Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hanging out as a Spiritual Practice

Peter Morales has caused a mild stir in the YRUU room.

In an attempt to get UUs off our duffs and doing things, a cause I'm usually behind, he has made some rather grand statements about youth work in the latest issue of UU World.

He writes:

"I am convinced that we too often fail to recognize how much our children, youth, and young adults need to give. Hanging out is not a spiritual practice. Joining hands to work for something we care about is. Service is an essential part of faith development. We need to do so much more to engage the idealism and energy of our young people."

Err...Does he actually KNOW any UU youth? Has he ever tried to fit in YRUU amongst football practice, homework, play rehearsals and family responsibilities? I was at an RE training this weekend and someone else asked TogetherBeth what work our YRUUs did out in the community. She said something like:

"Well, we do the food drive at All Souls, of course, we have 40 youth going to that tomorrow. And we put together safe sex packets for Metro Teen Aids, and we entertain kids at the children's Inn at NIH and the whole church does volunteer work in the community during service week...well, we need to do more out in the community"

Actually, I think most people would say that's pretty good. And "out in the community" doesn't count the work trips to El Salvador and New Orleans our church does that are attended by lots of youth and the tons of fundraisers for various charities that our YRUU group does.

That aside, though, I still think the Reverend Morales is incorrect when he writes that "Hanging out is not a spiritual practice."

Well, actually, earlier in the article, he writes warmly "I remember one woman who had a passion for connecting with the elders of the church. She wanted them to feel connected and respected. She loved to hear their stories. What a gift she was to our church!" So perhaps what Reverend Morales meant was that "Hanging out is not a spiritual practice when youth do it" because it sounds suspiciously like hanging out is spiritual as all get out when you do it with the elders of the church.

The most useful conversation I've ever had with a YRUU happened as we were baking brownies. The second most useful conversation I've had with a YRUU happened BECAUSE Jana-who-creates and I were too lazy to go upstairs and get a folder. (If you follow that link, it's item four.)

Hanging out, in the way YRUUs do it, where you talk about how to deal when a friend says something homophobic, or how upset you were when you had your first car accident or how you've decided what you want to do when you grow up or how the kids at your old school were mean to you but you love your new school and now you're OK, is a vital, connective tissue that makes all of YRUU's heavy lifting possible. Hanging out is where we learn both the big important moments and the little stupid stuff of each other's lives. It's when we slow down from all the stuff we're doing (both charitable work and everyday things) and say to each other, "tell me about your day, because I want to know who you are."

I tend to think that when we connect with one another, we are connecting with a piece of that which is divine.

If that's not a spiritual practice, what is?



Wilson Wonders said...

Next thing ya know, he'll be sayin' coffee hour doesn't count either. Sigh.

Unknown said...

I think hanging out with youth is a spiritual practice. It takes patience, quiet, empathy, and did I mention patience? And a presence. And empathy, did I mention empathy?

When I read Morales' article, that sentence jumped out at me and irritated the heck out of me.

I have worked with teens for years, and hanging out is a good way to connect with them and just as valuable as social justice sometimes.

Transient and Permanent said...

Gotta say, I think you nailed it. When I was in high school, hanging out with the UU youth group was very much a spiritual practice. It's no hyperbole to say it was as nourishing as anything I got from Sunday services during the same period.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

The Italians have a phrase: "The sweetness of doing nothing."

In reality, we never really "do nothing." We're always doing something, even when we give a low judgement to its worth.

What, then. makes "doing nothing" sweet? When it provides room for the sense of connection and clarity our spirits all crave.

kimc said...

What's the difference between psychological and spiritual? (I ask this because someone once asked me, though accusingly. I don't intend this accusingly, I just want to know what you'll say.)

Chalicechick said...

(((Next thing ya know, he'll be sayin' coffee hour doesn't count either. Sigh.)))

If adults had the kinds of conversations at coffee hour that the youth have when they are hanging out, I would be willing to call coffee hour a spiritual practice.

Adults, don't, though.


Peter Bowden said...

Over the years I have encountered plenty of youth "just hanging out" in the more casual, not so spiritually charged way -- something I can see fueling a generalization. The youth group I worked with for a decade, if you asked the youth, just hung out each Sunday and talked. But we had a chalice lighting, check in, discussed "deep and profound mongo cosmic questions" and then checked out. So deep and spiritual it motivated me to spend the last ten years helping adults do the same. We call it small group ministry now. Here's the catch... In many youth groups - and if you're commenting here yours probably rocks - and way too many adult small group ministries there is a failure to lead the group(s) in such a way that the exploration of meaning and purpose is transformed into inspired action. I've seen just hanging out groups, and I've seen inspiring spiritual and worshipful groups. Across the age spans there is a spectrum of "depth" - whatever you want to call it. I think we all need to focus on the fact that we lose most of our youth and that there is something critical not happening. I think that is the spirit of what Peter Morales was talking about.

