As a kid I ran from brokenness. Whenever a fight broke out at school while some excitedly gravitated toward it I’d subtely turn tail and literally walk away in the opposite direction. I remember doing this often. Whenever I found myself in proximity to deep hurt, sickness, or wreckage my sensitive psyche wanted nothing to do with it so in my fear I’d flee.
I still feel that same compulsion and sensitivity now but at some point in the growing older I turned a corner and began moving toward the wreckage with an innocent and perhaps sometimes arrogant desire to rummage through it searching for redemption. Reactions to brokenness tend to vacillate between fight or flight feeling as if situations, relationships, and people are either fixable or beyond it.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the people and places of Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. This visit has been a long time coming. My desire started about four years ago as a friendship developed with a struggling homeless couple in Denver both of whom were born and raised on Pine Ridge.
As our friendship grew through conversations at diners and detention centers I found myself like the disciple Thomas knowing I wouldn’t access clarity unless I leaned in closer and felt the wounds for myself. So, the intrigue, prayers, and friendships eventually led me to take up an invitation to spend this past weekend experiencing the people and places of Pine Ridge.
When I reached out to touch the brokenness I experienced both hells and heavens just inches apart from one another. I played with lively children, prayed prayers with wise elders while also listening to excruciatingly painful stories of rape, suicide, and addiction. Within these tear soaked stories I discovered both unfathomable trauma along with glimpses of deep beauty residing side by side.
After several conversations with local Lokatas I visited the site of Wounded Knee a place where Native men, women, and children were mercilessly eliminated by US soldiers. The emotion there knocked me to the dirt leaving me only with tears and mouthing a quiet, “Lord have mercy/Christ have mercy” prayer.
How could MY tribe of colonialist Christians entirely overlook the imago dei and resort to such anti-christ evil? And if they were capable of such insanity then in what ways have I been adopted into this systemic brokenness? How do I possibly respond to such violent wreckage, such trauma, and the ongoing massacres taking place there via gangs, suicides, and fetal alcohol syndrome?
Our brokenness is broadly corporate and yet very personal all at once.
Running away from all of it remains a compulsion for sure but it’s one I’ve found entirely unhelpful. And sometimes the compulsion to reactively fix is equally unhelpful – a narcisistic coping mechanism – a knee jerk reaction in the midst of unsightly suffering.
While this was a unique experience of mine while visiting the rez, often all of us are forced into these crucibles of tension with no way of resolving them. Isn’t it the very contents of this crucible that Jesus speaks of when asking his friends, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”