The Pill, the Chip and the Church

On Tuesday, June 18, I had their privilege of addressing several hundred UU ministers as the “25 year speaker” at the Ministry Days worship service. This is an honour voted by the members of our 1988 graduating class. I elected to direct my remarks to the new ministers and the challenges they are facing…


Of all the landmark sermons preached in our history, Theodore Parker’s “Transient and Permanent in Christianity” is my favourite. Over the years it has helped me stay focused on what’s really important, and taught me to gracefully let go of the things that only seemed important at the time.
Right now our church is changing rapidly. What we once knew for certain doesn’t seem to work anymore. Survival anxiety is running wild in western religion. Focusing on what’s permanent and what we can let go has become an important exercise.

Because I’m an old guy, I want to set some context before I comment on what I think will last and what won’t.

The technological innovation that most shaped the culture of my generation was the birth control pill. It powered a cultural revolution where people threw off the constricting social mores of an earlier time. It gave women control of their bodies and a boost to Feminism as women claimed a new kind of power. The emphasis on personal freedom inspired a rejection of authority in many forms. Sexual liberation would free attitudes and lead us to become a Welcoming Religion. It gave a boost to the existing civil rights movement. Some say we ended a dirty war.

In the UUA the Women in Religion Committee helped inspire the development of our Principles and the eventual flood of women into our ministry – a very good thing, by the way.
And while this liberation opened our theologies and changed our use of language and the way we interacted in church, it didn’t really affect the structure of church. The way we did church stayed pretty much the same as it had for about a century and a half.

We remained an organization centered on Sunday worship. That was the big event, the one time when the whole community gathered (though that claim is a bit fictitious if you compare attendance with membership numbers). That was unchanged from the days when Emerson spoke of bathing in the ‘fine ether’ of community and the ‘wandering eye-beam’ of familiarity in church. Everything else we did, be it social justice, social events, pastoral care, education – all of that revolved like satellites around SUN-day.

And church worked as it always had. Members gained status by serving on a variety of committees that met regularly, kept minutes, competed for resources in space and time and ate up the evenings of many colleagues. Some churches had so many that they had to set up committees on committees to manage things.

We may have questioned authority back then, but we did not question the way we did church. That part of what the class of ’88 inherited seemed ‘permanent’.

Then came the next bit of transformational technology: the computer chip.
When the class of ’88 began ministry our technology consisted of the telephone (with answering machine!), the mail –paper and envelope kind – and the photocopier. Church communication was by mailed newsletter (which people actually read and kept handy throughout the month) and the weekly Order of Service. In a sense we HAD to come to church if only to talk to folks in the community.

I had a computer – one of the all-in-one Macs. It was a glorified typewriter. Cell phones weighed about 13 pounds and were only used by contractors. It was seven years into my career before I got an e-mail address, and then it wasn’t for work, but to communicate cheaply with my partner while I was away on sabbatical.

In the same way that the Pill partly fostered the famous “Generation Gap” of the sixties, the Chip has created a new kind of Gap in the 21st century.
It’s not an angry revolution, though. Rather it is generational gap in how folks today see the world differently, how they process information differently, how they define community and how they connect differently.

Young people are not rejecting the institutions of their parents, they are simply ignoring them. You guys accept personal freedom as a given. It was new stuff for us. And the information explosion gave you the means to take your freedom and your instant communications that come with it into realms we never imagined back when we only had telephones, copiers and postage stamps.
Throwing off a restrictive past is not this generation’s issue. The internet has already done that for you. The barriers are gone, the secrets are in the open. And there is such ease of access that the very way people absorb information has changed.

Folks who love the old ways still read newspapers and watch the Nightly News. And they can still find their lives reflected in those media.

The wired generation acquires and processes information in an entirely different way, often by word of mouth (or keystroke) or from small or targeted media outlets available in an amazing array of platforms and styles. Information sharing is now all personal.

It is not surprising then that an increasing number of people want personalized spiritual options – a buffet – if they want spirituality at all. They want it on demand, they want it without deep commitment or cost. Why? Because that’s how they access just about everything else in this age. As the Buddhist story goes, “I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.” I just know that it is the reality with which we must contend.

I believe we will have to adapt. I don’t mean adapt our theologies. We have always done that well. I think we have to adapt our church structures.

Here’s the heretical moment: We may have to get over our ministerial fascination with the Sunday service. Oh, there will still be a place for it, for worship excellence. But I do think we have to get past seeing that event as the center point of church, as the thing around which all else revolves.
Last Thursday night 14 church people joined me for a drop-in event we call Religion on Tap. It’s a session held in a local pub where we socialize a bit and then spend some time talking over a broad religious topic. All I do is ask the first question. It’s great. But here’s the thing…only about 6 of those 14 are Sunday regulars. Three more are occasional attenders. For the other 5, Religion on Tap IS church.

Two weeks ago 40 or so of us turned out for the Pride Parade. It was wonderful. Only about 10 of them made it to worship the next morning. They had already done church for the week, and had been fed by it.

We have a delightful choir with 40 members. Only about 2/3 of them actually belong to the church, and only about half ever make it on a Sunday when the choir is not singing.
I am learning that this is okay…that it’s all church.

I am sure that most of you know that the tradition of committees is changing. People don’t want to do monthly meetings anymore. Our congregation has been quietly retiring several committees in favour of task groups that are event focused, that come together for one thing at a time. Our young adults are happy to commit to a one off activity, but many are reluctant to make an ongoing commitment. That is true of older members as well, for society is changing.

