Sunday, January 05, 2014

Who's Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation -- A Review

WHO'S GOT TIME?: Spirituality for a Busy Generation.  By Teri Peterson and Amy Fetterman.  St. Louis:  Chalice Press.  Xiv + 137 pages.

            The story that is making the rounds is that when it comes to religion, young adults are increasingly opting to choose “none of the above.”  Anyone who has any connection to faith communities likely is seeing evidence of the trend.  There are many contributors to the trend, but something that we shouldn’t lose sight of is that this disconnection from traditional structures doesn’t mean that young adults are not interested in things spiritual or even religious.  Many of them just find it difficult to incorporate spirituality into their daily lives.  Many of them find that traditional communities simply don’t understand the realities of their lives. As a pastor who happens to be the parent of a Millennial (a twenty-something) who serves a church with a number of young adults present, I am deeply interested in how the church can minister to and with younger generations.      

            I have tried to keep my ear to the ground.  I’ve tried to engage young adults, including my own son, in conversation.  I’ve watched on Facebook as older and younger generations misunderstand each other’s views and concerns.  But I’ve also looked to persons younger than me for clues as to what is happening in the spiritual lives of younger generations.  Teri Peterson and Amy Fetterman are excellent guides to the spiritual longings of persons who we call GenX and Millennials.  The point their finger at the time factor as the biggest challenge to engaging a meaningful spiritual life.  But rather than bemoan the absence of time, or offering one more “time management” trick, they offer suggestions as to how to embrace God in the midst of everyday life.  They write that spirituality isn’t a checklist.  Instead, it is a way of life, that doesn’t require packing more into the day, but rather recognizing the need for “a shift in vision and understanding.”  It involves “adding the God-connected, divine-seeking self to your list of identities: friend, student, parent, partner, co-worker, sibling, mystery chaser” (p. 5).

The two authors are Presbyterian pastors who studied together at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia.  Their book is the most recent contribution to emerge from “The Young Clergy Woman Project” in partnership with Chalice Press.  The two authors write as young women who understand the realities of their generation, who also happen to be engaged in ministry in Mainline Protestant congregations.  They understand why many of their cohort chooses not to engage the church, but they also believe the church has something important to offer these younger generations.  This is their audience.  Those, like me, who pick up this book, need to recognize that we are not the intended audience and thus need to respect the voices we are hearing. 

In Who’s Got Time? Teri Peterson and Amy Fetterman show that they understand the realities of a generation finds itself delaying marriage and family, change careers and locations regularly (in pursuit of often elusive jobs), may be burdened by student loans and do not believe that they will fare as better as their parents.  What they seek to provide are a variety of spiritual practices that can sustain and empower young adults, knowing that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.   Although they offer up this variety of practices, recognizing that not every one of them will prove helpful, as Christians who are embedded in the Reformed Tradition, they begin with the premise that God has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  And as Reformed Christians, they begin their offerings with Scripture, offering ways of engaging text that can prove meaningful and transformative.    

From Scripture (chapter one) they move through another eleven chapters.  They address embodied spiritual practices, especially relating to food (feeding and fasting both), wandering (running anyone?), music, rituals, community (they note that churches are one of the few places where people gather intergenerationally), sleep and Sabbath, borrowing from earlier developments such as centering prayer and prayer beads, social media, engaging the fullness of the world around oneself, finding the holy in the mundane parts of life, and finally becoming engaged in public life- taking it to the streets.  In each chapter, the authors bring their own stories and the stories of others of their generation into the conversation.  This isn’t an abstract offering.  It’s personal and lived.  They don’t look back at “simpler times,” but seek to live now in this context.  They embrace the teachings of Brother Lawrence who found the key to the spiritual life in incorporating the spiritual into daily life. While it’s important to stop and pray, to read, to worship in community, there is more than one way of accomplishing this.  While they are committed to church as being a worthy space for spiritual life, they don’t expect everyone to start there or even end up there. 

As they share these different approaches to the spiritual life, they provide at the end of each chapter a box with a practice to try, along with a resource or two that can be of help in incorporating the practice into daily life.  Thus, for example, in the chapter entitled “This is Real Life,” which deals with social media, they suggest that the next time a person logs on that they “take a moment to pray for the people in your newsfeed, and to let them know you’re thinking of them” (p. 102).  In other words, don’t just click the like button on Facebook – but actually engage in conversation.   

Although older generations like mine (I’m a Baby Boomer) aren’t the intended audience, even we can learn from the wisdom shared by these two pastors.  We too can benefit from connecting our spiritual lives to daily life.  We too face life on the run – only the nature of the run is different.  At the same time, it’s important to recognize with them the unique challenges facing younger adults.  

The book closes with “A Blessing,” a brief epilogue that brings the book to a proper close.  In this closing chapter they note that a frustration they encountered was the lack of resources written by young adults.  They found much written about them, but not by them.  Here is a good start toward the creation of such resources.  They write in closing that they hope the reader will “go forward reminded that you’re not alone in your yearning to connect, your longing for something more.”  Then comes a benediction:

Go, incorporating the identity of mystery chaser into your life.
Seek the sacred.
Play, Pray.
Pursue the Spirit at work in our world.  (p. 137).    

            Indeed, may we all take heed of this blessing, but may those whose busy lives can quickly close off spiritual pathways find in this book a path forward into full enjoyment of the presence of God.  Thanks go to the authors for their wisdom, to the Young Clergy Women Project for sustaining them in their journey, and to Chalice Press for bringing this book to us.  For, as  Carol Howard Merritt writes in her foreword to the book:  "They invite us into an adventure that will change us radically and drastically, as they make spirituality accessible for all of us" (p. xiv).  

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