I love working with college students. I would say that college students are my favorite teachers. Since last week’s election, I have listened to them process how we got to this place and where we should go from here. They have a complex understanding of our divided nation that I am not hearing from the older generations.
Yes, some are fearful, but they also have a youthful hopefulness and optimism that they can effect change in the world. In them I see a window to our future and I am hopeful.
The students I heard from these past few days have told me to believe the best in President-Elect Trump and prepare for the worst. They have told me not to rely on the government to save us. They believe that real social change happens from the ground up, not in large demonstrations, but in true dialogue—one on one and face to face.
Students emphasized the need to develop our self-awareness and articulate our personal opinions without becoming narcissistic. They also want to pursue unity while, at the same time, maintaining our own unique identities as to avoid becoming nationalistic.
As a faith leader, I call them to our sacred texts and traditions to gain wisdom and insight. In those texts we find one example after another of Jesus comforting those who mourn (John 11:35), assuring those who fear (Matt 14:27), welcoming the stranger (Matt 25:35), and condemning the hate and judgement that fuels racism, misogyny, and xenophobia (Matt 7:1, John 8). The way of Christ provides a space for gracious encounters, patient discourse, and faithful witness of love.
The past week has been one like I have never seen in my lifetime. Some have compared it to America post-9/11. The shock is similar. However, on 9/11 we had a somewhat shared experience (although my Muslim friends might disagree). The election of Donald Trump as the 45th POTUS has been deeply divisive. If we did not sense that we lived in two separate Americas before the election, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, we woke up to one.
As the days pass by, the fog is lifting and we are beginning to see our neighbors on the other side of the election booth. This is the time for the important work of reconciliation — not a watered down, “let’s just agree to disagree” reconciliation, but a messy “sharing our stories and actively listening to one another” reconciliation. Just in case you are wondering, this cannot happen over Facebook.
My challenge to my students and to myself is to be reconciled and to be a reconciler. We need to be reconciled to our Creator and to each other. We need to be forgiven of our own sins and shortcomings, our own attacks and judgement of the other. It is only then that we can offer the forgiveness, grace, and love that we receive from God.