The structures that have served us for so long aren’t working. Huh! Turns out that model of church my class of ’88 inherited may not be permanent, but transient after all.
Those of you who understand these experiences know that there are more questions than can be addressed in this short time frame. If church is all around, what will we do with buildings? If people have not been trained to pledge how will we pay for it? Or more importantly for this gathering, how will we pay our ministers? Can our identity survive in this changing time?
The answers are … evolving. It will take a lot of trial and error and a lot of creativity and cooperation. But that’s okay. You new and newer colleagues know how to do this “it’s all evolving” thing. You understand that it’s all Beta and figure it out as you go. As a generation you grasp uncertainty better than my generation did. It’s the world in which you grew up. So the future? It’s in your hands. Trust that this pair of hands will be applauding as you figure it out.

I have faith in the future. Why? Because the structures may be transient, but we still have that part of Unitarian Universalism that is permanent. That includes our theological openness, our interest in radical inclusion, human rights and justice, our willingness to embrace the trend increasingly to do ministry in the community instead of only in the parish. For us, our faith truly is a living, breathing and evolving thing. I have every confidence that one of you will stand here in 2038 taking my place talking about how you successfully managed this shift, and musing about what will be needed to navigate the next one coming down the road.

Glimpsing the Shadow Side of Social Networking


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This post by Nathalie Bruls was sent to me as a comment.  It seemed like this worthwhile article needed to be presented as it’s own post, mostly because I don’t always read the comments sections of all the blogs I read.

Shadow Side

This article makes several excellent points.  Every technological or social change in culture comes at a price.  Every change brings unintended benefits and unforeseen consequences.  When they arise the question, in my view, is “Now what?”.  Turning back the clock never seems to work.  Rather we need to reaffirm the core values of our humanity and take the time to see how well any new technology or media fits those values.  I am taking a course with NTEN at the moment that reminds me that the mission of an organization using social media must be very clear, and then appropriate media can be chosen to further that mission.

In other  words, don’t just go for the next bright shiny thing. Figure out why it might be useful to a clearly defined you first.

Oral sex, Yoga and God’s Wrath

Okay, this is a different approach to some of the issues I have been considering, specifically, how to make church palatable to a new generation.  This wouldn’t be palatable to me for mostly theological and anti-oppression reasons, but that means I can’t ponder and perhaps learn from what this pastor is trying.

Tweet Service


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Hi folks,

Longtime, no see.  The last few months since my sabbatical I have been catching up and thinking through how to actually implement some of these ideas in a real life church.  I have also being hanging with my children, going to a 40th High School reunion ( a shameless excuse to post a favorite photo again).

Last Sunday we tried our first Tweet service at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton.  To stir interest we picked a lively topic, “Healthy Sexuality”.  During the summer I took an online course for UU Ministers (mostly) from the Religious Insitute, that reminded me that positive sexuality ought to be a pulpit topic in our churches.

We invited folks to tweet and post Facebook answers to “What is healthy sexuality?” ahead of time and then to keep doing so during the service. (The links were @BrianKiely1 and #ucesermon.  About 15% of the congregation that day tried to take part, although a few folks were trying Twitter for the first time with mixed results.  We also used a ‘video reading’ from Upworthy to add another technological aspect.

Oh, and I put away the pulpit and did the service from my iPad while wandering around with a headset microphone.

Finally, my worship chair John Pater managed the “21st century news desk” from the side of the stage both sending out pre-selected tweets of the main sermon points and following what came in.  John used to be a CBC newsman, so this came fairly easily to him.  We also projected the incoming posts.

I preached about 2/3 of the sermon and then paused to let John share the received comments.  I spoke to a couple of those and then concluded the sermon.

Lessons learned?

1. The tech side was pretty easily managed, although two hands were definitely needed.  I also had to get the sermon done by Friday so John could extract points for tweeting.

2. We did draw in a lot of younger adults, and quite a few new faces for this one, though I can’t say whether the draw was the tweet idea or the idea of sex .

3. People seemed to have a lot of fun! And the non-tweeting folks were undisturbed by the thumb action of the others.

4. It is both possible and necessary to meet the needs of the different age and stage groups.  The ‘matures’ got a familiar service with a sermon, meditation and hymns.  The ‘millenials’ (and others) got to be in their comfort zone and be in contact with their world.

5. There weren’t that many tweeted questions in the service but there were a LOT of retweets of sermon content.  I am taking part in an NTEN course on technology for non-profits  Today’s presenter spoke of “Friendraising”.  That was the new discovery for me.  The folks who were broadcasting from the service were introducing their friends a. to the idea of they go to a church, b. church can be kind of cool, c.  content from a service was shared live showing why they like church.  This is living breathing outreach, the old ‘Bring a Friend’ Sunday done in a whole new way.  I have 8 new Twitter followers as a result.

If you’re interested you can check out the content of their posts in the Healthy Sexuality sermon post on our church web site.

I still need to poll some of the non-tweeters for their reactions (coffee hour was way too busy last week), but this might be a keeper

Hi folks, Taking some holidays, so the blog is quiet, but saw this and thought it lovely, inspiring and relevant. Sierra has some other quite amazing articles as well.

The Phoenix and Olive Branch

I didn’t anticipate the outpouring of energy I’d see on all sides after my response to David McCullough’s commencement speech. It’s been a very interesting 48 hours! Following up that post, I want to talk about good inheritances: things that the parents and grandparents of the Millennials did right.

My original response to McCullough was sewn together from pieces of the experiences of many Millennials – articles I’ve read, friends I’ve talked to, parents I’ve heard speaking about their college-aged kids. In short, it was drawn from the cloud of cultural discourse about Millennials, the economy and education.

