Dr. Diane Langberg opens her book, Suffering and the Heart of God by describing the emotional impact she felt standing in the dungeons beneath Cape Coast Castle (one of about forty "slave castles" built on West Africa’s Gold Coast by European traders). You can listen to her 18 minute Q talk describing the experience below.
While listening, I felt her shock, dismay, and yes sorrow when the guide explained, "Directly above two hundred shackled men—some of them dead, others screaming, all of them sitting in filth—sat God worshipers. The worshipers sang, read the Scripture, prayed, and I suppose took up an offering for those less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could sometimes hear the slaves (though there were those making them behave so as not to disturb church)."
“The people in the chapel were numb to the horrific trauma and suffering beneath them. Under the FORM of worship in that chapel in Ghana lay the darkness of slavery, oppression, and tyranny–all things that blight & destroy humans created in the image of God."
When the guard pointed to the chapel above and said, "heaven above, hell below," Langberg stated, "I would argue that heaven was not above, for that is not what heaven does. What does heaven do? Heaven leaves heaven-its place of comfort, songs, purity, plenty, and money to give. Heaven comes down. If the people of that chapel had truly worshiped God, they would have been in the dungeon, in the filth and the darkness and the suffering. They would have entered in so that they might bring out."
Trauma and faith
Those who know me well know my faith is central to my life. They also know the difference becoming trauma-informed made in my life. I thought of Langberg’s experience when my colleague and fellow C-SASI board member, Dr. Jake Porter (Daring Ventures), posted the following on his personal Facebook page:
"Tonight, against my better judgment, I started viewing posts on my timeline, something I actually do far less than you’d likely think. I found a post that basically implied that working with a “trauma counselor” is an act demonstrating a lack of faith in the sufficiency of Scripture.
This is both enraging and heartbreaking.
Trauma is a neurobiological reality. We now have the actual imaging from fMRI studies showing how trauma affects the functioning of the brain. Psychological trauma is a real, objective reality that shows up in the physical functioning of the body’s nervous system.
To claim it is merely a matter of the will and the strength of one’s faith is ignorance and abuse.
I’ve worked with clients who were repeatedly raped starting at the age of 2. Tell me how so-called “biblical counseling” helps someone who cannot read or write or understand abstract concepts like forgiveness, atonement, and grace (all wonderful gospel realities I celebrate).
But do you know what can help that child? Bilateral stimulation of the brain (EMDR) while doing narrative therapy, as this protocol literally helps heal the physical effects of trauma on a brain (overcoming, among other things, the impairment of the corpus callosum triggered during traumatic episodes).
Please, brothers and sisters, refrain from your ignorant punchlines dissing so-called “secular” therapies in an attempted defense of the gospel, and instead join me in thanking God for his common grace that has helped us understand the workings of our fearfully and wonderfully made bodies and minds."
Let's follow Dr. Langberg plea. Let's leave behind our "places of comfort, songs, purity, plenty, and money" and "enter in (to the trauma among us) so that we might bring out." Let's be curious, eager to learn about trauma - its scope and pervasiveness, its symptoms, including how to recognize our own trauma stories, and then learn how to walk alongside the traumatized without retraumatizing them.
During these past six years of training peer facilitators from a trauma-informed approach, from cross the broad Christian community I’ve witnessed an increased growth in interest about trauma... means (and what it doesn’t) ... as well as interest in how to become more informed in creating safe communities.
As a result, I’m noticing a growing amount of easily accessible content to continually increase our understanding of the prevalence, scope, and impact of trauma as well as practices to help mitigate its impact.
Psychiatrist and author Curt Thomson’s newest podcasts focusing on trauma are an excellent example. In the series, Curt unpacks trauma, its causes, multidimensional impact, symptoms, and what helps with healing. To help listeners process their response to each session, Being Known also offers an application page recommends other helpful resources.
I've been strongly encouraging ADOH peer facilitators to listen to all sessions to augment what they already know, what they've learned during the ADOH peer facilitator training journey, and help add to their own trauma healing experience.
Today I also want to encourage you to listen. And since I find it to be another helpful tool to help church or ministry leaders enter into the trauma stories sitting in our pews, interacting with us online, or wherever we meet... I encourage you to share them with others...
So that together we can join Christ in His work bringing them out.
For more about Dr. Thompson (His books include Anatomy of the Soul, The Soul of Shame, The Soul of Desire)