Hannah Eves reviews Justine Afra Huxley’s book on millennial spirituality and social action. 14/01/2020
The millennial generation is many things to many people. The avocado on toast generation. The political correctness generation. The generation of the gig economy and high housing prices. The ‘spiritual but not religious’ generation.
Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change is a collection of interviews and stories of millennial spiritual leaders, but it does not seek to define a whole generation. In fact, the strength of this collection lies in its diversity of profiles. Split into seven parts – Natural Leadership, Evolving Traditions, Sacred Activism, Complex Identities, New Spaces, Challenging Orthodoxy, and Protecting the Earth – the collection includes voices from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Humanist, Atheist and non–religious traditions. It’s a wide lens view into millennial culture. Once you have reached the final page, it’s hard not to be struck by the far–reaching social vision of these Gen Y activists, and the spiritual elders who support them.
The central thesis of the book is that that Gen Y are doing spirituality in a way which cannot be detached from their calling as sacred activists. This generation has “an uncomplicated readiness to walk the talk, out there in the messy, complex, screwed up world”and they are building their own definitions of the sacred. Those represented in these pages are almost all engaged in their communities and committed to the practical outworking of their inner spirituality. Rarely is ‘God’ or ‘church’ ever mentioned, but instead the ideas of community, authenticity, and spirituality are used to describe the places these leaders are building and the movements they are helming.
Another finding is that Gen Y are unafraid to mould language to suit their understanding of spirituality. The phrases used are striking, especially when it comes to definitions of leadership:“roles include: Gatherer (who constellates communities of meaning), Seer (who helps us approach the sacred), Maker (who uses imagination and art to offer new rituals and cultural expressions of spirit), Healer (who helps us move through pain and break cycles of violence), Venturer (who invests resources in new expressions of human flourishing), Steward (who creates new infrastructure for spiritual life) and Elder (who connects us to lineage and tradition)”.
These definitions may leave the reader with questions as to what the practical responsibilities of these roles are, but they also represent a generation who is ready to pave its own way, to build its own spirituality. By telling their stories, Huxley demonstrates that Gen Y is engaging with spirituality in a creative and responsive way. It’s a deeply hopeful depiction of millennial spirituality with leaders responding to the challenges of globalisation and the internet age.
The collection left me with the question of what we lose when we take this loose approach to spirituality. Can spirituality be custom designed to suit the needs and desires of the individual? Is this a good thing? Despite the nod to the gatekeepers of established religious institutions and spiritual practices, I was left wondering – what is lost when we revolutionise and individualise the spiritual in this manner?
On the other hand, can faith leaders afford not to pay attention to these trends? With what feels like an ever–widening generational divide, it is important to have things that seek to bridge that gap and bring understanding. For Gen Y, faith is not just about what is said in the Sunday service, or what is professed to the priest. It is not just about belief but, as one interviewee said, “faith is how you walk on this planet”. Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change is an engaging and potentially useful read for anyone challenged or intrigued by how this generation is engaging with spirituality and what they are seeking which traditional religious structures don’t offer.
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