I personally haven’t experienced the nightmares of foreclosure, serial layoffs or unemployment (because I’m still in graduate school). I count myself very lucky for a number of reasons, and have written so before. I don’t find such luck boastworthy; indeed, I wish that my good luck were not worth mentioning because…

View original post 1,569 more words


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From the NY Times.  A UU ministerial colleague wrote that having seen this he now understood why he might want to get on Twitter. I know lots of folks who say they don’t like or don’t want to be involved with Tweeting.  That’s fine.  They don’t have to do so if it doesn’t work for them, but our institutions and leaders need to realize the potential audience we might not be reaching.  It would be akin to saying I don’t want to speak a foreign language, so therefore we ought not publish our materials in anything other than English…kinda silly.


Here’s the article:

When a Twitter staff member set out to answer that question 10 months ago, he thought the answer would emerge among posts from N.B.A. players, politicians or actors. Instead, he found a mystery: a set of messages that were ricocheting around Twitter, being forwarded and responded to at a rate that was off the charts.

“They were punching way above their weight,” said Robin Sloan, who discovered the anomaly but did not recognize the names behind the tweets.

Joyce MeyerMax Lucado and Andy Stanley were not well known inside Twitter’s offices. But they had all built loyal ranks of followers well beyond their social networks — they were evangelical Christian leaders whose inspirational messages of God’s love perform about 30 times as well as Twitter messages from pop culture powerhouses like Lady Gaga.

Fifteen percent of adult Internet users in the United States are on Twitter, and about half of those use the network every day, according to a report published this week by the Pew Research Center. But Twitter is always looking for ways to add new users. And so, with this new insight, the company sent a senior executive, Claire Díaz-Ortiz, on a mission: to bring more religious leaders into the Twitter fold.

“We had looked at different groups, like C.E.O.’s and high-level executives, thinking, oh, do we need to spend more time with them?” she said. “And then this religion thing popped up.”

Last month, Ms. Díaz-Ortiz — who has an M.B.A. from Oxford, and whose many years abroad include work at a Christian orphanage in Kenya — moved from San Francisco to Atlanta to be closer to the evangelical leaders she would be calling on. With religious leaders, she said, “it’s so much about being at the table and breaking bread with folks.”

Now she spends half of her time on the road, offering training, analytics and help to swat away impostor accounts, as well as encouraging leaders to be less promotional and more personal in their posts. Twitter has offered similar support to celebrities and athletes since the company’s founding.

In early May, Ms. Díaz-Ortiz, 30, traveled to a megachurch in Carrollton, Tex., for the Catalyst conference, where she navigated around D.J.’s remixing Adele and among booths for Chick-fil-A, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the retro eyewear maker Warby Parker. She led a workshop session, gave interviews, posted conference highlights on Twitter, defended occasional oversharing and reflexively corrected the verbal fumblings of the uninitiated.

“I don’t Twitter,” one pastor confessed. “Tweet,” she sighed, with her eyes closed, for what seemed the hundredth time.

Perhaps her most important work, however, was among the many pastors in attendance, some of whom, she said, have 3,000 or 4,000 followers at their church — a built-in network of potential Twitter users who are already familiar with the power of short messages.

“Pastors tell me, Twitter is just made for the Bible,” Ms. Díaz-Ortiz said.

It’s close. On average, verses in the King James Version are about 100 characters long, leaving room to slip in a #bible hashtag and still come in under the 140-character limit.

And proverbs are powerful draws on Twitter.

Consider this post in April from Bishop T. D. Jakes“Your words will tell others what you think. Your actions will tell them what you believe.”

His message was forwarded 2,490 times — just shy of the 2,491 retweets that the pop singer Katy Perry generated the same month with this message to her fans: “Sometimes jet lag makes me feel like a cross eyed crack head #muststayawake.”

Both messages performed remarkably well. But there was a key difference: Bishop Jakes has 450,000 followers, while Ms. Perry has 20 million.

Voices less famous than Bishop Jakes also benefit from this “engagement” effect, suggesting that it is driven less by fame than by inspirational content.

Ann Voskamp, a mother of six who lives on a farm in Ontario, is one of those voices. Her book “One Thousand Gifts,” about moments of everyday grace, started a Twitter conversation that is still going 18 months after its publication.

Under the hashtag #1000gifts, readers share their own moments, like “seeing the beauty in the mess” and “sitting down at the table to eat dinner as a family.” Dozens of #1000gifts posts are still sent every day.

Mrs. Voskamp says the network is successful as a source of spiritual support because it is tailor-made for today’s culture. “In a fast world, they get what they need from that one little tweet,” she said.

While many ministers say that Facebook is better for staying in touch with church members, Twitter can connect Christian leaders to new audiences.

In particular, women — like Mrs. Voskamp and Lysa TerKeurst, author of the book “Made to Crave,” about women’s relationships with God and food — have found Twitter surprisingly effective for building influence outside traditional church hierarchies, in a way that they say would not have been possible 10 years ago.

Despite these advances, many religious leaders say spiritual humility can be lost in efforts to “build a platform,” leaving some to wonder if there are dangers in relying too much on public conversation for matters of the soul.

“Social media’s like a brick — you can use it to build an orphanage or throw it through somebody’s car window,” said Jon Acuff, the author of “Stuff Christians Like” and a regular speaker.

He added that he struggled with the lure of social media, and that he used a printed Bible in church, rather than his iPhone app, because of the temptation to check Twitter. It is a new gray area that Christians are still trying to figure out, he said.

“There’s no precedent,” he added. “We can’t go, ‘Here’s how C. S. Lewis handled Twitter.’ ”

Jeanne Stevens has wrestled with the same issues in her ministry. With her husband, Jarrett, she started a church, Soul City, in Chicago that has had an immediate payoff from Twitter.

Lauren Kirkland, 28, who lives 170 miles away in Fort Wayne, Ind., read about the church on Twitter, and she is uprooting her life to join it within months.

