A couple of days ago I posted 13 Trends from Faith Formation 2020.  I made reference to a need to consider more deeply Trend # 8 The Rise of a Distinctly Post-Boomer Faith and Spirituality. So here we go in two posts, just so things don’t get too long.

The FF2020  folks (I assume it to be project director John Roberto) quote two sets of thinkers positing ideas on the subject.

The first is sociologist Robert Wuthnow who identifies “religious tinkering” as a guiding image for understanding Post-Boomer approach to religion.  And here I will just quote the well-written 13 Trends article…because they wrote it well, and they have now replaced it on their web site:

The single word that best describes young adults’ approach to religion and spirituality – indeed life – in tinkering: putting together a life from whatever skills, ideas and resources that are ready at hand.  Spiritual Tinkering is a reflection of the pluralistic religious society in which we live, the freedom we permit ourselves in making choices about faith, and the necessity of making those choices in the face of the uprootedness and change that most young adults experience.  It involves piecing together ideas about spirituality from many sources, especially through conversations with one’s friends.  Spiritual tinkering involves a large majority of young adults in church shopping and church hopping.  It also takes the form of searching for answers to the perennial existential questions in venues that go beyond religious traditions, and in expressing spiritual interest through music and art as well as through prayer and devotional reading. 

Tinkering is evident among the large number of young adults who believe in God, life after death, and the divinity of Jesus, for instance, but who seldom attend religious services.  Their beliefs blend continuity with the past – with the Bible stories they probably learned as children – and their behavior lets them adapt to the demands of the present.  Tinkering is equally evident in the quest to update one’s belief about spirituality.  The core holds steady, persuading one that the Bible is still a valuable source of moral insight, for example, but the core is amended almost continuously through conversations with friends, reflections about unusual experiences on vacation or at work, or from popular song.

A lot in Wuthnow’s research as filtered through FF2020 seems useful to me.  I find it interesting that the 2020 version tries a bit to keep it contained within a specific religious context.  Young adults are influenced by, “conversations with friends, reflections about unusual experiences on vacation or at work, or from popular song.”

But that’s as far as they will go in terms of outside influences.  Some of those conversations might be with Buddhists, or Muslims, or Unitarian Universalists for that matter.  As with all interactions both parties are changed. I know a lot of the people I meet in my congregation (and this includes a good many Boomers as well) bring in meditation practices, ritual practices, intellectual concepts including atheism and ethical values that almost certainly did not spring fully formed from their childhood family or religious values systems.

Some of those unusual work experiences might be working alongside someone who is LGBTQ, or is of another race or social class, or who has to take some time each day to pray.  Some of those travel experiences might take them to an aboriginal sweat lodge or similar ceremony, or to nations shockingly different in lifestyle, cultural values and standard of living from our North American expectations. And some of the pop songs…well Katy Perry’s Friday Night or Rihanna’s S&M are two eye openers that come to mind, though Mumford and Son’s Sigh No More is at least as theologically challenging as the previous two are…um… morally challenging.

The fact is that for people of all ages, the sheer volume of information available to us presents a challenge for any orthodoxy.  It’s there in all the sources the article names, but also in media, social networking sites and good old Wikipedia (and isn’t it odd to put ‘good old” in front of Wikipedia???)  My instinct tells me that this idea of spiritual tinkering is not just confined to younger adults, but is fast becoming a fact of life.  Churches will have to respond accordingly, offering ideas for consideration rather than consumption, sermons for discussion not definition.

It’s one of the things that gives me hope as a Unitarian minister.  Telling people what to think or how to act has never been our long suit, and trying to do so is one of the fastest routes to the ministerial unemployment line!  We love our freedom thought and our freedom from binding creeds.  We are well positioned theologically for this new age.  The challenge is to provide a wrapper for that theology that will be attractive.

So what do you think?