Today, I was meeting with some of my fellow women clergy at Fairmont State University when we were interrupted with the distressing news that police were on the lookout for a young man they considered to be armed and dangerous. Within a few moments, the news was exasperated by announcement that the students should evacuate campus.
When I had a chance, later that afternoon, to gather with some other Christians, the conversation quickly turned to the young man the police were looking for. Very little was known about him, other than he was a seventeen year-old high school student who had apparently made suicidal statements earlier in the day and was believed to be in possession of a weapon.
Quickly, assumptions were made and all of them would have been very disheartening had any young people been in our presence in that moment. There is no other way to describe it than to say that the conversation took on the attitude of “youth bashing.”
In just a few moments, a handful of older adults had decided that all young people are violent, too influenced by video games and television, incapable of handling the basic disappoints of life (like a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend), have no heroes to look up to, have no direction in life, and have no moral compass to inform their judgements and decisions.
Shamefully, I did not defend young people. I kept silent. Mostly, I was concerned with not arguing with my own elders at that moment (most of the people involved with this conversation were twice my age). But a part of my silence was my own discomfort at the notion of arguing with people I enjoy spending time with. Who wants to jeopardize existing relationships with people we know in order to defend a general group of people who aren’t even present? Not this chick, that’s for sure!
But I just kept thinking about the group of young people I saw gathered around common tables at the Wesley Foundation House (where my meeting on campus was held). These were college-aged students, in their late teens and early twenties, who had come together for fellowship and meal during a hectic week in the lives. Most were finishing up finals, some preparing for graduation, and all were there voluntarily.
And my heart swelled with love for all the students I saw at Fairmont State today who were there in the spirit of peace and seeking a bright future.
After I left the presence of the senior citizens I was with, I went to a wedding rehearsal where two young people are preparing to united their lives onto one common path. They are a beautiful young couple, in their early twenties, who are deeply in love and very devoted to one another. They have been together since high school and have been friends their whole lives–the perfect recipe for a happy marriage.
And my heart swelled as I pondered the fact that the divorce rate is lower now than it was back when my parents married nearly forty years ago.
After the rehearsal I slipped away to Barnes & Noble, my favorite place to work on sermon and worship prep. I was reviewing the service for baptism. This Sunday I will have the blessed opportunity to baptize two young people–both of whom have expressed excitement and joy about the sacrament.
And my heart swelled as I thought about the innocent and joy-filled relationship children have with Jesus Christ and the whole-hearted way they approach the opportunity to make the relationship more tangible in their lives.
The truth is, young people are our future, and when we look at young people as a whole, we see that our future is bright.
Children, teens, and young adults live in a world that is far different from the one our senior citizens have known. That much is true. But “different” does not equate to “bad.”
Today’s young people are making their way in a world that is pulling them in a million different directions. And yet, with so many paths available to them, and so many choices laid out before them, the overwhelming majority are choosing to do good with their lives.
For every kid who picks up a gun and heads into town with menacing thoughts in his head, there are hundreds who are choosing friendship, fellowship, and life instead.
For every kid who seeks to destroy the hope of the world and chooses violence and crime, there are hundreds who are seeking ways to build a better country and a better world.
For every kid who chooses a self-indulgent and narcissistic path in their life, there are hundreds who are choosing to share the good things of their lives with others and who pursue the path of love and giving.
Young people deserve far more credit than we give them. They are facing a world of obstacles, and they are navigating them fearlessly. They have inherited a world with the technology to destroy everything, and they are seeking to build instead.
Rather than bashing the young people amongst us when one of them goes astray, we should be celebrating the ones who do not as the heroes that they are.