Boomers and Wholeness

Saturday’s “walk and talk” book study on Craig Miller’s wonderful book, Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life, brought us to the end of our seven-week journey. A beautiful sunny day, it was the perfect morning for a walk along the Morrison Dam trails and for lunch and discussion on the back deck of our home in Exeter. Even our beloved Jack Russell, Oscar, had a a companion, as Diane and David brought their puppy “Smudge” for the walk too!

Our discussion was rich and wide-ranging, as we discussed everything from what salvation means to each of us, racial tensions south of the border (and elsewhere in the world), care-giving for our elderly parents, partners and grandchildren, our fears that there may not be enough people to care for us when we need help most, and of course the question of our own mortality. Two people also mentioned that they had never heard the term “nones” as a descriptor for those who do not affiliate with any religious tradition. How we reach out to the nones was therefore another topic of discussion.

As you can see, we talked about a “whole” lot of things!  So it is not surprising that this week’s topic was “wholeness”.

In the biblical context of health and wellness, wholeness means being well in spirit, mind and body. As Miller notes, this value is key for Boomers and anyone seeking to connect with them:

“As boomers age, they will want to make the circle of faith, work, family and leisure into a complete package that will enable them to make sense of their lives. The material goods that they have collected will become less important; instead, a focus on well-being, family ties, friendships, and spirituality will occupy their lives.” (Miller, Boomer Spirituality, p. 141)

Elsewhere Miller writes, “Small groups that focus on creating a healthy lifestyle that integrates spiritual life will be in demand.” (p. 144)

Considering the above, we thought about all the ways that our churches could reach out to Boomers. Already at Siloam, for example, we have a wonderful healing and wellness team that has planned a host of events for the 2017-2018 year: meditation circles, labyrinth walks, drumming sessions, spiritual yoga, nature walks in Springbank Park, as well as other groups that engage body, mind and spirit. We have small group studies to engage the mind and spirit. In the Fall, in our Tuesday morning group, we will be looking at Adam Hamilton’s book, Making Sense of the Bible. Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today, and on Friday mornings we will be reading Wayne Dyer’s book Living the Wisdom of the Tao. Change Your Thoughts. Change Your Life. Some have assisted with Rev. Isaac’s garden project in which our students and young people have been working to provide healthy, home-grown vegetables for needy families.

In the spring we held two very well attended sessions on grand-parenting. It is clear that we need to do more in this area. We also need to provide more support to Boomers who are wrestling with care-giving issues and financial concerns. As Miller notes, many boomers are now caring for an older parent or ill spouse. Others are finding that they have not saved enough money for retirement or that this money has been depleted because they have in effect become the breadbaskets for their  parents or adult children.

Perhaps the primary way churches can support Boomers in this time of transition is by returning to the things that we do best: providing spiritual nurture, a sense of community, and an opportunity to explore the big questions of life and faith in a safe environment. Social justice will continue to play an important role in our work as Christians, but (thankfully) we are not the only social do-gooders anymore. Many small businesses and larger corporations are trying to make the world a better place too, even if their motivation for doing so is, at least in part, about attracting shoppers who have a social conscience.

Churches that seek to be relevant today will provide boomers with opportunities to discuss our faith, while helping us find ways to express our convictions through loving actions in the world around us. They will provide a safe place to talk about the brokenness that many of us experience in our relationships, be they relationships between lovers, parent and child, between ourselves and God, and between humanity and the created world. (p. 175). Finally, they will help us to discern where and how God is calling us to serve in the second half of life and, in particular, how we can leave a legacy of love and justice to those who follow.

Boomers and Supernaturalism

Another lively discussion over breakfast followed a beautiful walk along the trails along the Thames River in northeast London. In fact, we barely got past the first question on our discussion sheets!

Using Miller’s study guide, we were invited to consider which of the following we have tried or experienced:

NEW AGE PRACTICES: ESP,  Tarot Cards, Channeling, Ouija board, Astrology, Out-of-Body experiences, being bathed in light, a visit from a dead relative.

