Review: Don’t Knock the Hustle

Don't knock the hustle

Don’t Knock the HustleS. Craig Watkins. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019.

Summary: An investigation of the ways young entrepreneurs are combining tech savvy, hard work, and social capital to create the careers, with a special focus on the inclusion of under-represented populations in tech fields including women and people of color.

S. Craig Watkins uses the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives, beating a supposedly unbeatable party insider in the primary election, to illustrate the basic premise of this book. Many younger millenials are using unconventional methods to build their own careers, often on a shoestring using readily available digital technologies, hard work (“hustle”), and social capital–one’s real and virtual network of friends and sympathizers, including the communities of fellow entrepreneurs who help each other

Watkins lead off case study of Ocasio-Cortez sets a pattern for the book, where a particular tech entrepreneur illustrates some aspect of this “hustle” economy. For example, he profiles Prince Harvey, a rapper, who records his first album in an Apple store turning retail space into a studio.

For many, from rappers to game developers, what happens is they seek out cheap warehouse spaces, or at their best, accelerators, that become coworking spaces where resources like printers, wi-fi, phones and furniture are shared, as are ideas in what Watkins calls a “perpetual hackathon.” Some become innovation hubs like Juegos Rancheros, a hub for indie game developers. Other young creatives learn everything they need to innovate in a just-in-time fashion on the internet.

At some point, start-ups, even “side hustles” supported by day jobs, need capital to ramp up. Accelerators can help with connections with investor “angels,” but just as often, these creatives use crowd-sourced funding methods to secure financial capital.

The music industry is a big place for young creatives who have developed alternative models of making and distributing music. Watkins profiles the development of SoundCloud and how it has been adopted by creative podcasters, hip-hop artists, and audio producers. What SoundCloud has been to music, YouTube has been to video, launching the career of Issa Rae, whose videos of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl provided an a young black woman who the traditional video media industry would not give a second look. Justin Simien used Twitter to launch Dear White People.

The latter part of the book focuses on the inclusion in this creative economy of the under-represented: women and people of color. He describes the idea of Debbie Sterling that girls needed opportunities to build things with construction toys, and came up with a side hustle called GoldieBlox. He introduces us to Kimberly Bryant who created a nonprofit called Black Girls Code. He narrates the work of Qeyno Group, a group formed to foster design thinking and hackathons among underserved populations in Oakland. He chronicles the street activism and civic engagement that arose among young creatives following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson including Mapping Police Violence, the first comprehensive database of police-involved shootings, and the development of the Wiki-based Resistance Manual.

He concludes the book in Detroit, discussing how the new creative economy holds promise for the re-building of a rust-belt city. The challenge is moving the creative economy out of the downtown areas into the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods. One answer is Ponyride, combining a high commitment to diversity with a high commitment to education in bringing together young creatives.

This is an inspiring book. While it might be asked how many of these entrepreneurial efforts will be around in a decade, this could be applied to the efforts of previous generations. If anything, the “fail fast” and then build it better attitude suggests a far more resilient approach than the one that believed in jobs that would always be there, even passed along from parents to children. The narrative of innovation not dependent on large amounts of financial capital, but on social capital and ingenuity takes us back to an earlier time, as well as into a new era. I’m also struck by the leveraging of different forms of digital technology and online resources. Part of the “creative” is seeing how innovators combine and adapt technologies not built for what they are trying to do, ending up both changing the technology and creating new products.

I realize that at least part of the pushback against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is ideologically and politically motivated. But I can’t help but wonder if part is that secretly, people are scared by the way she combined social capital, tech savvy, and just plain hustle and changed the rules of a game that other politicians thought they knew how to play. This book suggests that the rules are being re-written by young creatives in a variety of fields. Perhaps it is time to stop knocking the hustle and realize that this may be a new way of getting things done.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this advanced review copy from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: Abandoned Faith

abandoned faith

Abandoned FaithAlex McFarland and Jason Jimenez. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Summary: Explores the reasons unprecedented numbers of millenials are leaving the church or are religiously unaffiliated, and what parents and other thoughtful adults can do to address this challenge.

