fascinating post by jonny baker the other day, about how the faith of today’s young adults could be characterized as “tinkering”. as i read the post, i was struck by a tension that jonny doesn’t address (but is surely more than aware of): the conservative church would freak at the idea of coming alongside people who are tinkering, labeling this syncretism, and forcing an “accept the whole thing or none of it” choice-point. of course, the other side of the tension would be liberal churches that not only support tinkering, but have it embedded as a primary assumption and value of their theological systems.
i’d like to think i’m living in the tension somewhere in between those two extremes, and suspect (since i know jonny, or at least think i do) that he would be in a similar place. in this tension, how can we contextually live out the gospel by coming alongside “tinkerers” and assist them with tinkering tools that move them (or, to use less forceful terms, allow them to move) toward the gospel? this is a very interesting question to me, as it not only has practical implications, but tons of theological and assumption implications.
here’s some juicy bits from jonny’s post (but, really, go read the whole thing):
The single word that best describes young adults approach to religion and spirituality – indeed life – is tinkering. A tinkerer puts together a life from whatever skills, ideas and resources that are readily at hand… Tinkerers are the most resourceful people in any era. If specialized skills are required they have them. When they need help from experts they seek it. But they do not rely on one way of doing things. Their approach to life is practical. They get things done and usually this happens by improvising by piecing together an idea from here, a skill from there and a contact from somewhere else.
Like the farmer rummaging through the junk pile for makeshift parts the spiritual tinkerer is able to sift through a veritable scrap heap of ideas and practices from childhood, from religious organisations, classes, conversations with friends, books, magzines, television programmes and web sites. The tinkerer is free to engage in this kind of rummaging…
can we view religion as a cultural resource? (david lyon raises this question in his book jesus in disneyland) i.e. are we prepared to take the risk of putting the insights, treasures, liturgies, theologies etc out there for people to weave into their lives as they tinker? and how might we go about this?
what skills do people need to be able to tinker? and related to this do people need some spiritual capital or theological capital to tinker? this is a challenging area. i think the answer is yes but often people don’t have a lot – they think google is enough! a parallel could be drawn here with improvisation in music which will be much richer and more creative if the person knows the traditions and has done the work in terms of learning their craft – that will free them up. the same is true for spirituality – those that know the tradition, the scriptures, the theological takes, spiritual practices, liturgies, other improvisations that have been made etc will have much more to draw on. the problem for churches is that their tradiitions often feel like they are heavily policed, something to be protected rather than something to be creatively opened up, made open source and tinkered with.
if there is this extended period of young adulthood where there are little support structures in place (young adults see friends as key in terms of navigating life’s choices ) could mentoring or being a soul friend help? is this an area where the church could make a creative contribution?
and lastly how can we encourage communities of tinkerers? i have found being a part of a community like grace amazing in terms of friendship, support, faith development and creative spirituality. it’s located in the church but with space to explore and tinker (not that we have ever used that term!).