MORE TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN PRACTICES: Divine healing, speaking in tongues, an answer to prayer, spiritual guidance, using a spiritual gift, a visit from an angel, an exorcism, hearing God’s voice as you make a decision.

The answers were fascinating and ranged from everything to having experienced all of the above to experiencing none of the above! Most of us fell somewhere in the middle, having had experiences under both categories, sometimes not always taking them too seriously, as when we were children and played with a Ouija board or our present day delight as adults in reading our horoscope every day!

The more we shared, however, we realised that in fact many of us had experienced more supernatural events than we realised. For example, many of us had had a visit from a deceased loved one, often in the form of a dream. Many of us also had also had been visited by an angel, maybe not an angel dressed in a long, flowing white garment with beautiful big wings and a halo, but a messenger (the real meaning of the word ‘angel’) from the spirit realm nonetheless.

We all agreed that the years had made us more open to a variety of spiritual and supernatural experiences, not less open to such things. One member of the group, a scientist, pointed out (in contradiction to Miller’s thesis) that far from discouraging such experiences, science had taught her to explore and question and wonder at the marvels of God’s good creation.

What about you? Can you relate to any of the above experiences? How has your view of the supernatural changed over the years? Are you less spiritual or more spiritual than when you were young? Given that Jesus operated very much in the world of the supernatural (see Matthew 8:22-33 and Matthew 9:18-26), does being more open to the supernatural help you to understand and appreciate Jesus and his healing miracles in the New Testament? And how can we build a community of faith and acceptance where people will feel safe to discuss their experiences of the supernatural?

Please join us next week when we wrap up with Miller’s final chapter on “Wholeness.”




Godliness and Boomers

While we very much missed a few people who needed to be away on Saturday, our discussion of chapter five of Miller’s excellent book proved to be one of our liveliest to date. In a frightening way, it was also very timely.

As the world looks with increasing alarm at the rising tensions between North Korea and the U.S., whose leaders have both shown themselves to be pathological liars  given to bluster and bellicosity, we boomers now find ourselves facing, for the  second time in our lives, the very real danger of a nuclear war,  a fear that was certainly  part of our childhood. It’s scary to think how well Miller’s comment on page 114 describes the terror that many of us feel today: “…all it takes is one mistake, one crazy person, or one fouled-up government decision by either side of the nuclear equation and the world could be blown up.”

For boomers who were the first generation to grow up in the nuclear age, this has led to four prominent attitudes which Miller outlines in this chapter. First, boomers have always questioned whether the future promised to previous generations will  be there for themselves or their grandchildren. Indeed, some boomers believe that they may well be the last generation on earth. Secondly, there is the fear that technology, far from being the promised saviour of the world, will be our destruction. Thirdly, if we have no future, many boomers argue that there is no point in saving for or investing in the future. Fourthly, as Miller writes, “the dominant view of the future is apocalyptic: the end of the world is at hand.” (p. 115)

In the seventies, a large number of boomers found solace and courage in an intensely personal, and often emotional, relationship with Jesus Christ. While this flew in the face of what many of their more mainline church parents understood to be logical, rational, intellectual and progressive, for many boomers this new Jesus gave them, for the first time ever, friendship, understanding and, most of all, unconditional love and acceptance. Moreover,  musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell made Jesus accessible in a way they had never experienced in their traditional church upbringing. As Miller writes on page 118, these musicals “scratched the core of what many boomers had been seeking, a religious experience that dug beneath the ritual and rationality of their parents’ religion and challenged the technological materialism that dominated so much of their lives.”

Others of course turned to eastern mysticism and the New Age Movement to find the spiritual meaning they were seeking and which the traditional church seemed to be so inept at providing. We turn to this topic in our discussion of chapter six next Saturday.

