through my first patrol. The jungle is hot and dense. For four days I have not been able to see more than a few yards ahead. Monkeys and snakes move suddenly and scare me but so far no NVA. It was my hope to earn my stripes with some action. This war includes killing and dying just like other wars, and I did not see any of that so far.  Sarge holds up his fist for the five of us to stop.  Our team is on the edge of the LZ. We have survived and soon will be extracted through a small clearing in Southeast Asia jungle.  Sarge indicates that we should sit and rest; eyes front, sides and Pudge takes the rear. His face says we are never safe.

I open up a can of peaches saved for this occasion, the end of my first Ranger patrol. I slurp some peach juice.  Then crack, crack, crack of two weapons. Sarge and his point man kill a man on the LZ. I cannot see clearly but now there is just silence and the hum of the radio.  

Pop smoke! Roger, smoke out. Purple smoke! Roger. The chopper pulls into the LZ, I finish my peaches and prepare to move out.  Now, I see the dead man. He looks young. I see no weapon. I get on the chopper."

Glen told this story in the Healing Circle. Glen, Scott and others commit to Circle once a month. In Circle we tell our truth and truth continues to unfold. Our spirits and souls are intertwined within these stories. The authors are: Glen, a Vietnam era combat veteran; and  Scott, a minister and a man of peace with his own experiences in war zones and places of enmeshed conflict. Scott is a Strong Heart for the Circle process. Strong Hearts listen without judgment. 

Together we (Scott and Glen) will use snippets of our dialogue to explore journeys of healing from the soul wounds of war. We will pay particular attention to the relationship between forgiveness and atonement in addressing the crucible of wars demons: namely betrayal, murder, killing and fear. We do not intend to minimize the courage and honor that also accommodate the fog of war. However, our purpose is not with the many positive stories. Our purpose is to illuminate the deep and unrelenting pain that many veterans suffer. Some may characterize the pain as moral injury. 


Glen Miller as a soldier in Vietnam
Glen: Now days I reflect on that first combat patrol.  In my gut I know that Sarge should not have shot that man to death. Forty five years after the fact I know that I witnessed a murder. Murder is wrong and I was a witness. What do you do with that dreadful thought?  

Questions haunt me, particularly at night. Could I have done anything to stop the murder? Why do these things happen?  Is it alright to kill someone that may be an enemy at night but searching for food by day?

I do not expect answers in Circle. What seems to be working is deep listening and openness to difficult truths that I am telling. Many times I wish that I never questioned the killing.  Nobody said anything about it when we got on the chopper. The mood was that killing an innocent is just part of war.  Could I be the only one that questions the morality of this act? Was my inaction a betrayal of my own conscience?  Are there moral standards in war? Or perhaps a better question is: do immoral acts linger in the soul of the soldier? If so, and I think they do; what can one do to make amends?

Scott: You have a flood of important, interrelated questions there. First, you are articulating –with considerable clarity—your own experience of moral injury, what we have called a “soul wound.” You are someone who participated in several dozen combat missions, events that have continued to impact and shape your life over five subsequent decades.  Post –traumatic stress has been a daily reality for you and your wife over those years. 

Glen: So killing that innocent kid wounded me even though I did not shoot him?

Scott: Yes. Moral injury can result when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs. The consequences can be devastating. 

Glen: I think that’s true. But I never thought about it that way. 

Scott: What is unsettling you now is that, forty-five years later, you are identifying this initial trauma as one that substantially defines and frames your war year, and that may be the source of your greatest distress. 

Glen: Well I had not thought about that first mission until Circle. I think the prompt for that night in Circle was about trust and betrayal. 

Scott: Though you have admittedly taken life in combat, what is most disturbing to you is that you witnessed what you now describe as the murder of an unarmed man. 

Glen: I know I do not wake up at night thinking about killing NVA. I do wake up thinking about that kid coming back to get me.  

Scott: You ask yourself, “Could I have done anything to stop it?” It bothers you deeply that no one, including you, objected.

Glen: It is bothering me now. 

Scott: You asked if your inaction was a betrayal of your conscience. 

Glen: Yes, it is and it hurts.  Right now I wish that I never questioned the killing.

Scott: That is acknowledgment that you are grappling with material that is essential for your healing and for your commitment to live with integrity. Glen, if you listen again to your own questions, you’ll realize that they are not so much queries as they are testimony. They have implications for all of us! But let’s stick with you. 

Glen: Remembering is challenging and painful. I have witnessed immoral acts. I have killed in combat. And I have sinned. These acts and witnesses are a part of me. So how do I bring my full identity into congruence with the man I intend to be? 

Scott: “Forty five years after the fact I know I witnessed a murder.” While you may not be able to identify every development that has led to this revelation, it seems to me that there is a measure of salvation for you in reclaiming the details. You also state with equal clarity: “I have witnessed immoral acts. I have killed in combat. I have sinned. These acts and witnesses are a part of me.” Your words are deeply confessional. Has sharing your story with me and in Circle enabled your confession?

Glen: Sure. Talking with friends and veterans in Circle has helped me remember. Talking with you helps clear up the mess. 

Scott: I think that the story of the first patrol ending in murder is an awakening for the deeper soul searching. The story demanding to come out was prompted by the sacredness of our Circle and our friendship.  The first patrol may not have been your defining combat experience; but it is certainly revealed as a defining moral experience.

