teenagers and materialism, part 1
here’s part 1 (of 4) of an article i wrote for youthwork magazine in the UK (it was published in an issue last year). i posted this a few months back, and the editor asked me to hold off, so i postponed the rest of the series. but he gave me a the green light today. i’ll post the four parts a few days apart.
A Different Spin on the Problem of Materialism
Let’s just get this truth out in the open right from the start: it’s a bit odd to have an American write about the problem of materialism to a UK audience. Fair enough. Maybe you could think of it this way: an American should have even more experience with materialism. So stick with me…
I have a friend who’s on welfare. He’s brilliant and creative and funny. He’s a photographer, and he’s really good. but he doesn’t want to ‘compromise his art’ to do photography as a living — he wants to make it as an art photographer. His wife had a minor injury at work a few years ago and went on disability. Now, if she gets a job, the disability will be cut off. So they have absolutely no money. And they have three teenage kids (all of whom, by the way, are fully capable of getting a job and helping the family, but don’t).
My friend’s teenage kids, who have an X-box gaming system (same as me), feel completely ripped off that they can’t get an X-box 360 (the newer gaming system). They lounge around the house complaining about how much it sucks that their parents can’t get them the new system, while dozens of games for the fully functional gaming system at their feet retire to the land of forgotten toys.
Why does this bug me so much? Well, a few reasons. But the reality is, the whole thing bugs me because it exposes everyone’s materialism – certainly my friend’s teenage kids, but also my friend and his wife, and yes, even mine. See, while I really enjoy this friend, and like hanging out with him, I’ve not yet had him over to my own home. I’m concerned that he will only see me as a source for money or other stuff. I don’t have an X-box 360, but I have a lot of stuff. And the potential that my friend could view me as a potential lava-flow of cash only exposes me! If I weren’t materialistic, and a champion-level collector of new gadgetry, my friend’s potential perspective wouldn’t be an issue.
Let’s face it: we’re all materialistic (at least most of us). Trying to say that this generation of teenagers is so different, so much worse – I’m not sure I buy it (ha, get it? “Buy” it!). Anyone young enough to have completely missed World War II (that would be most of us) has no real sense of limitations on spending. So what is different about today’s teenagers and materialism?
Well, first of all, they are materialistic. They want stuff. They have massive spending power, and Madison Avenue and High Street spend millions of pounds to open the pocketbooks of teenagers. This is overly simplistic, but there are a couple key factors in play here:
- There have always been materialistic stuff-hoarding people. But materialism was never embraced as a cultural norm – as something to be proud of — until the 1980s.
- Connected to that reality, teenagers of the 1990s and 2000s embraced the materialism they saw exhibited in their homes and the world around them. They have lived with a heightened materialism their entire lives.
This is one of the reasons we tend to notice the materialism of teenagers. Especially for those of us who were teenagers prior to the 90s (for me, WAY-prior to the 90s!), there is a new embracing of stuff that wasn’t present to the same degree when we were teenagers.
(next, in part 2: teaching teenagers about materialism)
ny times magazine article on evangelicals loosening up about dancing
interesting read. i attended wheaton college when it was still ‘no dancing’. i was there when the infamous ‘pig roast’ (an off-campus party hosted by students at an apartment complex) turned into an innocent 50s dance, and dr. robert webber (then a prof at wheaton - i had him for two classes) danced, and subsequently received disciplinary action from the school. sometimes change is really, really good.
these couple sentences cracked me up: They are opting to allow formal dances, like swing or ballroom. Of course, it’s unlikely there will be hip-hop or bump-and-grind at J.B.U. They will not be krumping.
(ht to ypulse)
nice pic from todd temple’s wedding
i performed todd’s wedding in reno last weekend (post about todd here). there were about 40 people present, and this pic is what todd called “my ys friends”. this says something about the relational web-y-ness of ys, as i’m the only one in the picture that actually works at ys.
todd and marna in the front. back row, left to right: jim hancock (writer, entrepreneur, film maker — wrote the dcla main sessions and labs, the justice mission, good sex, and much more), carla lafayette (vp of strategic programs for urban youth workers institute — has done a ton of stuff with and for ys through the years, and used to be a speaker on todd’s touring junior high roadshow back in the day), carolyn poirier-jones (marketing director for urban youth workers institute, also todd’s business partner in flannelgraf — has run media at ys conventions roughly a thousand times, it seems), and me.
remixed ferris bueller
funny remixed trailer for ferris bueller’s day off, as if ferris really only had one day to live… (it’s showing as a blank space on my blog, but click it)
(ht to bob carlton)
wow, it’s mega-band reunion week
Tuesday January 30th 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: music
it’s official that rage against the machine are reuniting and playing the coachella festival near palm springs (not too far from me).
and — wow — the police are reuniting. oh man, i would love it if they recorded something!
i heard both of those last week.
now i see this: zeppelin is going to tour.
what’s next, devo?
