I hate numbered lists and I hate them more when they use alliteration. So why am I posting eight "E" words. Today I was part of a consultation led by Sarah Wilke who heads up the Upper Room in the US, the Methodist spirituality publisher. She wanted to explore how they engage with those Gen X and Y who are on the fringe of outside the church, yet questing spiritually. It's a great question and it was wonderful to be part of a group of local educators and ministers to toss the topic around.
During the session I scribbled a page full of notes and I thought I'd unpack and share them here since I didn't get them all out at the time.
There's been a bunch of research done on the spirituality of young people, both in Australia and overseas, and I've blogged about that from time to time. For some reason I wrote down eight "e" words that summarise some of that combined with some of my own observations.
Eclectic - young people are comfortable 'putting together ' a fluid spiritual identity, drawing on different beliefs, practices and traditions. This relates to Anthony Giddens' notion of self-construction of identity in late modernity. It was reflected in the Gen Y spirituality research done in Australia. They're not necessarily interested in the whole system or package.
Experiential - people like Len Sweet and Mike Slaughter have been saying this for ages. Experience over information is the name of the game. I think partly that is the culture of the time, the 'language' of media, but it's also about seeing if it works for me.
Enjoyment - the Gen Y research in Australia found that young people mainly wanted to enjoy themselves. They hope for a good life now and later. They want to have fun and enjoy positive friendships and family relationships. I suspect that they don't assoociate church with enjoyment...
Electronic - we talked about about platforms today, but not about mediated spirituality much. We live in the electronic age, and I've written elsewhere about the connection between technology, spirituality and sexuality. Intimacy, transcendence and adventure connect these three things.
Environmental - the Australian Gen Y research found significant levels of concern by young people for the environment, even if they didn't know what to do about it. There's a bit of a paradox here between young people spending more time indoors glued to a screen and a heightened concern for our planet. Nevertheless voting patterns also reflect this reality.
Experimental - young people's spirituality is not only eclectic and experiential, I think it's also experimental. It is about creativity, adventure, new horizons. I wonder what it means for faith to be an active adventure.
Epsiodic - this isn't in any research that I've seen but time and time again I've encountered young people whose sense of God is connected to events - a big monthly youth worship service, a biennial youth convention, an annual leaderhip conference. These 'high points' are both transformative and sustaining.
Ethical - The "Spirit of Gen Y" study suggested that young people who were more 'spiritual' were also more ethical. This is a more complex argument and one that I'd want to contend. Nevertheless the study suggested links between spirituality/religion and ethical values or behaviour. The quest of young people to work out what is right and responsible is undoubtedly a spiritual quest.
I'll offer some more thoughts in the next couple of posts.