A number of writers have addressed the exodus of young people from churches and the rise of the “nones”–those reporting no religious affiliation or those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” This is a concern for the parents of these young adults as well as for other church leaders.

Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez write this book particularly for parents but it is worth the attention of others who lead youth ministries, and indeed for all church leaders, who should take the loss of a generation seriously. The book is one of challenge, realism, and hope.

First the challenge. They begin by talking about what went wrong, and they realize that there are many parents who already own their own contribution to their children’s departure from the faith. They argue that parents should not regret having regrets but to learn from them and allow God to heal. They recount a mother deeply distraught with her daughter, who deeply resented the mother’s over-protectiveness and who needed to hear, “Why won’t you stop trying to fix your daughter and let God fix you.”

The challenge also involves many children who never truly were converted but just socialized into the faith. Many went to church but were not taught well and have neither been helped to wrestle with hard questions, or given the biblical resources to do so. Add to that the experience of hypocrisy in some instances, and more often a disconnect between church and everyday life. Compound this with unfavorable media portrayals of believing people, and you have a recipe for abandoned faith.  They conclude this section by providing some direction for what churches can do, which comes down to relationally focusing on and including millenials and allowing them an active role in the church’s life and mission.

The realism involves understanding both the challenges millenials face and the things they value, the focus of part two. The greatest challenge they acknowledge is the job challenge, which combined with college debt leads to delayed entry into adult life and delayed marriage. At the same time, those who minister with millenials should understand that, among other things, there are eight important values that characterize many millenials: 1. Meaningful work, 2. Collaboration, 3. Staying connected, 4. Social justice, 5. Diversity, 6. Spiritual but not religious, 7. Education, and 8. Skepticism. The authors conclude part two by identifying reasons for hope in what they see and what may be done to develop the leadership potential of millenials.

But what hope is there for parents who feel like they’ve blown it as they watch their children walk away from the faith? Part three focuses on what they believe key, which is strengthening, and in many cases, re-building relationships with one’s children. This means avoiding the things that trigger stress and pursuing practices that encourage them. It means finding that God’s grace is sufficient, owning up to one’s own failures with your children, learning to listen, and learning to set a tone that disarms rather than feeds confrontation. It means helping your young adults embrace responsibility, reject entitlement, take active steps to change situations rather than remain stuck in them and to value learning over entertainment. At the same time, it means working on all this in one’s own life, and doing what one can to heal and strengthen one’s marriage and to renew its spiritual core.

The concluding section goes beyond hope to steps one may take to help millenials return to faith. Prayer is key and they give practical examples of how one may translate prayers in scripture into prayers for millenials. The second part focuses on growing in one’s own literacy in the faith to be able to share it well. One of the things the authors share here and elsewhere is that many millenials may never have truly been converted in the first place and that this comes first in our effort. They include basic outlines of the gospel message and help in leading someone to faith. The book concludes with an appendix of practical steps parents may take when their children fail to “launch” into adulthood on their own. Key is agreeing to a timeline together for them to move out and become self-supporting and to maintain good boundaries while they live with you, which may even include rent!

Overall, I found this book to be on target, and I appreciated the approach of both helping parents acknowledge where they have failed, and to have hope that translates into practical steps of growth in their own lives and parenting first. Likewise, I thought many of the recommendations for relating to millenials to be appropriate, particularly the stress on re-building relationship. Some may balk at “how to’s” that may seem a bit pat, but often when relationships break down, new scripts may help more than vague recommendations. The greatest benefit here, it seems to me, is that the authors help parents move from either hand-wringing despair, or counter-productive encounters to conversations and practices that reflect hope for one’s children, and faith that no situation is too far gone for God to restore.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Reading: The Account of My Death May Be Greatly Exaggerated!