Glen: I do feel guilty, like I did something wrong.

Scott: When I hear the clarity of your statements and the language that you choose, I am reminded of our mission partner Chris, who was an Army Chaplain in Afghanistan.  He has suggested that to pastorally understand the problem facing returning veterans, we need to wrestle with the term sin and its meaning. That killing is an offense to our nature, an offense to right conscience. That sin seems to be an inevitable consequence of all war. (1)

Glen: Probably it is. It is confusing but sharing my confusion helps. 

Scott: Your story is powerful commentary on what Chris has said. As I re-read his words I can also hear you: “So how do I bring my full identity into congruence with the man I intend to be?” This is so important. When we talk about the soul we are talking about identity at the richest levels of our self-understanding and expression. The soul is who we are as whole people; deeply human. Soul wounds are injuries – often severe- that do harm and distortion to that identity. In reluctantly identifying yourself as “sinner,” one who has witnessed immorality and has killed, you are claiming your history as someone who has wounded others and also incurred wounds. You are speaking truth and also claiming your moral agency. 

Glen: Well, it is a relief to remember. It also disturbs my sleep; but the witnessing of killing an innocent is definitely more disturbing than combat. 

Scott: The groundbreaking VA study that began addressing “moral injury”  identified  anguish, guilt, and shame as “signs of an intact conscience and self and other expectations about goodness, humanity and justice.” (2)    So your inner and increasingly articulated struggles are a sign of your moral health, Glen; a significant measure of well-being and intactness in the midst of the pain and confusion that has been a chronic state. 

Glen: Just remembering is then a step towards wholeness. 

Scott: Yes. The future can be different not in spite of the sin and wounded-ness but because of it and your willingness to claim it. Your truth illuminates  broader truths. That you are a sinner in a society that is sinful and engages the sin of war with an addictive fervor. (3)   But that is not all of who you are: neither is it all that your comrades in-arms are or will be. 

Glen: I want to be less angry and more at peace.

Scott: Is giving voice to your experiences helping you?

Glen: Yes. Talking with you and reflecting on our Circle meetings is actually me remember. I am restless and sometimes have nightmares after our talks or the circle meetings. 

Scott: Judith Herman has written a classic book, Trauma and Recovery. In it, she teaches that  post-traumatic healing involves the re-construction of a personal narrative. She calls the process “the restorative practice of truth telling. ” (4) I wonder if that is what is happening as you are sharing your story with me. 

Glen: I think so. More importantly, I trust you!

Scott: And I am honored by the way you en-trust me.

Glen: So again: how do I bring my full identity into congruence with the man I intend to be? How does remembering and telling my truth help? 

Scott: You talked about our conversations and the Circle helping you to remember. It has also stirred memories and material that you have been holding a long time. The release can lead in the immediate to the restlessness that you describe. Yet in an environment that is trustworthy and non-judgmental, you are invited to deepen the journey. We might call this Re-memberment: restoration of that which has been fragmented and dismembered.

Glen: Well, not remembering the murder for so long moves towards an unsettled feeling; perhaps broken apart from a bad memory. It is my desire to be whole. What do you think is next?

Scott: The re-construction of your narrative opens up the possibility for you to understand and experience your story in new ways that offer possibility and are life-giving. Your words, as profound as they are, have been offered in the midst of a larger history and context. Being able to recover and re-tell a fuller story opens the door for release. Sharing it with others in an environment of trust makes it real. 

Glen: But what do you think it opens the door to?

Scott: In my faith tradition we call it atonement. It is helpful to break that term down: At-one -ment. It is a movement towards wholeness. 

Glen: Tell me more.

Scott: According to our friend Ed Tick, atonement is “performing acts of repair that bring what was separated, divided, or broken back into union  . . . re-creating oneness within and between people and nations from the shattered bits of the worlds that are left after the aftermath of war’s carnage.” (5) Glen, I think “within” and “between” are really important terms here. Your inner healing and actions taken to heal the world are inextricably tied together. With the process of your inner healing, we are working toward you reconstructing a “whole story” for your life, rather than being locked in a fractured or reduced story defined by the events that have traumatized you.

Glen: Telling you what I feel about combat leads to more remembering. I feel a need to piece that together.

Scott: You get passionate and energized when you talk about moral injury. 

Glen: That’s true. I want others to learn from my experiences. Other veterans could benefit and be more at peace in their own skin. 

Scott: I suggest that your outreach to veterans is atonement. It helps them while it helps you.

Glen: It is healing. I have some nightmares but I’m more calm and peaceful during the day.


Link to Second Intentional Dialogue: Moral Injury, Forgiveness, and Atonement >>>


(1) Antal, C. J. (2013).  Moral Injury, Soul Wound, and Sin.  White Paper received from author, pp. 11, 13.
(2) Litz, B., Stein, N., Delany, E., Liebowitz, L., Nash, W.P., Silva, C., Maguen, S. (2009). Moral Injury and Moral Repair in War Veterans: A Preliminary Model and Intervention Strategy.  Clinical Psychology Review.  29(8): pp. 695-706.
(3) Antal, p. 14.
(4) Herman, J.  (1992).  Trauma and Recovery.  New York, NY: Basic Books, pp. 175-181.
(5) Cousineau, P. (ed) (2011).  Beyond Forgiveness: reflections on atonement.  San Francisco, CA; Jossey-Bass, p. 116.