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What does a United Methodist pastor know about citizenship? Not as much as I’d like.

Here’s what I do know. God instructed his people to pray for the welfare of the city in which they live, even if they are captive, even if it is no longer “their city.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Over and over again, God’s people are told to pray for their nation. But what is a nation?

Our nation is made up of states, but those are lines on a map. We aren’t really made up of parties; those are just ideas in a platform and sides we choose up for intramurals.

Our nation is made up of people. Human beings. All colors. All genders. All creeds.

So it’s time to start working with the nation of people to help make it a better nation. ProTip: Start with you. Here’s a list I posted elsewhere. I’m actively pursuing each of these and I challenge you to do the same.

Make a Difference Now

Volunteer. Pick a need and start meeting it. If you’re a citizen of the United States of America, then you should act like it.

Citizenship is Complicated: Read Up On It

Educate yourself. Get ready for the next election. If you’re still in school, don’t expect the teacher to implant it in your brain. Find out how the Constitution works. Presidents can’t take away your guns by themselves, for example. Repealing the second amendment would be a years-long process. A quick glance at the constitution will tell you that, and prevent a politician from scaring you to death about it.

Make Friends in Office

Get to know your elected representatives. Facebook lets you follow them automatically. You should also bookmark their websites. I recommend calling their offices and getting to know their staff. Seriously. Let them know your name and let them know you are voting. The smart ones will pay attention. The ones who don’t will be gone after the next election, and you can get to know THEIR staff members.

Participate Fully in the Process

Register to vote now so it doesn’t sneak up and surprise you next time. Reddit was full of trolls who were planning to make their will known, but couldn’t because they didn’t know they had to register ahead of time. You do. Get it done. It’s easier than you think.

The Issue is Bigger than Your Take On It

Exit the echo chamber and discuss (really discuss) the issues. Find a level headed person who disagrees with you and learn from them. Make it your goal to teach them something, too. Be sure you have good data and not just sound bites.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Find out how to approach an issue from a personal perspective and get to working on it. We are citizens in this country and that means responsibility. You don’t get to just blame Obama or Trump or the Congress when things don’t get done. First question I’m going to ask is, “What have you personally done about it?”

Making Sense is Awesome

Consider learning about logic. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many of these memes, rage-filled arguments, and ill-considered statements would go away if a little logic were applied. You want to convince me of something? Your number one best bet is not to get me emotionally involved. All you really have to do is “make sense.”

Vet Your Information and Intel

Don’t try to prove your point with false information. Research your sources so you aren’t depending on a website filled with fake news published by a kid in Macedonia. (true story)

Get the Scoop — All of It

Sign up for Republican AND Democratic AND INDEPENDENT newsletters. There’s at least two sides to every story. Most of them have several.

History is the Story of What Worked — and What Didn’t

Study a little history. Ask an expert to point out some contentious times and issues, then read about the proposed and actual solutions. History does repeat itself. We would do well to pay attention to some of the warning signs that are at hand.

Make the Table Bigger

Make room at the table for people who feel like their voices aren’t being heard. Don’t assume that the middle-aged white males in your life are feeling like they are in control. Many are not feeling that at all. Many are feeling just as lost as the Latina students who are protesting and the Muslim neighbors who are wondering if they are ever going to be safe again. Recognize that there are folks on all sides of this mess who are feeling like the nation has been pulled out from under them.

So What Is the Answer?

It’s called grace. Give the people who disagree with you a little room to vent, and then, gently and lovingly let them see where they might have been hurtful or unhelpful.

We can do this, folks. We are the United States of America. Don’t wait for the government to make the nation great again. Just look to the people of this country — and start with yourself.

Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.