PewIt seems among bibliophiles there are apocalyptic prophesies about the death of reading. A Pew Research Center Report titled Younger Americans and Public Libraries suggests that this may not be the case:

  • As it turns out, 88 percent of those under 30 had read a book in the past year as opposed to 79 percent of those over 30.  The group reading the most appears to be those aged 16-17. They also borrow the most books.
  • More of those under 30 (62 vs. 53 percent) believe there are a number of resources that cannot be found on the internet.
  • The use of library websites among those under 30 is growing (up from 28 percent to 36 percent in two years).
  • Among those 16-29, 43 percent of them read a book every day versus 40 percent of those over 30.

There are some gray patches in these silver-lined clouds:

  • Library visits have dropped in the past year from 58 to 50 percent. Those over 30 have also used libraries less (dropping from 52 to 47 percent).
  • Younger users of libraries are less aware of all the services that libraries offer.
  • They are also less likely to report it to be a pleasant place to be and valuable to their community.

As I’ve thought about this report I have some questions:

  • I wonder why reading actually seems to be declining with age. One thing in the study is that two activities did increase with age — watching TV and reading news sources (print and internet). Is there a connection?
  • I wonder how much of the reading in the 16-29 cohort is “have to” reading related to academic pursuits as opposed to voluntary reading.
  • Related to this, I wonder, “what are people reading?” I would probably agree that most forms of reading, apart from those that seem to celebrate gruesome violence or are pornographic in nature, are better than not reading. It is probably difficult to measure this because of some of the implied value judgments involved yet literacy means more than just reading any books but also involves engaging books of enduring quality.

Here are a few of my reflections:

  • One obvious one is that libraries face the challenge of making the experience of being at the library pleasurable for those 16 to 29. I suspect part of this is that socializing among this age group is important and being “shushed” so that others can read or research is unpleasant. Our local library has a separate area for socializing as well as a coffee bar, both isolated from the reading and computer areas.
  • I’ve always found reference librarians extremely helpful, particularly in finding the stuff you can’t find online as well as pointing me to the best sources. But I wonder if there isn’t an intimidation factor. It was only in college when I was working in my college’s Student Development Program and we had talks by reference librarians that I came to appreciate all they can do. I confess I am unaware of the outreach efforts being made in this area but wonder if partnerships between librarians and teachers, perhaps around specific research assignments could be helpful. Again, our local library does something very helpful in having reference librarians at standing kiosks rather than sitting behind intimidating desks.
  • I do think at any age, the pleasure of losing oneself in a book is probably key to feeding a lifelong love of reading. At the same time, as we age, I do find typography, lighting, and font sizes an important factor in ease of reading. Again, I wonder if both libraries and booksellers might do more to promote resources that help aging readers to continue to find reading pleasurable.
  • I still consider the issue of reading well and without distraction an important one to be considered in our wireless age. I’m not sure that e-readers will last as a technology we use and the other wireless devices tend to stream texts, tweets, Facebook updates and email unless one turns these off to read.
  • Lastly, it was interesting that although older readers tended to use the library less, they valued it more. I personally wonder if this a function of the accumulated experience of usefulness we gain over a lifetime. I also think older readers may be more rooted in a community and understand how libraries contribute to the fabric of a community.

At any rate, there are reasons in this report to be hopeful rather than pessimistic about the future of reading. I also think it points to the importance of understanding how people read and how those of us who value literacy might continue to usher others into a lifelong love of reading.


Review: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me is based on extensive Barna Research exploring the reasons a number of Millenials (or Mosaics as Kinnaman likes to call them) have left the church. The book is useful for four areas of exploration.

The first is that of generational distinctions. Kinnaman sees three qualities that mark this generation: access to information, alienation from societal structures and skepticism toward authority. Of these I thought the first the most unique–certainly Boomers experienced alienation and skepticism of authority during the Vietnam and Watergate eras–they may just have forgotten. Information access is different–youth can fact check a sermon on their smart phone during the service!