christian smith comments on the 4% fear in youth ministry
well said, christian smith. smith, the author of soul searching, and a professor at unc, has written a must-read piece in books and culture about evangelicals misusing statistics. but the center piece of the ariticle is his straight-on dismantling of the 4% that’s been polarizing the youth ministry world for the past several months, thanks to a national campaign that’s horribly using it. this is a good ariticle for all ministry leaders to read. but, given the timeliness of smith’s case study, youth workers just gotta read this.
here’s the opening ‘graph:
American evangelicals, who profess to be committed to Truth, are among the worst abusers of simple descriptive statistics, which claim to represent the truth about reality, of any group I have ever seen. At stake in this misuse are evangelicals’ own integrity, credibility with outsiders, and effectiveness in the world. It is an issue worth making a fuss over. And so I write.
and a key ‘graph from late in the article:
It’s not that hard. People simply need to ask themselves things like: Is it really plausible that Christianity will be dead one decade from now because today’s young people appear to be less religious? Of course not. Anyone who could think that is clearly so gullible, so ill-informed about what reality is and how it works that they have no business offering, for example, “high level briefings” involving “top voices” about “what must be done to reverse the 4% trend” that doesn’t exist. It’s an embarrassment, a disgrace. It reflects the lowest of standards of operation and the feeblest of thinking. Non-evangelicals paying any attention to this have every right to ridicule and dismiss such ill-informed nonsense. And evangelical programs that miscalculate reality in such ways—however well meaning and enthusiastic they are—surely undermine their own long-term credibility and effectiveness.
(ht to tony jones)
The mess we’re in and the culpability of youth specialties
not too long ago, a blog commenter emailed me and wrote that he noticed i regularly hint at or outright rant about the state of youth ministry: particularly, our wrong-minded obsession with field-of-dreams attractional ministry (“if you build it, they will come.”). he politely asked if youth specialties senses any culpability in this, and, if so, if that has ever been said. i responded that i think i’ve regularly said on this blog that ys shares part of the responsibility for this, and i’ve said it in seminars at the national youth workers convention also.
but i’ve been stewing on this for a couple months. and I think it deserves to be said more clearly.
while youth specialties certainly isn’t solely responsible, i think it’s very fair to say we should bear the brunt of the blame. yes, youth specialties is primarily responsible for promoting – for decades – a model of youth ministry, built on a set of assumptions (mostly unstated), that elevated programming as the best path to successful youth ministry. and for this – i will speak for us, organizationally – we are sorry.
we may have said that other things – like relationships and service and the Bible and Jesus – are more important than programming. but i think we modeled something different. we did this naively and unknowingly, and – this may be the biggest admission – we did this without realizing the implications of the values were promoting. or, maybe we didn’t want to think about the implications.
some might say i have no reason to make this admission, or accept culpability, since i wasn’t around ys in those days. but that would be a cop out on my part. and, if i’m honest, i would have done the same thing if i’d been in leadership of ys in those days. saying i’m not responsible is like white people saying we never owned slaves – it doesn’t change what was or is, it only gives us the impression we’re off the hook.
the entire world of youth ministry (and church ministry in general) has changed, of course, in the past 30+ years. in some ways, i think we’ve grown up (in a good way). and in some ways, i think the church is in a deeper pile o’ mess than we’ve been in throughout the past 100 years. 30+ years ago we were merely blissfully wrong about some things. now, i think much of the church, and much of the youth ministry world, lives in active denial. i’ll take blissfully unaware over active denial any day.
youth specialties is trying to change. and i think we have – dramatically – in the past dozen years. but it would be a wimpy, spineless move to realize change (at least in our message) and, simultaneously, revise history to pretend that we’ve always been about the things we’re about these days (things like valuing small and slow and quiet, caring deeply about the soul-condition of youth workers because we believe good youth ministry flows out of our soul-condition, embracing humility and passion as more important than power or size).
i’m hopeful, however. it’s oddly paradoxical, i realize, for me to say i’m hopeful a few paragraphs after i say i think the church is in active denial. i guess i’m hopeful because i see such great stirrings of change, such wonderful experimentation, and such massive shifts in values. i’m thinking that maybe the ‘active denial’ is – maybe? – an essential piece of the change process, just as it is in the cycle of grieving.
this admission said, i’m heading forward, and i know so many youth workers who are in the same place, facing the same way, with the same hopeful posture. and our numbers are growing by the day (ha! Is that the numbers monster re-surfacing again?). i can’t wait to see what youth ministry looks like in 30+ more years. i wonder what we’ll be apologizing for then.
lesser known movie prequels
a list, from mcsweeney’s, as printed in the book , and read on my sony reader ebook…
lesser known movie prequels
by sarah garb
four bachelorette parties and a friend in the hospital
joseph and the nondescript monocrome sportcoat
there are plenty of mohicans
this kid cracked me up.
(ht to D’Caffeinated Pickle)
i’ll have to watch out for this in new zealand
i’m extremely excited about my family heading to new zealand in april for a vacation and this event. but a headline about new zealand caught my eye today, and the first sentence of the article has me concerned about the trip and what my impressionable children will be exposed to. here’s the first sentence of :
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealanders’ love affair with sheep gained official recognition Friday when the agriculture minister declared Feb. 15 “National Lamb Day.”