I wish I read Jeff Keuss’s brilliant book, Blur: A New Paradigm for Understanding Youth Culture, when I was a young youth minister. In many ways, I intuited many of his conclusions out of my own experience, but I felt alone. Like many I heard that youth ministry was about converting kids and making them disciples of Jesus Christ. Moreover, that one had to be certain in one’s faith and follow whatever the hippest method to come out of Youth Specialties. And, to be sure, some of this worked, but I think many of us in the church, who have lived through one fad after another realize, “Nah, life is so much more than a gimmick and youth ministry deserves something much more than a new trick or two.”
Keuss gives us a whole new way of thinking about youth ministry that is remarkably hopeful, smart, and faithful to the long tradition of authentic and faithful discipleship in Jesus Christ.
First, he moves beyond the endless hand wringing over how youth “these days” are moral, therapeutic, deists. Or how youth, “these days” are so distracted by popular culture and social networking that faith is no longer relevant. Or youth, these days, are so sophisticated and hip that they simply can’t relate to a faith that makes any demands of their lives.
Like Bob Dylan, in 1965, Keuss goes all electric and breaks out of those old paradigms and says, “Be faithful, relax, and love.” Yep, be faithful to the narrative nature of the faith story. Jesus spoke in parables, stories that related to life, to the endless permutations of real life. Go into the theology of biography, the stories of cinema, books, the songs of youth culture, find the longing, the wistful desire for a stream of spirit that percolates right below the surface. Find, yes, God in the midst of this life and identify that story and how it relates to the wider story of God in life.
And relax. Quit wringing your hands over this or that. God will get God’s work done. God will redeem and find a way. Our task is to find and follow that way in the lives of youth. Where does that trail lead?
Follow it. And this trail is not toward certainty. In fact it often leads through doubt, suffering, trial and error, laughter and pain, and sometimes right into the arms of Christ. Name that story and find the ways God is revealed in that story. And then love; love your youth where they are in the midst of their stories. Like Augustine, in the Confessions, as Keuss so powerfully shows, God is waiting, patiently, like the Father, like the Mother, for us, who are wayward, to come home.
I love this line, “Youth are completely human in the eyes of the Messiah.” Go to the places where youth are, into their “sacred mobile” lives, where they are surfing through their multi-faceted, multi-cultural, many-sided lives, and see this surfing across cultures and politics as the perfect place to find the need to be “ambassadors of reconciliation.” Again, instead of avoiding the complexity of their lives, see in them a marvelous tapestry of potential and possibility, that these many-sided realities are the perfect platforms for how God might work to reconcile the world to herself. Our youth culture is not a dead-end for the mission of Christ, but precisely the ideal door for this reconciliation to enter by.
Needless to say, I loved this book. I think this is precisely the book that youth ministers, youth leaders, church leaders, practical theologians, need to read and reread. And it doesn’t matter what flag you fly: evangelical, emergent, progressive, conservative, whatever–this book will set you free. Youth are not only the future, but they are our hope in the future. I love young people and I love them precisely for the reason Keuss wrote this book, because in them he sees the promise of the kingdom come. Do yourself a favor, read this book!!! Besides, it also has a cool cover!