Tuesday, 29 September 2015

"Spirituality" - Weasel word or glittering generality


I love the word "spirituality". I am also kind of uncomfortable with it.

I am uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly I feel like it is the word I use to talk about religious and faith stuff in a way that is palatable to people who don't really like religion (the r word). I don't feel guilty about this, after all I am just trying to keep lines of communication open. But when this is combined with my second reason for feeling uncomfortable, I have some questions. 

My second  discomfort has to do with defining spirituality. Spirituality is one of those words that can mean a lot of stuff. It is a warm word that people have some vague positive feelings about (or do they?). We often talk about and around its territory but rarely do we tie it down. Even when we do, we tie it to more fuzzy or unclear concepts. One popular way of describing it, is to say it is about the relationships we have with God, others, our self and creation. But what about these relationships? How we feel about them?  How important they are? What we think about them? I guess the answer would be yes! 

A list of things covered by a definition of spirituality might include:
  • Beliefs and ideas about existential questions – including purpose of life, human identity
  • Self-view /personal identity/self-knowledge
  • Inner feelings
  • Feelings of awe, wonder, mystery, transcendence
  • Relationships/community
  • Creativity – imagination, inspiration, intuition, insight etc.
  • Personal values
  • Understanding of self, society – a sense of self awareness.

I love all of these things. I think they are important. I think we should explore them with young people. But are they the sum of spirituality?

Let me change tack here. What if by using the word spirituality we are not communicating what we think we are? Ten or more years ago everyone in my 'religious' world seemed pretty excited by the idea that people said: I am spiritual but not religious. This seemed ok with us. We didn't want to be 'religious' either (depending on how you define the word) and we thought we had a lot of stuff about spirituality to share. But what if "I am spiritual but not religious" actually meant "I want to find my own path, please go away person with religious agenda". Could people representing organised religion using the word spirituality a lot change the meaning of the word or how people feel about it? 

In 2010 (and for eight years prior)  the Mission Australia Youth Survey had a question asking young people to rank what they valued from a list of ten things. They were: family relationships, friendships, physical and mental health, school or study satisfaction, being independent, feeling needed and valued, getting a job, spirituality/faith, financial security, making a difference in the community.

The data (which apparently was pretty consistent for nine years) was aggregated and included items ranked one, two or three by respondents.

Only 13.6% of young people in 2010 had spirituality/faith in the top three positions. Below it were financial security at 13.5% and making a difference in the community at 6.2%. Getting a job was above it at 16%.


I am sure there are lots of ways to look at this data but it certainly didn't seem to indicate that young people valued spirituality. Or did it? What if they just don't like the word? Or know what it means? 

I  do think spirituality is an inherent part of human beings. While I don't think we will ever define it well, I do think we need to think about how we engage young people with what spirituality is about. Using spirituality effectively as a 'weasel word' or 'glittering generality' may have a limited life. I don't think there is any research on this...so can you do some for me?

Ask the young people around you what they think about the word spirituality? Is it a positive word? Do they like it or not? Ask them if they are spiritual? And what this means?

What do you think they will say?

Friday, 25 September 2015

Liturgy Resources



Have a look at liturgy.co.nz as a source for a variety of worship resources. This ecumenical site has resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters. 

There is a large section with resources for the seasons of the church year which would be worth investigating.



Thursday, 24 September 2015

What is your song?


How do school communities explore the concept of vocation with young people?

How do we help students to think about what their purpose in life is and what they might be called to do?

I think these are counter cultural questions. The dominant idea many schools want to promote is that you can be whatever you want. While part of me likes this way of thinking it also troubles me deeply. Maybe we can be what we want, but will becoming that thing fulfil us and be true to who we are? We should encourage young people to be all they can be, but this needs to be grounded in self knowledge and self awareness. 

Recently on Facebook the story below has been going around. I like the message underlying it. The song is representative of who we are in the world and what we are called to do. I like the idea of our identity having deep roots in a community that helps us to understand who we are and remind us when we forget. I think this kind of community might value all kinds of work and all kinds of vocation and all kinds of being in the world. Not just those that earn a lot of money or fame or prestige.

I think this is what Christian community should be about. Helping us to hear the song that God has placed in our heart, that God sings to us as our calling.

I wonder how we can help young people hear their song?


When a woman of the Himba African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes to the jungle with other women, and together they pray and meditate until they find The Song of the Child. When a child is born, the community gets together and they sing the child’s song. When the child begins it’s education, people get together and the child sings their own song. When they become an adult, the community gets together again to sing it. When it comes to your wedding, you hear your song. Finally, when their soul is going from this world, family and friends are approaching and, like at their birth, sing their song to accompany it in the journey.

In the Himba tribe, there is another occasion when people sing the song. If at some point the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, they take the offender to the center of town and the people of the community form a circle around them. Then they sing you your song. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment, but is the love and memory of your true identity. When we recognize our own song, we have no desire or need to hurt anyone.

Your friends know your song. And sing when you forget it. Those who love you can not be fooled by mistakes you have committed, or dark images you show to others. They remember your beauty as you feel ugly, your total when you’re broke, your innocence when you feel guilty and your purpose when you’re confused.


Attributed to: Tolba Phanem, African poet

This story is also told in the book "What is my song" by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Transforming Service Conference 2016


April 14-16 2016 - Brisbane


This is an invitation to educators involved in leading or organising service learning activities in Australian schools. The Transforming Service Conference will bring together Service Learning Professional from all over Australia to share a national picture of service learning activities and to.work together on advancing the understanding of service learning and the foundations which underpin service encounters.

The Transforming Service Conference is an ecumenical initiative that recognises the rich variety of approaches to service across Australian faith-based school. The conference will focus particularly on secondary schools but recognises that many schools adopt a whole-of school approach to service learning. International; and cross-cultural service encounters will be a focus of discussion, alongside local endeavours.

Registrations Open Term 4 2015
Venue: Australian Catholic University Leadership Centre, Elizabeth St, Brisbane

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

God's Story Videos


Cross Road's Kids Club has a bunch of these little videos on different parts of the Bible. The animation is simple but effective and the script is read by a young voice in easily understood language. Some may not like the theology expressed at the end of the videos but the story parts of each video could be used without this. These videos are most suitable for a younger primary school audience.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Youth Culture Report


"The Youth Culture Report is a daily website news organization delivering news on youth culture seven days a week...TYCR daily provides you with a snap shot of of today’s youth culture so that you can be equipped to understand youth and make bridges for the advancement of the Gospel."

This looks like a valuable little site with lots of news and articles about young people. As with all sites of this nature (including my blog) it is curated in a particular way and so will take a particular direction. Take what you can use, adapt what you can and forget the rest...or be challenged by it.