Boomers and Self-Seeking

A very light sprinkling of rain did not stop our Boomer group from enjoying a walk through beautiful Weldon Park in Arva this morning! And thanks to our wonderful host and those who brought goodies, we also enjoyed a delicious repast afterwards as we discussed the fourth chapter of Miller’s book: “Self-Seeking”.

The themes today engendered some lively and wonderful conversations. Some of us could really relate to the touchy-feely movement of the sixties and seventies, having experienced it first-hand in church youth groups and other organisations. Many of us could also relate to the experience of losing ourselves in false gods like consumerism or feeling as though we are stuck down some rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. One woman, a first wave Boomer, talked about the limited options that were available to her when she was young and how she could relate to the theme of Snow White waiting for her prince to appear. Another woman saw Dorothy as a role model who empowered her to seek and find her calling and identity in life. Some talked about major super heroes that had served as models for them, or James Bond, or Frogo in The Lord of the Rings. Still others connected to the theme of Dorothy’s longing for “home sweet home.” And of course there were some who, because of geography or their family of origin, did not have any of the experiences Miller talks about in this chapter.

We agreed that self-seeking is not always a bad thing, and that if we are truly to love others, then we must first love ourselves. Recalling the teachings of feminist theologian Judith Plaskow, we were reminded that we cannot live sacrificially as Christ calls us to do if we don’t have a fully developed self to sacrifice! Harvey Cox’s interpretation of the story of Adam and Even and the serpent in the Garden of Eden was also briefly discussed. In his book On Leaving It to the Snake, Cox said that the real sin of Adam and Eve was that they failed to choose for themselves – they just left it to the snake to decide their destiny for them. Their real sin therefore was not hubris or pride but rather a failure to make their own decisions. Their failure to act meant that they did not take responsibility for their lives; they just let life happen to them. This was their real sin.

The theme of escapism was discussed at length. It was also noted that, with greater leisure time available because of modern technology, cars and modern household appliances, we also have much more time to become bored – unlike our grandparents who often worked from dawn till dusk and then fell exhausted into their beds at night.

The feeling was that Boomers have continually buried themselves in their work or various kinds of busyness in order to avoid having to ask the really big question in life: what am I here for? What is the meaning and purpose of my life? As one famous rabbi once said, there has to be “more to life than bread and cars and air-conditioned rooms.” Perhaps our boredom and restlessness is due to the fact that, in this life, we are never truly home but that we long for “that home that is not built with hands but which is eternal in the heavens.”  Or as Saint Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

         An article by Marianne Mellinger on spiritual practices of first-wave Canadian Boomer women, led to an interesting discussion on what it means to be a “dweller” or a “seeker” and the differences between the two. In this article Mellinger refers to the writing by religious sociologist Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven:  Spirituality in America since the 1950’s, in which Wuthnow differentiates between a spirituality of ‘dwelling’ and a spirituality of ‘seeking’.  As Mellinger writes, “A spirituality of dwelling, according to Wuthnow, emphasizes habitation—to inhabit sacred space is to know its territory.  Dwelling is more typically connected to organized religion—conformity to particular tenets of faith.  Dwelling offers security, stability, community, connection. A spirituality of seeking, on the other hand, finds many sources of inspiration—counselling centres, books, spiritual guides.  Seeking offers choice, competing glimpses of the sacred, practical wisdom.  Seeking is open to novelty and values one’s own experience.  Wuthnow suggests that a spirituality of dwelling was predominant in North America prior to 1960 and that since 1960 a spirituality of seeking has predominated.”[1]

One individual observed that the Bible speaks of both “dwellers” and “seekers” and honours both paths. Perhaps, then, we need to become “dwelleekers” or “dwellingseekers” – who draw on and carry the strengths of both “dwellers” (community) and “seekers” (individual searchers and spiritual adventurers).

Thanks to everyone for a highly engaging and interesting discussion!




[1] Marianne Mellinger, D. Min., “Spiritual expression and practices of Canadian women born between 1946-1955”