Monday, June 7, 2010

Review :: Start Here :: Alex Harris & Brett Harris

I was twenty-one once. It seems like a long time ago, but it was only a handful (or two) of years ago. When I was twenty-one, I felt bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, befuddled by the responsibility of adulthood, that immense weight of making one's way in the world.

Alex and Brett Harris are twenty-one. (They are also, in fact, twin brothers and the younger siblings of Josh Harris--yes, that Josh Harris.) At twenty-one, they stand as my spiritual mentors of the moment. I find Start Here, their book, a challenge, the straight talk and the practical how-to suggestions to follow Jesus doing hard things in a big and often-overwhelming world.

Admittedly, I'm not their target audience. The Rebelution is about "a teenage rebellion against low expectations," not about guys pushing thirty finally owning up to Jesus' call to real world discipleship. Alex and Brett started when they were sixteen to inspire fellow teenagers to Do Hard Things (incidentally the title of their first book, published when they were nineteen).

In Start Here, Alex and Brett speak often of the "myth of adolescence," the lie that "the teen years are a time to goof off and have fun before 'real life' starts." It's this critical edge that catches me. They pick up on the insidious lies so big and institutionalized that most of us spend our teens and our twenties wandering around within their borders without even knowing these lies stretch out around us. Alex and Brett have seen something else, of Jesus and the kingdom life he brings, and up against it they can name the cardboard cutout substitutions we cling to.

Start Here takes up the practical and pastoral fall out of teens trying to Do Hard Things (a book I haven't read but hope to soon). Alex and Brett weave easygoing advice around stories, emails, and forum posts (from by real live teens doing hard things. They walk through the challenges of where to start, what to do when things get hard, what to do with success, and how to maintain healthy relationships (with friends, family, and God) while doing hard things. These are, in honesty, questions I ask a lot. Where do I even start? Okay, so what now? How can I keep up this pace without having my marriage [friendships, spiritual life, fill in the blank] fall apart? Alex and Brett offer good advice, advice that I'm personally taking to heart.

Start Here also tugs at the youth pastor parts of my heart (I generally try to keep those heart parts segregated off from the rest of my heart because jr. highers are rambunctious and tend to make a mess). Start Here is written for teenagers, and it's a book they would read. Plus, it has good group discussion questions in an appendix. I plan to use this (along with Do Hard Things) as youth curriculum in the coming years.

Alex and Brett write a practical, pastoral, spiritual, challenging book. But they do right from a particular cultural vantage point. They are keenly socially attuned, relating stories of teens crocheting hundreds of hats for orphans or raising money to drill wells for villages in Africa. But some of the stories bear a particular political and cultural bent (starting a petition to censor sexual art on display at a high school; holding an anti-abortion event; etc.; many of the stories take place in Texas). All in all, though, their cultural interpretations of what God wants done in the world does not overwhelm or even taint the strong and clear challenge they offer to those of us stuck in adolescence.

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