“My life has changed because of it. I know that sounds kind of hokey, but it truly has,” Ms. Kirkland said. “Twitter opened my eyes to something that was bigger.”

Still, her new pastor, Mrs. Stevens, said she was trying to understand the fine line between an inner spiritual life and a very public Twitter feed.

Mrs. Stevens noted that there was a passage in the Scriptures in which Mary, upon learning from an angel that she was going to have a baby, “pondered these things in her heart.”

It is a line that Mrs. Stevens said she thought of often in the age of Twitter: “How do you know the difference when you should ponder something in your heart versus when you should tweet it?”

The advice that Ms. Díaz-Ortiz offers is simple.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” she said, pausing to add, “on Twitter.”

Returning after some silence

Hi folks,

I have been away from this for a bit.  I have been wrapping up my sabbatical leave, getting ready to re-enter church life and participating in Canadian Unitarian Council and UU Ministers of Canada meetings.  All of this was very rich as I have several post ideas stored up, and look forward to sharing what happens when I actually get to try some of these ideas out.

But today I want to share with you a few words I offered the  members and friends of the Unitarian Church of Edmonton this morning in my first service back:

Dear Friends,

The sermon today is a sort of “What I did on my sabbatical” thing, sharing some of the learnings and ideas I encountered.  But before I get into that I have a few personal things to say:

First, thank you.  Thank you for being the mature organization you are.  This institution understands the place this kind of leave has in building a stronger ministry, but also in building a more confident congregation.  In some places sabbaticals are met with anxiety in all camps.  Not here.  Our leaders looked forward to my time away almost as much as I did.  Fortunately, I have a big enough ego to not be made nervous by that!

I want to congratulate those leaders who stepped up to ensure quality worship and music, quality child and youth programs, quality community activities, another successful garage sale, quality justice work and quality caring.  From a distance, it all seemed effortless and very healthy.

I want to thank you for the time away.  I learned a lot and look forward to trying out some of what I learned.  Phase two, if you will, is the laboratory trials.  I have spoken with Worship Chair John Pater and will soon meet with the committee.  It is my hope that once a month or so, we will use one service to experiment. We will try some of new ideas that integrate technology into congregational life.  But don’t worry, they really will be experiments.  We will be trying to see what works and what changes sit well with folks.  The great phrase in the tech world is “It’s all Beta”, Beta being the testing phase of new software.  Lots of ideas get tried and the successful ones are pursued.  I hope you will be willing to take part and to provide feedback.

I also want to thank you all for the respectful distance… I find myself returning today centered and settled, eager to become engaged in the life of the congregation and ready to take up my work again with energy and purpose.  I really want to see where we go together in the next few years.  And isn’t that what a sabbatical is meant to do?

So thank you for your continuing support for my ministry and your friendship towards me.  I have just spent a week with my Canadian colleagues and I can honestly say that more than a few of them envy me this pulpit.  Whatever I achieve here and in the wider Unitarian Universalist world happens because you make me look good.




4 Reasons You Won’t Find Enlightenment Online


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A woman named Sam, from Saltspring Island in British Columbia posted this excellent piece or her blog One Chosen Family.  I became aware of it when she commented on one of my posts last week (Making “On-line” Face to Face). I pretty much agree with everything she has to say, but I will let her say it.  I have copied the whole piece but here is a link to her post directly as well.  If you click the link you will find the video clip to which she refers at the end of the post:

4 Reasons You Won’t Find Enlightenment Online.

Oh, and thanks a bunch, Sam!

4 Reasons You Won’t Find Enlightenment Online

Posted on March 28, 2012


I recently  watched Ethan Nichtern’s  talk called  “The Internet Is Not Your Teacher.”  which explains why, if you are seeking spirituality on the internet, your meanderings are doomed to superficiality. I’ve summarized 4 reasons, drawing mostly from his talk (thanks to Buddhist Geeks for including a transcript!).

1. Wisdom is Cheap

First-off, Nichtern discusses the “cheapening of knowledge and wisdom.” In some ways, it is actually too easy to access ancient spiritual knowledge. What once would require months or years of treacherous pilgrimage now takes two keywords and search engine – all of 3 seconds. As with all things in our dual universe, this is both good and bad (the so-called  good and bad are “co-emergent” says Nichtern).

Good because every person can receive the most powerful spiritual teachings in human history literally at the touch of a button. As Nichtern jokes, “There’s not a single Vajrayana teaching that I’ve ever received an empowerment for that you couldn’t Wikipedia right now.”

Bad because there’s so much and it’s so easy to get, we don’t really pay attention to any of it. We don’t absorb and hardly even value the teachings we receive. We get what we pay for.

Nichtern explained it this way:

“In the ancient world to even learn how to follow your breath was quite a journey over mountains or requesting teachings for a long period of time. And because it was quite a journey, you took the instructions that you received as important… When you think what you’re receiving is important, you tend to take more time to absorb and integrate it into your experience, which is the whole point of how these teachings work.”

A confounding problem is that when anyone can put on their ‘guru’ hat and proclaim ultimate wisdom to the world wide web, it is nearly impossible to evaluate which teachings are accurate and which are misleading.  We spend far more time skimming and evaluating search results than we do sitting with a profound lesson delivered online.

Like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there is “water, water, everywhere,” but we do not value and do not drink.

2. The Scattering of ‘Surface Dharma’

Podcast Dharma, Youtube Dharma, Facebook Dharma – these are the dharmas of social media, the dharmas that expand only to 140 characters, a truncated Rumi quote on Facebook, a 3-minute YouTube video on our innermost presence that we posted to boost our blog traffic. How easily we slip in and out of online sacred space!

