Ask a few typical American adults to identify the hardest thing they remember taking on during their teenage years, and you're likely to be surprised at the answers. The hardest things they remember weren't, in one sense, all that hard.
Over the last few days, I've asked that question of more than 100 people. But among all the responses, nobody has mentioned having to run the family business or even manage the family's finances as a teenager. Nobody ran for public office. Nobody earned an advanced degree. Nobody got a patent for an invention.
Not a single person, in fact, has so far responded to my question with an answer that prompted me to say: "Wow! That must have been really hard."
I got off on this tangent because of a little book released this month and written by two teenagers, Alex and Brett Harris. The simple title-Do Hard Things-in one sense summarizes the high-energy, cheerleader-like optimism of the book's 240 pages. Just do it! Do it! Do it! The argument is buttressed with stories and anecdotes to encourage the faint-hearted.
But this little book's foundations are much, much deeper. I like the Harrises' premise, which is that we live in a culture and society of low expectations-and that we are getting exactly what we are aiming for. They cite the expert who agreed that adolescents in the United States are not challenged seriously enough, and offered his own list of expectations appropriate for an early teenager: (1) Make his or her bed every day; (2) be able to take a message on the phone; and (3) clean his or her room once a week-with help from Mom or Dad.
Such is not exactly what the Harris boys have in mind. They think that coping with a few more advanced math classes, reaching out to the homeless, or joining the fight against AIDS are examples of "hard things" even teenagers might do to demonstrate a serious and Godly focus in life.
For Alex and Brett Harris (they are twin brothers from Oregon, 19 years old), all this is not just theoretical speculation. Three years ago, when they were still only 16, they were invited to serve internships with the support staff of the Alabama Supreme Court. Before their experience ended, they had become grass-roots directors for the statewide campaign of Judge Tom Parker for the office of chief justice. And earlier this year, following their high-profile involvement in the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee, they became the subject of stories on MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and The New York Times.
So by their words and by their example, the Harris twins are provoking Christian teenagers to raise their sights. "Isn't it ironic," they ask, "that many teenagers, though fluent in multiple computer languages (we're considered trend-setters and early adopters), are not expected to understand or care about things like personal finances, politics, or our faith?"
To address that deficiency, Alex and Brett Harris have launched a nationwide "Rebelution" lecture tour to counteract the "low expectations" of both our secular society and our contemporary evangelical culture. More than 1,400 people paid $25-$35 each for the first of those events last week in North Carolina. Six others are scheduled over the next few weeks in Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, Des Moines, and Baltimore (therebelution.com).
But no one should be misled by the "Rebelution" label. This is no typical glitzy, noisy, "youth" event. The Harris boys know how to keep it fun, but the substance/entertainment quotient is at least 9/1. Alex and Brett may be front and center, but their quietly influential father-pastor-educator, Gregg Harris, is never far from the scene. Raucous book giveaways at the conferences may be determined by air-rifles-but the authors of those books are solid writers like John Piper, J.C. Ryle, and Nancy Pearcey.
If I have any reservations about Alex and Brett Harris' new book or their lecture tour, such doubts are less about them and more about the readiness of the evangelical culture to hear and respond to such a heady, serious challenge. But that, of course, is exactly what this is all about-a couple of 19-year-olds, wise beyond their years, asking the rest of us to Do Hard Things.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.