By Jazmin Julene Miller
New Wine, New Wineskin’s Spring 2017 conference on Trauma and Resilience was an enriching experience for students and professionals alike, exploring the themes in theoretical, personal, and practical ways. Workshops discussed topics like Sexual Trauma, Environmental Trauma, Trauma in Fiction, and Moral Trauma. Speakers included doctors, tribal leaders, professors, and survivors. It was a painful, beautiful, and diverse experience of learning about a difficult topic from many perspectives and disciplines.
Some of the speakers, including Dr. Leroy Barber and Steve Tracy, have published books on sexual and racial trauma and the pain of the journey toward healing and reconciliation. A web search, if you know where to start, will usually result in a few blog posts or audio recordings of presentations by other speakers or experts in the field who were not at the conference. Interestingly enough, content and research by those working or researching in trauma-care related fields is not as easy to find as I assumed it would be—perhaps because those doing the work are busy doing it.
However, news articles and reports of war, sexual abuse, violence, and racial conflict are much more easily found. Gory details of disasters and heartbreaking glimpses of human suffering are almost constantly available to us on our phones, TV’s, and computers. How do we process that kind of information and respond to it well?
If we knew where to look and had the resources, we could find research on the psychological and physical effects of trauma, as well as how resilience can be cultivated. We could find statistics and analyses that could prove helpful. Doing research at home on my own would definitely have been more convenient than giving up an entire Saturday to attend a conference, and it would eliminate the hunt for parking and sitting awkwardly at a table with strangers. Did this conference need to happen?
What I am learning, and what I think the conference speakers would agree with, is that academic research, information, and data can only get you so far, especially in regard to understanding the effects of trauma and crisis on an individual’s body, brain, emotions, and soul.
Consuming news or statistics about trauma or disaster has not made me more compassionate, but having hard conversations with professors, friends, and counselors has. I can be dismissive of someone else’s pain until I have learned their name. Relational engagement is a game changer when it comes to caring and learning about trauma. When we or someone we love is in real crisis, are we looking for an academic answer? No. Research should not be separated from it’s practical application.
Something essential is missing when trauma and resilience are discussed in an academic, intellectual manner, especially when there is no real conversation. Trauma has a face and a voice, and it is found in the stories of survivors and advocates. We need to hear from them. We need to listen to them. We need each other, with our different areas of experience and learning. Trauma and resilience may be academic sounding words, but they are intimately relational in truth. What this conference gave to me and everyone who attended was an enlightening, informative, imperfect, and relational gift. As Judith Lewis Herman says in her book Trauma and Recovery, “Recovery can take place only within then context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”
The divide between the facts and their faces is part of what New Wine, New Wineskins is seeking to bridge. This work of building communication between diverse perspectives and experiences is hard, demanding work, and so worth doing. I was blessed enormously by this conference, in the workshops and in conversations at lunch and in prayer with strangers.
By the closing remarks of the conference, I felt much less as if something had ended than confident that something had begun. I felt responsible for some of what happened that day, knowing that the experience of some would have been different if I had not been there. I have been invited to become a small but valuable part of something much bigger than me.
The heart of New Wine is an invitation to join in the work of Jesus by actively engaging the pain, mess, and beauty in the lives of people around us. It is time consuming, difficult, and costly work, and I did not hear one person in the room of over three hundred even suggest that it wasn’t absolutely worth doing. This is a conversation that requires many voices and work that requires many hands; will you join us?