Nichtern says he actually loves “the fact that people can receive in their inbox a little [reminder to] just ‘be compassionate today’. And then people say, oh yeah, I got that quote from Sharon Salzberg in my inbox and I remembered to be compassionate when I was in traffic.” Personally, I greatly enjoy my Facebook feed, which is well padded with daily insights from a smattering of spiritual organizations and writers.

“That’s great,” Nichtern warns,  “But we should understand that it’s surface.”

Now surface stuff isn’t all bad. And yet too much focus on superficial messages is no help to a genuine seeker.

Why is this a problem? Nichtern says:

“Because when we dwell on the surface what starts happening is you start to be a scatterbrain. And in terms of attention, depth requires you to actually not be a scatterbrain. That’s almost the definition of depth. That you would actually be able to stay with something to penetrate it and to go deeper.”

And honestly I think we only can be profoundly influenced by so many things in a day! Also in my experience, passing around quotes and passages without taking the time to deeply study and understand them in their context makes us prone to misinterpreting, misunderstanding, and flat out missing the real message. Or worse yet, we circulate teachings on the superficial level long enough and they become cliches – meanwhile we’ve numbed ourselves to their potential wisdom.

3. The Limits of DIY Spirituality

“The interesting thing about this term [DIY] is that it started as an anti-consumerist phrase but it actually means you get to consume in the way you want,” points out Nichtern.

Spiritual development usually involves moving away from our ego (with which we are identified) to a purer, more present, more authentic state (which sounds alien when it is first explained to us). The ego is the king of DIY. To the ego, DIY spirituality means re-contextualizing spiritual teachings to enhance its survival rather than threaten it. When we seek to define our own spiritual path for ourselves, we run the risk of feeding our ‘new’ ego, our ‘spiritual’ ego instead of moving towards transcending the ego.

About his own experience with a live spiritual teacher, Nichtern says, “My teacher a lot of times says if you’re going to ask a teacher for advice you should actually do what they say. Chances are they’re going to tell you to do something you didn’t want to do in some small way. That’s what doing something good for you is, right? You have to do something that’s outside of the framework of your habitual apparatus, which means it doesn’t feel immediately good…We don’t like to give up control and freedom of choice, but this is actually what happens when we surrender to spiritual teacher.”

The escape route out of the DIY trap is to find a spiritual teacher, to choose someone who you believe through-and-through has the ‘goods,’ that is, the spiritual insight that you need. Now this has also gotten people into a lot of trouble, who were seduced by some charismatic figure whose intentions were atrociously flawed and whose teachings were baloney. So choose carefully. In 10 seconds of Googling I found a great post that offers 15 questions you should ask before seeing a guru. Surrender is preceded by careful selection and reasoning.

I can hear you pleading, “but Sam! Isn’t life is my guru? Can’t the universe be my teacher?” Absolutely. But I really want to link to this ‘touche’ Christian post I read last week called “Spiritual but not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me,” wherein Lillian Daniel writes:

“Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.”

Life is your guru. Your Higher Self truly is your guru. But your ego will trick you into finding patterns where there are none, drawing conclusions out of error, and generally play with your spiritual seeking to meet its own needs for survival. You have been warned!

4. We Need to Learn from Real Live Humans

“I think if we’re going to actually have something to say to the world,” Nichtern says, “We have to participate in human sangha.”

Not online sangha, not second life or Facebook sangha, but the one with living, breathing, perspiring people, “especially a world that’s in the midst of profound loss in the sense of community, which is really odd that a profound loss of a sense of community is happening the same time that social networking is taking off.”

Lillian Daniel writes this about the person sitting next to her on the plane who finds God in “sunsets” and “walks on the beach” (note that she, nor I, discount finding God in nature):

“Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church. “

Human relationships – with teachers yes but also with sangha, or spiritual community – are sooooooo important. These personal and intimate connections are really where the rubber meets the road. You will learn more from the divine in an argument with your spouse than you could in 10 New York Times bestsellers. The snot that the fellow meditating next to you atomizes over your shoulder and lap while he sobs will do much more for you than a Kony 2012 or equivalent YouTube tearjerker. If you want to feel spirit alive in you, in your breath and guts, then take Nichterns advice and turn your computer off for a while and go find real people:

“And that’s the key deeply understanding these teachings and making human connections with each other.”

The Internet is Not Your Teacher: The Buddhist Geeks Conference from Buddhist Geeks on Vimeo.

Religion Among the Millenials


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Hi folks, this is a long post, but it provides great (if 2 year old data) on the shifting religious views of Millennials  Thanks to UU Minister Mark Hoelter for bringing it to wider attention

The actual Pew Forum link is

Less Religiously Active Than Older Americans, But Fairly Traditional In Other Ways

POLL February 17, 2010
millennials large 10-02-17

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In this report:
Introduction and Overview
Religious Affiliation
Worship Attendance
Other Religious Practices
Religious Attitudes and Beliefs
Social and Culture War Issues
More Information

Download the appendix (1-page PDF)
Download the full report (29-page PDF)

Introduction and Overview


This is part of a Pew Research Center series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial generation.

By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation – so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 – are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

millennials affiliation chart
millennials prayer table

Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.


This report is based on data from a variety of sources, including Pew Research Center surveys, which are used primarily to compare young adults with older adults today. General Social Surveys and Gallup surveys are used primarily for cohort analyses, which compare young adults today with previous generations when they were in their 20s and early 30s. While the surveys explore similar topics, exact question wording and results vary from survey to survey.

