raham’s book on moral injury maintains that healing moral injuries requires the embracing of moral pain, as well as the pain of changing moral compasses that occur with life’s circumstances. Larry Kent Graham is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology and Care at Iliff School of Theology. He is ordained in the United Church of Christ and has served in various ministry roles. He has written several other books on pastoral care.
His stated purpose is to “offer collaborative strategies to help ministers and those they serve to engage moral challenges.” Moral injury is defined as “the erosive diminishment of our souls, because our moral actions and the actions of others against us sometimes have harmful outcomes.” Graham envisions his book as a guide to help religious leaders as they work with laity, including military veterans and communities, around moral conflicts.
Graham begins with “Mapping the Moral Landscape.” An introductory chapter includes the interesting insight that “moral injury can accrue from accumulated stress in morally dissonant environments as much as from failure to act in accordance with one’s own moral codes.” The author discusses two moral concerns: “the challenge to value differences and engage them productively within and across religious and political groupings,” and “the emergence of ‘moral injury’ as a distinct dimension of spiritual care for post-traumatic healing.” He invites caregivers to focus on “sharing the risks and co-creative discovery” by being attuned and by using “mutual active listening.”
The possibilities of healing and moral advance arise from this posture of attunement and listening. The author maintains that our individual welfare and difficulties are connected corporately, and addresses sin as institutional, structural, and systemic. He introduces the concept of “Palaver” [long discussions] as “a way of being in the world, beyond problem-solving and healing.” The author grounds his approach to moral guidance and healing with contextual creativity and strategic examples.
Part two of his book addresses moral challenges. The author shows how various understandings of God impact those struggling with moral injury. He sees God as “an agent of preserving, awakening, and renewing life after moral demises,” rather than being the cause of all good and evil in the world. Dissonance and dilemma are to be embraced as normal and natural. Different categories of trauma are listed, toward the end of this section, and the reader is guided in recognizing and engaging them.
In part three, “Reckoning and Repair,” the author presents healing as both social and personal endeavors. The responsibilities of the careseeker, the caregiver, and other partners are addressed. The heart of the book is chapter nine. This chapter addresses collaborative conversations that name and frame moral injury and also aid in healing and moving forward. The final chapter explores healing rituals and memorials that help heal and bear moral injury, as well negotiate and sustain. He says, “There is a tendency for dominant cultures to define the scope of permissible anguish, to have ultimate control over the discourse about causes, and to determine when it is time to get over the past and move on.” The author concludes with his own confirmations, discoveries, and challenges.
Assessing the book is easier given the author’s own critique: “This elaborate schema will be meaningless and unusable to some . . . and may not be compatible with the mindset and experience of some . . . For those who are more behaviorally oriented and communally embedded, this might seem like way too much naval-gazing and intersubjective muddling.” His suggestion to read the strategic examples before reading the rest of the book is a good one. These examples are compelling and give credence to his theories. Another reading strategy would be to engage the heart of the book in chapter nine first. The material in the book could be useful to some; however, it would best serve those with significant counseling experience or pastors who enjoy academic reading.
Although I read the author’s explanation that the book’s style was “circular rather than the linear, kaleidoscopic instead of monocular,” I still had trouble tracking with him. The book seemed a little too academic for pastors with minimal counseling education or experience. However, those teaching or counseling in academic settings may find helpful material here.