Chalicechick said...

(((I think we all need to focus on the fact that we lose most of our youth and that there is something critical not happening. I think that is the spirit of what Peter Morales was talking about.)))

IMHO, if the youth come to really love doing charitable work through their time as a UU, that's great, but they certainly won't have to come back to UUism to do it as an adult.

Every church has problems retaining young people. IMHO, the churches that have the fewest of them are those churches where the young people feel a sense of connection to one another and to the faith.
When they are older, they are going to want that again.

That connection is built through things like hanging out.

Thia whole thing makes me worry about President Morales as it is one more example of him making a declaration about something he doesn't understand. He has never struck me as a particularly thoughtful or careful speaker, and now he's speaking for us all.


Comrade Kevin said...

I suppose the problem is when no one hangs out at all, which is the problem I've run into within Quaker meeting. It's tough to criticize not doing when not showing up very often is a greater issue.

Unknown said...

Chalicechick says: (((IMHO, if the youth come to really love doing charitable work through their time as a UU, that's great, but they certainly won't have to come back to UUism to do it as an adult.)))

The problem is that UU churches seem to think that social action is the only way to engage their youth. That is only one part of being part of a church. I found a need for spiritual engagement with your kids, and started a teen small group this year, where we do small group ministry topics that coincide loosely with the monthly worship themes and what the adults are doing in their small groups.

We have only met twice, but I was just blown away - it's very intentional but has a lot of flexibility built in to honor their age. Kids want a spiritual connection, not just to be put to work (even if it's good and valuable work).

((Thia whole thing makes me worry about President Morales as it is one more example of him making a declaration about something he doesn't understand.))

As a former journalist myself, I was surprised to see this particular line in his article - as a journalist, Morales certainly has a deep appreciation for the power of words. I hope that he is able to clarify his meaning!

Joel Monka said...

This reminds me of a discussion Elizabeth and I had about the need for a church to help its own people as well as others. As you have noted here, hanging out- with the meaningful discussions that result- does exactly that.

I had said that was why I was supporting Laurel, because it sounded to me like Rev. Morales was saying (like Chuck and David in the discussion mentioned above) that all the church's efforts should be directed outwards, writing off all internal examination as navel-gazing. "Hanging out is not a spiritual practice" demonstrates that attitude.

Bill Baar said...

It's hard to market hanging out. If you want to grow the Church, then you want some efforts that attract parents to bring there gets to Church. Habitat for humanity served that roll for my family.

It's getting carried away with the marketing that will do us in though, if we overlook the spiritual practice that occurs with just hanging out.

Robin Edgar said...

:That aside, though, I still think the Reverend Morales is incorrect when he writes that "Hanging out is not a spiritual practice."

Well I happen to think that my "hanging out" in front of the Unitarian Church of Montreal is a form of spiritual practice and have been referring to my ongoing protest against U*U injustices, abuses, and hypocrisy of various kinds as my "alternative spiritual practice" ever since an insightful Unitarian*Universalist minister used that phrase to describe my protest.

Chalicechick said...


Nobody's talking about it as a marketing effort. As you observe, we can't really market to teens since it is usually their parents who pick the church.

It's all about keeping youth who are already attending the church.


Chalicechick said...

Let's keep the conversation on hanging out as a feature of youth work.


Robin Edgar said...


You don't think that my ongoing "alternative spiritual practice" of "hanging out" in front of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, to say nothing of 25 Beacon Street in Boston, the 2002 UUA GA in Quebec City, and the UUMA Convocation in Ottawa last weekend, is intended to speak to U*U youth as much as aging and dwindling U*Us who arte well on their way to quite literally being corpse-cold Unitarians CC? I will have U*Us know that the Unitarian Church of Montreal once blamed me for the loss of their Youth Group and I expect that my protest in front of the Unitarian Church of Montreal was indeed a contributing factor to the UCM losing its Youth Group a while back. For the record a young woman came out of the Unitarian Church of Montreal on Saturday night as I was protesting during its "social event of the season aka its largest annual fundraising event "BidNite" and brought me out a bag of clementines and a ginger cookie as a goodwill gesture. Be assured that my ongoing "alternative spiritual practice" of "hanging out" with U*Us in "real life" and the not so virtual reality of the internet is a feature of *my* youth work because, quite frankly. . . old U*Us like U*U COP are quite evidently unable to learn new tricks. Thankfully most of these corpse-cold Unitarians won't be around in another decade or two. . . Of course, the way things are going, there will not be many U*U youth to replace these corpe-cold Unitarians and Unitarian*Univeralism will be an even tinier, declinier, and fringier religion than UUA President Peter Morales already acknowledges that it is. . .