Present-day comparisons are made between adults ages 18-29 and those 30 and older. By contrast, the cohort analyses define generations based on respondents’ year of birth. There is significant – but not complete – overlap between the two approaches. That is, in the present-day analyses, depending on the year of the survey being analyzed, some in the 18-29 age group are actually young members of Generation X (defined here as those born from 1965 to 1980) and not true members of the Millennial Generation (defined here as those born after 1980).

In their social and political views, young adults are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and less prone to see Hollywood as threatening their moral values. At the same time, Millennials are no less convinced than their elders that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. And they are slightly more supportive than their elders of government efforts to protect morality, as well as somewhat more comfortable with involvement in politics by churches and other houses of worship.

These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. It explores the degree to which the religious characteristics and social views of young adults differ from those of older people today, as well as how Millennials compare with previous generations when they were young.

Religious Affiliation

Compared with their elders today, young people are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition or to identify themselves as part of a Christian denomination. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” This compares with less than one-fifth of people in their 30s (19%), 15% of those in their 40s, 14% of those in their 50s and 10% or less among those 60 and older. About two-thirds of young people (68%) say they are members of a Christian denomination and 43% describe themselves as Protestants, compared with 81% of adults ages 30 and older who associate with Christian faiths and 53% who are Protestants.

millennials composition table

The large proportion of young adults who are unaffiliated with a religion is a result, in part, of the decision by many young people to leave the religion of their upbringing without becoming involved with a new faith. In total, nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith. Among older age groups, fewer say they are now unaffiliated after having been raised in a faith (13% of those ages 30-49, 12% of those ages 50-64, and 7% of those ages 65 and older).

millennials switching table

Young people’s lower levels of religious affiliation are reflected in the age composition of major religious groups, with the unaffiliated standing out from other religious groups for their relative youth. Roughly one-third of the unaffiliated population is under age 30 (31%), compared with 20% of the total population.

millennials age table

Data from the General Social Surveys (GSS), which have been conducted regularly since 1972, confirm that young adults are not just more unaffiliated than their elders today but are also more unaffiliated than young people have been in recent decades. In GSS surveys conducted since 2000, nearly one-quarter of people ages 18-29 have described their religion as “none.” By comparison, only about half as many young adults were unaffiliated in the 1970s and 1980s.

millennials affiliation table

Among Millennials who are affiliated with a religion, however, the intensity of their religious affiliation is as strong today as among previous generations when they were young. More than one-third of religiously affiliated Millennials (37%) say they are a “strong” member of their faith, the same as the 37% of Gen Xers who said this at a similar age and not significantly different than among Baby Boomers when they were young (31%).

millennials intensity chart

Worship Attendance

millennials attendance table

In the Pew Forum’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, young adults report attending religious services less often than their elders today. One-third of those under age 30 say they attend worship services at least once a week, compared with 41% of adults 30 and older (including more than half of people 65 and older). But generational differences in worship attendance tend to be smaller within religious groups (with the exception of Catholics) than in the total population. In other words, while young people are less likely than their elders to be affiliated with a religion, among those who are affiliated, generational differences in worship attendance are fairly small.

The long-running GSS also finds that young people attend religious services less often than their elders. Furthermore, Millennials currently attend church or worship services at lower rates than Baby Boomers did when they were younger; 18% of Millennials currently report attending religious services weekly or nearly weekly, compared with 26% of Boomers in the late 1970s. But Millennials closely resemble members of Generation X when they were in their 20s and early 30s, when one-in-five Gen Xers (21%) reported attending religious services weekly or nearly weekly.

millennials attendance chart

Other Religious Practices

Consistent with their lower levels of affiliation, young adults engage in a number of religious practices less often than do older Americans, especially the oldest group in the population (those 65 and older). For example, the 2007 Religious Landscape Survey finds that 27% of young adults say they read Scripture on a weekly basis, compared with 36% of those 30 and older. And one-quarter of adults under 30 say they meditate on a weekly basis (26%), compared with more than four-in-ten adults 30 and older (43%). These patterns hold true across a variety of religious groups.

millennials behaviors table

In addition, less than half of adults under age 30 say they pray every day (48%), compared with 56% of Americans ages 30-49, 61% of those in their 50s and early 60s, and more than two-thirds of those 65 and older (68%). Age differences in frequency of prayer are most pronounced among members of historically black Protestant churches (70% of those under age 30 pray every day, compared with 83% among older members) and Catholics (47% of Catholics under 30 pray every day, compared with 60% among older Catholics). The differences are smaller among evangelical and mainline Protestants.

Although Millennials report praying less often than their elders do today, the GSS shows that Millennials are in sync with Generation X and Baby Boomers when members of those generations were younger. In the 2008 GSS survey, roughly four-in-ten Millennials report praying daily (41%), as did 42% of members of Generation X in the late 1990s. Baby Boomers reported praying at a similar rate in the early 1980s (47%), when the first data are available for them. GSS data show that daily prayer increases as people get older.

millennials prayer chart

Religious Attitudes and Beliefs

millennials importance table

Less than half of adults under age 30 say that religion is very important in their lives (45%), compared with roughly six-in-ten adults 30 and older (54% among those ages 30-49, 59% among those ages 50-64 and 69% among those ages 65 and older). By this measure, young people exhibit lower levels of religious intensity than their elders do today, and this holds true within a variety of religious groups.

Gallup surveys conducted over the past 30 years that use a similar measure of religion’s importance confirm that religion is somewhat less important for Millennials today than it was for members of Generation X when they were of a similar age. In Gallup surveys in the late 2000s, 40% of Millennials said religion is very important, as did 48% of Gen Xers in the late 1990s. However, young people today look very much like Baby Boomers did at a similar point in their life cycle; in a 1978 Gallup poll, 39% of Boomers said religion was very important to them.

millennials salience chart
millennials god table

Similarly, young adults are less convinced of God’s existence than their elders are today; 64% of young adults say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence, compared with 73% of those ages 30 and older. In this case, differences are most pronounced among Catholics, with younger Catholics being 10 points less likely than older Catholics to believe in God with absolute certainty. In other religious traditions, age differences are smaller.

