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Take Heart: Talking About This Angry Election Cycle with Teens

Tough Questions

From time to time I play a game with my students in which they get to ask questions (anonymously) on any topic: faith, religion, culture, theology, current events, relationships. You name it, my freshmen have asked it.

This is always one of my favorite class activities, because it shows me what’s on my students’ minds at any particular time. Usually during homecoming week, there are questions about drinking and partying. Around Christmas, I’m almost always asked what I’m giving my loved ones as gifts. Lent usually results in students asking me what I’m giving up, or what they should give up. Questions have ranged from curiosity about demonic possessions to why the Pope wears white and everything in between. It’s never dull.

The past two times I’ve played this game, though, there have been an overwhelming number of questions surrounding this upcoming Presidential election. “Who are you voting for?” and “What’s your opinion about the candidates?” to “Why do you think people are so gung ho about whoever they’re supporting?” It’s quite obvious that even my freshmen are aware that we live in troubled, unsetting times…

The first few class sections in which these questions were asked, I explained to my students that I didn’t want to talk about the election for fear of being biased. The last thing I wanted to do was influence their own personal opinions about the issues or upset their parents at home. But, as the questions kept pouring in on that specific topic, it dawned on me: maybe my students weren’t asking because they were just curious about my personal opinion; maybe they legitimately didn’t have a safe place in which they could have these discussions.

My suspicious were confirmed when I asked why they wanted to so desperately know what I thought. One student shared, “It just seems like so many people are so angry about so many things that a lot of us just don’t know what to think about it all.” My heart broke. Even my 14-year-old freshmen are able to articulate the perfect word to capture our nation right now: angry.

Relatively Angry

The anger sweeping our country is visible everywhere. The Internet, complete with Facebook comment debates, spiteful tweets, and conspiracy theory videos seems to be home base for America’s anger. Listen in on most conversations in restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery store lines and you’ll find politics and the election making an appearance. Just the other day, while flying home from Chicago, the gentleman in the seat next to me asked what I, a “young millennial and all” thought about where our country was headed. The conversation lasted only a minute when we quickly discovered that our opinions were quite different. Short of turning off the TV, disconnecting WiFi, and swearing off social media until election day, there is no way to escape the anger seeping from America’s pores.

So many are so angry about so much because there is a pervading sense of “I’ve been wronged” or “something has been taken from me” or “I’m scared of…” with a healthy dose of “I deserve…” So many are so angry about so much because an injustice is perceived, a wrong has been allowed, and something must be owed to them. So many are so angry about so much, and this anger, vitriol, and hatefulness only seems to get stronger day by day.

Make no mistake: this anger is a result of a society entrenched in a “my way or the highway” mentality, which is nothing more than relativism rearing its ugly head.
We, as a country, have lost our ability to dialogue. We have seemingly forgotten about the most important part of communication: listening. Instead, we have become a world convinced that whoever screams the loudest, types the fastest, or posts the most wins.

This is relativism – the belief in no objective Truth – unveiled and in full sight. People have gathered around their ideology and will fight for it, declaring themselves absolutely right, regardless of what is actually True.

If I had a student that ate sand for lunch every single day, I would talk to that student, letting them know that sand is not good for them. The sand has no nutritional value. In fact, consuming the sand could harm them. I may even go so far as to bring that student something else to eat and offer to get rid of the sand for them myself. After all that, if my student still insisted they wanted to eat their sand, despite having been shown the Truth about it, then we would all declare that student wrong (and in the closed quarters of the faculty lounge) crazy. We know they are wrong. We are trying to show them the Truth. Yet they resist, dig their heels in, and refuse to listen to reason.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all been both teacher and student. We have all tried to help and all refused to listen. Right now, though, it seems that a lot of people in our country have their heads buried in the sand…

So many people are so entrenched in their own version of truth. They believe in what they believe, and they refuse to look past the end of their own nose to see a bigger picture. People are refusing to listen, ignoring the all-necessary dialogue on which a society thrives. We have become a nation of individual truth seekers, believing more fully in ourselves and our own opinion than anything else. There’s a healthy dose of insisting we already know it all alongside a resistance to change our mind. For all our claims of being open minded and accepting, we have become very close minded and ignorant to one another. We have become angry. We have become hateful. We have become prophets of the wrong. We have become arbiters of “my truth” and “your truth” and rejected the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

What to do in times of trouble

Watching the anger play out on TV, the Internet, and in person made me realize that maybe I could and should answer my students’ numerous questions, helping them see a better way. It’s our job as ministers and workers in the Lord’s vineyard to help reveal and unpack the Truth, showing young people the way to Jesus. Even though that path to Him might be covered with the bloody remains of civil discourse, common decency, and simple respect for one another, we can’t just give up, go hide in the corner, and cry, waiting for it all to end. It is our duty to help show the Truth and unpack God’s Law, especially now. This is precisely the time to point out the still small voice of the Lord, because it is in the midst of all this nonsensical shouting that we need to hear Him. We must ultimately be pointing to Jesus and His infinite and perfect love, especially when the two major party candidates are wrestling in the mud pit of vitriol and hate. Blessed with the chance to lead and guide young people to relationship with Jesus, we have to help show them there are far greater and more important things than who will wield political power in this land for the next four years.

