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America is not irredeemably broken. It has precious scars to prove it

This nation has proven it is possible to become stronger in its broken places. 

Gen. Douglas MacArthur signs the Japanese surrender documents on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

I was reminded this week of the importance and power of “precious scars.” Such scars can remind us, individually and collectively, of lessons learned, obstacles overcome and the need for humble hearts and strong spirits.

During my KSL News Radio program this week, I noted that it was in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, that World War II really came to a conclusion with the formal surrender being signed aboard the USS Missouri.

Douglas MacArthur said at that moment, “It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past — a world founded upon faith and understanding — a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish — for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

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I took the opportunity to acknowledge the less-than-elevating, but equally important, reality that during the war Japanese internment camps, such as Topaz in Utah, were places where the dignity of men and women were not upheld nor was freedom, tolerance and justice on display. Remembering such scars, rather than erasing them, is vital to the onward march of our society.

At the Topaz Internment Camp, many Japanese Americans could have given up on a clearly broken America. They didn’t. They learned from the broken parts, held fast to the ideas and ideals that inspired freedom and then moved forward. They started an art school, led by artists who had been forced to be there. More than 600 students engaged in creating beauty out of a most broken situation.

A few years ago I wrote that during my time in Japan, I became intrigued with the ancient art of kintsugi. Legend has it that it began with shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who broke a treasured teacup. After numerous failed attempts to fix the cup, a team of artisans put it back together using a form of resin mixed with powdered gold. The result was not only the restoration of a prized teacup but the complete transformation of the cup into a piece of art with golden lines where the break occurred.

When a teapot, vase or saucer is damaged, it breaks in unique ways — no two cracks or fractures would ever be the same — meaning the golden scar from the kintsugi process is always distinctive. The word kintsugi literally means “golden repair,” but many refer to it as the art of precious scars.

Being vulnerable enough to acknowledge our brokenness is the beginning of individual improvement and societal change. Author Brené Brown wrote, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

The art of precious scars, whether applied to individuals, organizations or nations begins with the kind of vulnerability that echoes truth and fosters courage.

The people of this land are very much broken. Even America’s welcoming symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, invites the broken to come:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In the golden, restoring and renewing light of liberty, brokenness can be repaired and redeemed.

Some, seeing the cracks and incongruence of our country’s flawed founders from the distorted rearview mirror of history, have declared this vessel of freedom, America, to be irredeemable and broken beyond repair. In so doing they miss entirely the essence of the nation.

History, at its core, is a testament to precious scar tissue. Individual and societal lessons are learned and relearned through imperfect people, less than noble leaders and humble citizens who rise up out of the imperfections of independence, freedom and self-government.

The American story is indeed an inspiring story of redemption. Individuals have overcome, outcasts have risen up and the prejudice and injustice of the past have been cast in the perpetual process of being purged from society. Progress is uneven, occasionally paused and sometimes pushed backward. But this nation has proven it is possible to become stronger in its broken places.

All of us are broken. By acknowledging our flaws and imperfections, we can find the beauty and strength that come from our brokenness. The chips and cracks of life, failure, frustration and anxiety can create golden scars that make us stronger and immensely more valuable.

MacArthur was right that a better world could emerge from the brokenness of the war, “a world founded upon faith and understanding — a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish — for freedom, tolerance and justice.” His words may be more applicable to those of us living in the brokenness of 2020 than they were to those living in 1945.

As a country we need to become more courageously vulnerable by recognizing scar tissue and understanding the infinite value within the brokenness of every human being. By confronting some uncomfortable conversations, with each other and within ourselves, we may find that we can actually become stronger in our broken places and have precious and priceless scars of gold to prove it.