But GSS data show that Millennials’ level of belief in God resembles that seen among Gen Xers when they were roughly the same age. Just over half of Millennials in the 2008 GSS survey (53%) say they have no doubt that God exists, a figure that is very similar to that among Gen Xers in the late 1990s (55%). Levels of certainty of belief in God have increased somewhat among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in recent decades. (Data on this item stretch back only to the late 1980s, making it impossible to compare Millennials with Boomers when Boomers were at a similar point in their life cycle.)

millennials god chart

Differences between young people and their elders today are also apparent in views of the Bible, although the differences are somewhat less pronounced. Overall, young people are slightly less inclined than those in older age groups to view the Bible as the literal word of God. Interestingly, age differences on this item are most dramatic among young evangelicals and are virtually nonexistent in other groups. Although younger evangelicals are just as likely as older evangelicals (and more likely than people in most other religious groups) to see the Bible as the word of God, they are less likely than older evangelicals to see it as the literal word of God. Less than half of young evangelicals interpret the Bible literally (47%), compared with 61% of evangelicals 30 and older.

millennials scripture table

On this measure, too, Millennials display beliefs that closely resemble those of Generation X in the late 1990s. In the 2008 GSS survey, roughly a quarter of Millennials (27%) said the Bible is the literal word of God, compared with 28% among Gen Xers when they were young. This is only slightly lower than among Baby Boomers in the early 1980s (33%) and is very similar to the 29% of Boomers in the late 1980s who said they viewed the Bible as the literal word of God.

millennials bible chart

On still other measures of religious belief, there are few differences in the beliefs of young people compared with their elders today. Adults under 30, for instance, are just as likely as older adults to believe in life after death (75% vs. 74%), heaven (74% each), hell (62% vs. 59%) and miracles (78% vs. 79%). In fact, on several of these items, young mainline Protestants and members of historically black Protestant churches exhibit somewhat higher levels of belief than their elders.

millennials beliefs table

Young people who are affiliated with a religion are more inclined than their elders to believe their own religion is the one true path to eternal life (though in all age groups, more people say many religions can lead to eternal life than say theirs is the one true faith). Nearly three-in-ten religiously affiliated adults under age 30 (29%) say their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life, higher than the 23% of religiously affiliated people ages 30 and older who say the same. This pattern is evident among all three Protestant groups but not among Catholics.

Interestingly, while more young Americans than older Americans view their faith as the single path to salvation, young adults are also more open to multiple ways of interpreting their religion. Nearly three-quarters of affiliated young adults (74%) say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, compared with 67% of affiliated adults ages 30 and older.

millennials true table

Social and Culture War Issues

Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than are older people. They are also more comfortable with having a bigger government, and they are less concerned about Hollywood threatening their values. But when asked generally about morality and religion, young adults are just as convinced as older people that there are absolute standards of right and wrong that apply to everyone. Young adults are also slightly more supportive of government efforts to protect morality and of efforts by houses of worship to express their social and political views.

millennials homosexuality table

According to the 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, almost twice as many young adults say homosexuality should be accepted by society as do those ages 65 and older (63% vs. 35%). Young people are also considerably more likely than those ages 30-49 (51%) or 50-64 (48%) to say that homosexuality should be accepted. Stark age differences also exist within each of the major religious traditions examined. Compared with older members of their faith, significantly larger proportions of young adults say society should accept homosexuality.

In the 2008 GSS survey, just over four-in-ten (43%) Millennials said homosexual relations are always wrong, similar to the 47% of Gen Xers who said the same in the late 1990s. These two cohorts are significantly less likely than members of previous generations have ever been to say that homosexuality is always wrong. The views of the various generations on this question have fluctuated over time, often in tandem.

millennials homosexuality chart

Roughly half of young adults (52%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. On this issue, young adults express slightly more permissive views than do adults ages 30 and older. However, the group that truly stands out on this issue is people 65 and older, just 37% of whom say abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

Interestingly, this pattern represents a significant change from earlier polling. Previously, people in the middle age categories (i.e., those ages 30-49 and 50-64) tended to be more supportive of legal abortion, while the youngest and oldest age groups were more opposed. In 2009, however, attitudes toward abortion moved in a more conservative direction among most groups in the population, with the notable exception of young people. The result of this conservative turn among those in the 30-49 and 50-64 age brackets means that their views now more closely resemble those of the youngest age group, while those in the 65-and-older group now express the most conservative views on abortion of any age group.

millennials abortion table

Surveys also show that large numbers of young adults (67%) say they would prefer a bigger government that provides more services over a smaller government that provides fewer services. Among older Americans, only 41% feel this way. Fewer young people than older people see their moral values as under assault from Hollywood; one-third of adults under age 30 agree that Hollywood and the entertainment industry threatens their values, compared with 44% of people 30 and older. And more than half of young adults (55%) believe that evolution is the best explanation for the development of human life, compared with 47% of people in older age groups. These patterns are seen both in the total population and within a variety of religious traditions, though the link between age and views on evolution is strongest among Catholics and members of historically black Protestant churches.

millennials social table

But differences between young adults and their elders are not so stark on all moral and social issues. For instance, more than three-quarters of young adults (76%) agree that there are absolute standards of right and wrong, a level nearly identical to that among older age groups (77%). More than half of young adults (55%) say that houses of worship should speak out on social and political matters, slightly more than say this among older adults (49%). And 45% of young adults say that the government should do more to protect morality in society, compared with 39% of people ages 30 and older.