Firstly, we have to help our teens (and ourselves) be rooted in prayer.

Our wisdom is insufficient. Our knowledge is incomplete. Our understanding is imperfect. But God’s wisdom is enough, and we should beg for that. His knowledge is total and good. His understanding, of both Himself and us, is unchanging, in need of no improvement. We have to lift our heart and mind to Him, asking for His guidance, acknowledging His power, requesting His mercy, and thanking Him for all He has done. We must pray for our country, to become a land of civility, goodness, and virtue. We should ask the Lord to bless and lead whoever is elected, regardless of whether they were our pick or not. We want our leader to be led by the Lord, aware of His promptings and movement. We too want to be disposed to Him, listening to His voice above all others, going to Him rather than turning to the Internet or news to solve our problems and troubles.

Secondly, we must rise above the fray.

The Internet and public discourse is nasty right now. Spiteful words and hateful language is used ad nauseum, and it achieves nothing. We have to employ the age old THINK method, asking ourselves: Is what I’m about to say or type or think or share true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, or kind? If it isn’t, we have to pause and maybe hold our tongue. It’s so easy to get sucked into the infinite loop that is ugly conversation. We love to play around in the bad mud that disgustingly bonds us together, which leads to nothing more than a shouting match. It’s a black hole that can suck an entire day away. We have to look to engage in fruitful, virtuous, charitable dialogue that involves more listening than talking. We have to remember to keep silent when our comment or thought is more damaging than helpful. We have to rise above the negativity and hate that can drag us into the very depths of despair. We must rise to hope, remembering that we are better than the anger we see.

Thirdly, we must always look for & to the Good in one other.

If our hearts, minds, and eyes are truly fixed on Christ, then when we encounter anyone (whether we agree with them or not) we should first see them as a son or daughter of the Lord. We are all made in God’s image and likeness. We are all invited into relationship with Him. We are all called to live in His communion. And…we are all sinners who make mistakes and fail from time to time. We are all sometimes entrenched in what we believe, which can make us belligerent and angry. We are each on a journey, unique to us and God, and regardless of whether we agree or enjoy or support each other, we must look for and appreciate that which is common between us: that we are made to be like God and are called to love Him.

At the second presidential debate, the final question asked each candidate if they could name something about the other that they respected and admired. It was the best question of the night – maybe the best question of this entire election cycle – because it reminded the candidates (and us) that we should seek the good in another before pouncing on and proclaiming the bad.

It was a golden-rule moment: treat another as you would hope to be treated.

Hillary Clinton praised Donald Trump’s children, saying he had raised them well, a testament to his fatherliness and wisdom. Donald Trump lauded Hillary Clinton’s perseverance and stamina, saying she was a fighter who didn’t quit. It was a rare moment of respect and charity in what has been an angry and mean few months. It showed, for a brief moment, that the candidates are capable of turning off the spiteful words and treating one another with dignity, respect, and kindness. It was a model for how I wish this entire campaign season had gone: civil discourse on ideas with respectful disagreement, with a greater acknowledgement of the gift the other person truly is in the eyes of God, no matter how much you may disagree. It’s an example of how we should treat one another every time an election is held.

Finally, we must deeply believe the words of Jesus.

After explaining His imminent crucifixion – a bloody, violent end the likes of which the Apostles did not yet understand – Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart, for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Trouble will come. Trials will arrive. Storms will rage and tribulation will take hold. It’s what Satan loves to do, after all…

But, in the midst of this battle, we cannot forget that Christ has already won the war. Jesus didn’t avoid leading the Apostles in a boat out to sea. In fact, He led them straight into a storm, laid down, and took a nap. Only after they woke Him up, questioning whether or not He cared if they perished, did Jesus stand up and calm the raging sea. This war – this storm we are in – is but one among many. It is but a small battle in the greater war, which was won on Calvary centuries ago.

What we think can harm and defeat us is but a trial or tribulation in a world already conquered by and for Christ. We have to look beyond what we think will tear us down and see that this is not the end. There is something – Someone – far greater who can never be defeated.

Victory in Him

As this election comes to an end in these final few days, we must remember something: someone is about to be elected leader of the free world. Someone will assume this office and lead this country. The American people will have to heal from the deep wounds we’ve inflicted upon ourselves with this hateful and cruel rhetoric. Perhaps we should make an attempt at civility and virtue sooner rather than later. Maybe now is the time to set down the stones we are ready to cast, stop flipping over the tables of those who anger us, and prepare to wash feet and break bread together.

After all, in the midst of our trial, He has conquered the world. Let’s rejoice in His ultimate victory.

About the Author

Katie Prejean McGrady

I'm an avid reader, horrible dancer, teacher of freshmen, frequent flyer, author of a book, occasional fiddle player, and chips & salsa aficionado. I think my husband is good looking and my dog is adorable. I am loved more than I can fully grasp and grateful for the abundant gifts I've been given by the Lord. For memes, gifs of the clever variety, and pictures of what I'm watching on Netflix, follow me at @katieprejean on Twitter and @katieprejeanmcgrady on Instagram.

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