by Rie Linton with Nancy Kern
During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.
The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.
The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.
What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?
Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.
“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”
Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”
If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.
Rie Linton is a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM journeyer, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. She hosts the blog n2myhead, is currently developing a curriculum on Diversity and lives in Huntsville, AL.
Nancy Kern is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She teaches at the Spectrum Center and the Jung Center of Houston, TX and can be reached at her website.