The second is his discussion of three ways of being lost–as nomads, prodigals, and exiles. Nomads have left church but not faith. Prodigals have turned from the faith. Exiles are more complicated. They believe, sometimes passionately, but struggle when they don’t find that passionate belief embraced by the church or hamstrung by cultural barriers.

The third is reasons he sees for disconnection. These include six factors: overprotectiveness, shallowness, anti-science attitudes, repressiveness, exclusiveness, and intolerance of doubt. One thing I wonder is whether those who lead such churches have just forgotten what it was like to be young and to struggle with questions, impulses, and an intolerance of hypocrisy. Most of us would have been put off by the same kinds of churches, I think, in our youth.

Finally, he explores how the church can reconnect and I was grateful that the answers he proposed were not slick techniques but a return to basics (maybe a form or repentance?): reconsidering how we make disciples, rediscovering the idea of calling and vocation, and prioritizing wisdom over information. The book concludes with ideas from fifty church leaders. This last seemed uneven and superfluous to me. I think the book would have been stronger with just Kinnaman’s concluding chapter.

My son and I, with guest posts from one of his friends who would say he has left the church, have posted a series of blogs as part of a conversation between generations around the ideas of this book. If you have missed them, here is a complete set of the links to our posts in the order they appeared: This is the post that gave us the idea for the conversation.

View all my reviews

You Lost Me, The Conversation: Generational Distinctives

You Lost Me

So, my blogging son and I are trying a conversation (or is that a blogversation?!) on David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking FaithBen’s led off last week with the post, Generation Gap. I’m going to pick up on that with exploring three characteristics Kinnamen highlights that distinguish, for him, “Mosaics” (his term for Millenials) from other generations.

The first is the idea of “access”.  He observes that Mosaics have grown up with unprecedented access to knowledge and the world because of the internet and related technologies. I think Ben makes a perceptive observation that early and later “Mosaics” may have different experiences here. However, I would agree with Kinnaman that this has a profoundly shaping quality, particularly in the idea that access doesn’t come in the context of one’s physical community where we gained knowledge through parents, ministers, school teachers, librarians and others who were all embedded in the same physical community, but rather in a placeless virtual community that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time and is not curated by trusted adults in our lives but is wide open and un-vetted.  Social interaction is also changed. Direct dial long distance calls became available while I was growing up–even so this was costly and mostly limited to the US and Canada. We could not have imagined instant contact with someone halfway across the world via tweets or Skype. Mosaics cannot imagine the world any other way. This is a real difference.

The second was a discussion of alienation, and here I wonder if this is a point of contact between Boomers and Mosaics, if we can remember being the age of Mosaics. Growing up in the Vietnam era, many of us felt alienated from a government and educational structures that we felt had lied to us. Many of us had workaholic parents pursuing the American dream (although in many more cases, those parents were still together). Some of us experienced alienation from churches as well that seemed out of touch with concerns about the war, civil rights, and the other issues we were facing. Were it not for a few powerful counter-examples in my own life, I probably would have ditched the faith. For some of us, the experience of re-connecting with God and other people in the context of Christian community powerfully addressed our sense of alienation. I wonder if in the intervening years we’ve forgotten that journey and the painfulness of the alienation we experienced.

The third characteristic Kinnaman noted was a skepticism of authority. Once again, I think there are real points of contact. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. It is funny how you forget that when those of your generation become “the authorities” or you yourself occupy such positions. I do think the issue of the authority of the Bible among Christians has changed. We certainly had a number of people in our own day who were skeptical of the Bible. But that was not true inside the Christian communities we were part of. We not only spoke of biblical authority but did try to live it, if imperfectly and sometimes selectively. And that last may be the problem–where we were blind to our own failings while being critical of the failings of others. I also wonder if “personal interpretation” where people defended divergent and idiosyncratic readings of scripture contributed to our current generation’s dismissal of biblical authority altogether. Too often, Christians just turned scripture to their own ends without recognizing the larger problem they were creating in tolerating such divergent and individualistic interpretive approaches.

