Thursday, January 8, 2015

Art and Hope in the Midst of Poverty

After a whirlwind first couple days, these last two days have been relatively low-key compared to Monday.  Tuesday was spent mostly working around the center on projects, playtime and worship with the kids, dinner, then talking time.  Our work included offloading three pallets of coats, blankets, and other supplies, then a new pool table for the rec room where the kids play.  The old pool table was getting worn and wobbly, becoming a safety hazard.  Meanwhile, two teams went out to houses on the reservation to help put plastic over windows or help put sheet rock over a hole in a wall of another house.  I helped around the center and assembled the new pool table and clean/organize.  Cleaning/organizing will be an ongoing project, although Pastor Karen also said the relationship building was more important than the work itself and she is right.  I also got the keyboard out and then found out at 2pm, I would be playing for an impromptu wedding, which ended up being very beautiful and simple with many of us being the witnesses.  The couple had already been to the tribal office and after a quick meeting with Pastor Karen, the wedding was underway, followed by a short reception with cake.

We also got to meet a number of people who came by the center throughout the day, as the center is also a place to grab a cup of coffee or a sandwich, a coat, gloves, and blankets.  It is a valuable mission site for the people of Pine Ridge, as the level of poverty here is alarming.  Many residents are on a fixed income and lucky to get $150/month.  Gas, propane, heat, and food are all expensive here, which drives the poverty level up.  But time and again, the children show us a great time and such joy when they come to the center, yet the center is a refuge for them too, as they kids embrace all who stay here and love Pastor Karen too.  It is an escape for them for an hour to escape impoverished lives, yet they do not show it when they are here.

The evening presentation was a demonstration by Valery Brown Eyes on quilling, which involves making bracelets out of buck skin and porcupine quills.  However, unlike Kelly Looking Horse, Valery had a much more optimistic and positive tone in her talk, as she really enjoys sharing her story.  Like many others in the Native American community, she escaped alcoholism and has been using her art of quilling as a means of income and as a spiritual practice.  But, she also had a lot more optimistic view of life, not dwelling on the fact that she too lives in poverty and shared her faith story.  She did not dwell as much on Wounded Knee, although acknowledged the tragedy that took place in 1890 and the standoffs between the American Indian Movement and FBI in the 1970's.  Instead, she talked of how her art gave her peace and a sense of hope and a strong faith despite setbacks.  However, it was pointed out that drug use, alcohol, and gang activity on the reservation contribute to the poverty level and dim outlook shared by many.  Due to connectivity issues, I was unable to post about yesterday, so this ends up being a double blog posting.

Today was also rather low-key, as the weather was "warm" in the 30's before plummeting back down.  Pastor Karen was called away to perform a funeral at 2pm, although I ended up spending the day writing, as I am contributing a couple articles to Worship Arts Magazine for the March/April edition.  I was also in a lot of pain from my shoulders and back, as the cold weather is not kind on joints, nor are the beds.  Now I know how Jacob felt using a stone for his pillow, although try sleeping on a stone.  The highlight was bonding with some of the locals who joined us for breakfast and coffee, playtime and worship with the kids, as I got to help lead worship and singing tonight.  The kids are such enthusiastic participants too, especially as we talked about baptism with them.  Following dinner, Kevin Poor Bear gave us a demonstration and talk, sharing his story of overcoming alcoholism and turning his life to God and using the artistic talents God gave him to mentor children and teach them in art.  He also did not dwell too much on Wounded Knee but instead talked about the need to move on from Wounded Knee.  Although he did talk a lot about people's struggle and the need for positive influences (i.e. the art) and turning lives to Jesus Christ.  He did remind me of and even reference the late painter Bob Ross as he created three pastel drawings. 

As my friend Carrie and I walked through the local grocery store to get food for Friday night's dinner (as we are cooking lasagna), the prices were outrageous and is what is one of the factors driving poverty here, as fixed income, high prices for basic needs, limited supply, and no money coming back into the reservation are all factors.  It is also mentioned in each presentation we have heard and in the artists coming by in hopes we would consider buying their goods, which is their livelihood for the most part.  In seeing the work that the center does, it also makes me wonder what we in the church can do better to help others deal with poverty in our own neighborhoods.  How can we show hospitality to our neighbors and welcome them in just like Jesus did?  How can we be hope in a place whose people do not always share a sense of hope? 

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