millennials morality table

GSS surveys show Millennials are more permissive than their elders are today in their views about pornography, but their views are nearly identical to those expressed by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers when members of those generations were at a similar point in their life cycles. About one-in-five Millennials today say pornography should be illegal for everyone (21%), similar to the 24% of Gen Xers who said this in the late 1990s and the 22% of Boomers who took this view in the late 1970s. Data for the Silent and Greatest generations at similar ages are not available, but data from the 1970s onward suggest that people become more opposed to pornography as they age.

millennials pornography chart

Similarly, Millennials at the present time stand out from other generations for their opposition to Bible reading and prayer in schools, but they are less distinctive when compared with members of Generation X or Baby Boomers at a comparable age. During early adulthood, about half of Boomers (51%) and Gen Xers (54%) said they approved of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that banned the required reading of the Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools; 56% of Millennials took this view in 2008. Generation X and the Boomer generation have become less supportive of the court’s position over time, while the pattern in the views of the Silent and Greatest generations has been less clear.

millennials banning chart

More Information

For other treatments of religion among young adults in the U.S. and how they compare with older generations, see, for example, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell (2009) and After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow (2007).

Download the appendix: Selected Religious Beliefs and Practices among Ages 18-29 by Decade (1-page PDF)

Download the full report (29-page PDF)

This analysis was written by Allison Pond, Research Associate; Gregory Smith, Senior Researcher; and Scott Clement, Research Analyst, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Photo credit: Aldo Murillo/iStockPhoto

Making “On-line” Face to Face

Lots of people like to talk about “on-line communities” and sing their praises.  Just about as many people like to disparage them for not being “real”.  Like a of of things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle – and perhaps involves a more fluid concept of ‘community’.

Mary-Anne Parker

I was chatting about this … in person, over a glass of wine J …  with Mary-Anne Parker, the Lifespan Learning Co-ordinator at the Unitarian Church of Saskatoon.  She is a frequent Skype buddy who was visiting with her family last week.  We wrestled with how to build bridges between these worlds.  As churches go forward in the digital age, maybe we need to seek some happy medium, programs that allow us to reach a non-traditional ‘congregation’, and that also provide chances to people into face to face contact.  Fortunately there are already tech platforms that can help that happen.

But let me start by comparing virtual and in person meetings:

On the plus side of the on-line community are qualities like immediacy; permeability (people can come and go easily); the ability to find people who share your interests without concern for geography.  And such communities can be inclusive of race, age, gender and most other categories because involvement is based on interest.

I serve on the Executive of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.  We meet with Go-to-Meeting and Skype (for smaller groups). Our on-line meetings include a Canadian (me), an American, two Brits, a Norwegian (well, actually an American in Norway), a Burundian, a Transylvanian, an Australian and a Filipino.  We talk, we know something of each others’ lives and we get a lot of work done.  Without the web, those meetings simply couldn’t happen with such efficiency.   Mary-Anne meets with fellow professional Religious Educators via Google+ using Hangouts function- and Skype on a regular basis; to her it reinforces connections already made and a way to maintain relationships, but does it deepen them the way face to face interactions do?  She’s not convinced.

That is one limitation of such communities, and there are others.   Even as it allows a chance to connect with folks far away, it places limits on the scope of that communication.   On-line conferences or meetings only last for so long and only one person can talk at a time.  Thanks to video we can pick up more of the visual aspects of communication, but not all of them. Some say that as much as 80% of human communication is non-verbal.  Some of that gets lost, especially the glances and signals passed between folks who aren’t speaking.  And of course the physical contacts are lost.  On-line hugs just aren’t as comforting.

So what can we do?  Reflecting on small group dynamics and planning Mary-Anne shared that she once ran a coffee house in a small town in Alberta.  To stimulate business (and, I think, her brain) she and her partner started Philosopher’s Cafe nights, where folks could chat about pre-planned topics in a comfortable and caffeine fueled setting.  She figured that was an adaptable model that could work in both realms.  How?

Well, say we set-up our Unitarian Cafe.  We already have a model coming from Small Group Ministries.  It’s a simple format with an opening reading, a check-in, sharing of readings on a topic, time for reflection and then discussion.  Many of our churches have them, but they are meant for groups committed to meeting and getting to know one another deeply over time.  Still the framework may be transferable.

As another example, Mary-Anne has a Linked-in friend named Rebekah who runs Reasonable Woman and Saskatoon Secular Family Network via Facebook Groups where ideas are posted on line and once a month members meet face to face in Saskatoon to discuss a favourite topic.  Mary-Anne wants to steal that idea and work it into her congregation’s life.

So why not set up a Unitarian Cafe meeting site or Facebook page in your town?  There are a bunch of platforms available.  Most 12 year olds can tell you which ones work…

Next, settle on a few topics (schedule for a few months, eh?) and start some initial discussion.  “Here is the topic.  Here are the things a couple of knowledgeable people have to say,”  Perhaps we offer a link to a YouTube clip, a TED Talk, some web pages or -gasp!- a book reference.  Folks are welcome to respond on-line.

At the same time publicize the same material in the church among folks who like more traditional forms of connection:  newsletters, orders of service, coffee hour recruiting.  Offer Facebook tutorials for those interested in joining in the on-line interaction.

But here’s the key, call a Unitarian Cafe meeting!  Real people in real time in a real place.  Folks bring their best ideas and get to discuss with one another with a facilitator hosting.  If a lot of people come, have small table talk groups.  Heck, you could even have a live feed happening on a projection screen with geographically distant folks adding their views as well.

And Mary-Anne just Tweeted she wants chicken wings at the cafe… but that’s another story!