In sum, I find that Kinnaman’s first distinctive, that of access, is indeed a genuine distinctive. The issues of alienation and skepticism of authority are not new, although the nuances of this generation’s experience need to be understood. That last word, “understood” leads me to two things that I think are critically important if my generation is to re-connect with my son’s generation and those who are saying, “you lost me”. One is understanding that genuinely tries to enter this “brave new world”. Perhaps here it is not, in Crosby, Stills, and Nash terms a matter of “teach your children”, but rather to be taught by them and to make the effort to really learn the new technology and the new world mediated by that technology, even if it is bewildering. It also means understanding from their perspective the pain of alienation and why one might be so skeptical of authority. The second thing for me is remembering–particularly our own experiences of alienation and skepticism of authority. While no two journeys of people are alike, it might be that we each might learn from the other’s journey if we are willing to honestly remember them with all their warts and struggles–not the sanitized, all worked out versions we may be tempted to present.


We just arrived back home from a visit to one of the churches that funds our college ministry. It was a wonderful time for catching up with old friends and making some new ones. But one conversation sticks in my mind, because it is a conversation that I seem to have been having in one form or another over the past months. It was with a mom who was talking about one of her children who has distanced herself from the faith of her childhood. No resentment of parents with whom she is on good terms. Nevertheless, she cannot embrace the faith she grew up with.

This is not a new story. It happened with friends of mine in my generation. But it seems it is happening to an unprecedented degree among the generation known as Millenials according to David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking FaithI’ve not yet read this (though it sits on my Kindle) and perhaps after this conversation, I should. What strikes me is that my generation has failed the rising generation in not living the light and love of the message of Christ when we knew better:

  • We often preached the authority of the Bible selectively to point out others sins while conveniently leaving out our own. We preached about social causes that upheld our politics and ignored biblical teaching that would favor “the other side”.
  • We allowed ourselves to be seduced by political parties instead of living prophetically as the people whose Lord is greater than all our modern Caesars.
  • We sang “O How I Love Jesus” but lived “O How I Love Walmart” (or Macy’s, or Saks depending on how well off we were).
  • We wanted our kids to remain untouched from the world but communicated that their success in academics and work was actually the really important thing.
  • When they came to us with hard, searching questions that we had suppressed in our own minds years ago, we said “not now” or “just believe” or “what are you trying to do, stir up trouble?” Or we gave simplistic answers to thoughtful questions that conveyed, “we got nothin'” (when sadly, if we did our homework we would find that we did).
  • We claimed to be “colorblind” which was true in the sense that in most of our churches you could only see one color.
  • We said “Jesus is Lord of all” which really meant he was Lord of all of our Sunday mornings, and personal devotions and relatively little else. For many of us, Sunday and Jesus had little to do with Monday through Saturday.
  • We fought to teach creation and “intelligent design” and often formed the most powerful resistance to efforts to care for the creation and protect God’s creatures.

At least in these ways we have failed. I could make the list longer and no doubt there are things I am blind to. Certainly my friends will protest the wonderful exceptions. They are right, and yet as I look at the history of the last thirty years, I think we did a pretty poor job on many counts. I have no defense. All I can say, insofar as these things were true of us, is that we were wrong, we have sinned, and desperately need forgiveness.

I sense among many younger writers who have hung in and are rethinking the call of the church, that they are saying, “we will do better.” I seriously hope they are right. I am also chilled as a child of the Jesus movement that we were saying the same things. Maybe the only thing that can save any of us from failures of my generation is to recognize the hubris of thinking we can do better. If looking at ourselves through the eyes of the rising generation is humbling for us, I hope it might also be instructive for those who follow.

Perhaps what we can do together in the time that remains for us is to learn anew radical dependence upon Christ to heal us, and as we read the scriptures together, to challenge each other to the radical obedience of pursuing all that is written there, not just our favorite verses or hobby horses. I long for more conversations with this generation where people are saying, I am following Christ because of the integrity of my parents and the people their age, where people are drawn once more to Christian communities because they are so radically different than the culture around them.

This is my confession…