Subscribe to Christianity Today
Let's Do the Mash
The first swift kick to my youthful idealism was deliverednot so surprisingly, in retrospectby the Beastie Boys. In the late 1980s I took a year off from college to work at a retreat center in the mountains of north Georgia, hosting youth groups that drove up from the Atlanta suburbs. They would tumble off church buses dressed in Hard Rock t-shirts, well-scrubbed teenagers steeped in the New South's blend of genteel religiosity and upward mobility. In those days before the iPod, they came laden with Walkmans and bulging pouches of cassette tapes. These were mainline Protestant kids, mostly Methodists and Presbyterians, and their musical choices seemed largely to have escaped parental oversight. No self-respecting Baptist would allow their child to go off to church camp with a box full of Black Sabbath and AC/DC tapes, but these youth showed up with unapologetically secular collectionsheavy metal for some, Celine Dion for others. They spent their free hours in the still, green Georgia mountains sitting on the porches of the cabins, plugged in to the sounds of home.
Youth ministry in America, at least since the rise of youth culture (which is to say, since the invention of youth ministry), requires continual recalibration of the axiom "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Popular culture is hard to beat. After a few months of watching groups while away their hours praying along with popular music (as the crocheted wall hanging in our staff quarters said, "To sing is to pray"),
I decided I couldn't convince kids to put away their Walkmans. But maybe I could get them to think about what they were hearing. The Pop Music Workshop was born.
The Pop Music Workshop would probe the deeper meanings of the music kids already had in their Walkmans. It would encourage youth to critically examine the music they were hearing, and yet it would do so not in a spirit of condemnation but of sympathetic attention to the yearnings and fragmentary solutions offered by the artists ...