a friend rick bartlett who i used to work with maybe 20 years ago is one of the authors of consuming youth. i always welcome books reflecting on what it means to follow christ in conusmer culture - that's the water we are swimming in, and in that sense it's the six million dollar question. and there don't tend to be that many focused on youth ministry - graham cray's grove booklet, tom beaudoin's work, branded, liquid church, practising passion are ones that spring to mind. and then there are others like tom sine, al and debra hirsch, vincent miller who have written more generally about faith and discipleship in consumer culture.
the thing i liked most about the book is a section that suggests working with young people vocationally - helping young people discover who they are, what their gifts and contribution to the world could be and dreaming how that might happen. and suggesting that this comes out of an alternative imagination, or what the authors call an alternative script to that of the western dream. i'd like to see more youth ministry doing that. i was talking with someone yesterday working with young people who seem to feel very hopeless and who are not dreaming of the futures they could contribute to out of who they are. this approach seems a perfect fit for that.
the thing i liked less about the book is that consumer culture and the media are portrayed as the bad guys manipulating and controlling and dominating youth. in cultural studies this would be close to the take of the adorno school of thought in the 70s - big bad culture industries duping and manipulating the masses. very few people subscribe to that view any more at least in the world of cultural studies. there's a lot more negotiation gong on and a lot more meaning making that is possible that is counter to the media industries intentions. i don't for a moment want to underestimate the power of the worldviews of consumer culture. and i think we need to reflect hard on how faith relates to culture, help young people be discerning and learn how to practice faith in this culture. but it's the posture towards culture writ large that i struggle with. i made exactly this point when i reviewed al and debra hirsch's book. from a mission perspective discipleship has to be worked out in the culture and we should pay attention to how god and spirituality are mediated and flow in the culture. this is what we learn about good practice in mission in other cultures - where is god present and how do i join in with what god is already doing? you don't start by rubbishing the culture and saying everyone is manipulated! every culture has good and bad aspects of course but connect positively in mission and background judgement. engagement and resistance are both important reflexes but knowing which to do and when and about what is not so easy. i sound like i'm a fan of consumer culture and i'm not - it has huge problems and i think paying attention to the scripts and so in is important. it's more the tone or posture towards culture or that the book seems solely focused (as evangelicals are won't to do towards pop culture) on resistance...
anyway i'm in danger of getting in trouble on this issue again. but the book is definitely worth a read, opens up some good suggestions on working positively with young people around vocation and should be a good tool to catalyse a conversation about the culture we are all in which is so often invisible to us because it's the water we're swimming in.