DairyStateDad said...

First of all, my own work with youth has been limited to OWL, which is a highly structured program (but still allows for some "hanging out" kinds of conversations). I commend you, CC, and others, for the time and energy you put into larger YRUU efforts.

Second, I agree with you (although I've not been fortunate to witness it the way you have) that unstructured hanging out and talking about stuff can be an important part of spiritual development and practice. I think you're correct to challenge Morales' sweeping statement on that score.

But third, when I read that column in its original context, I read it through the eyes of a young friend who dropped out of a local YRUU group while remaining very active in regional and national YRUU activities. Why?

Because for that young person, hanging out is all it is at the local level. My friend's cohort has shown little or no interest in service experiences that my friend would find more substantive, and after trying to generate some energy around that, my friend gave up. There seemed to be, at the time, ineffective adult leadership regarding youth in that particular church.

Bottom line, after reading your post I did appreciate more the problem with the sweeping nature of Morales's statement than I did when I first read him. But I still think he raises a really valid point about the importance of challenging youth to undertake service in some form.

A lot of those "hanging out" conversations can still take place while people are doing something that is taking them beyond themselves. The same could be said of adults. If we believe in "Deeds, Not Creeds," then we need to give people the opportunity to do some Deeds.

Chalicechick said...

((((Bottom line, after reading your post I did appreciate more the problem with the sweeping nature of Morales's statement than I did when I first read him.)))

Yeah, it's the lack of nuance that gets to me.

I kind of expect nuance from my religious leaders.

I don't question that action is important, indeed my youth group does a great deal of it and is thriving because we do combine action and hanging out.

But the original statement was irritatingly dismissive.


Robin Edgar said...

I agree that Rev. Morales' statement was "was irritatingly dismissive" as you put it CC. I am well acquainted with U*U religious leaders making "irritatingly dismissive" statements of various kinds, including some very "sweeping" ones that may be properly described as blanket condemnations. In fact some U*U clergy and U*U lay leaders have made a number of irritatingly dismissive staements to my face in the last couple of weeks. . . Of course this was by no means the first or indeed worst "irritatingly dismissive" sweeping statement that Rev. Peter Morales has made recently. It is hard to top the following well-documented words of Rev. Peter Morales in the "irritatingly dismissive" sweeping statements department but do feel free to try to one up me on that. . . I would eb all ears.

"We live in dark times, times filled with hatred, injustice, prejudice, ignorance.
Sadly, *obsolete religions* created for another time contribute to the darkness."

That's right Peter all those *other* "old religions" you dismissed in your 'Religion For A New America' "stump speech" announcing your candidacy for UUA President, are "obsolete". You know the ones, those "old religions" that "lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression." Of course U*Us are completely above saying and doing things that lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression. U*Us can't possibly be guilty of any hatred, injustice, prejudice, or ignorance.

Right Peter?

God forbid. . .

Bill Baar said...

I kind of expect nuance from my religious leaders.

Nuance is tough to lead with... focus is usually the need.

I think that's what Morales is doing here..focusing.

Robin Edgar said...

Of course I expect that a good number of U*Us consider Rev. Peter Morales' perhaps unwittingly dismissive yet none-the-less quite insightful description of Unitarian*Universalism as "a tiny, declining, fringe religion" to be just a tad irritating too. . . especially since it is an all too truthful and accurate a description of the current status of what I now have quite a bit of fun "name*calling" *The* Tiny Declining Fringe Religion™ :-)

Please accept my apologies for hanging around a bit. Hopefully I haven't worn out my welcome here. ;-)

Do give The Emerson Avenger's regards to your Youth Group the next time you hang out with them.

Chalicechick said...

When you focus on the wrong thing, yo derail your message and waste everyone's time.

Robin Edgar said...

I don't consider it to be a waste of my time, or anyone else's time, to remind U*Us about how some of UUA President Peter Morales' "irritatingly dismissive", or otherwise questionable, sweeping statements do not reflect well on the U*U religiosu community as a whole. Ditto for the "irritatingly dismissive" or otherwise thoughtless, questionable, or indeed outright insulting and defamatory words of too many other U*U religious leaders, and prominent lay leaders. I have yet to hear UUA President Morales responsibly acknowledge that he kind of put his foot in it and "recalibrate" his words about those alleged "obsolete religions". Have you?

Anonymous said...

...i think it's a matter of understanding intent. I think 'hanging out' to youth... is different than the 'hanging out' Peter was talking about.

I can see a difference between going to a bar with friends, watching bad television, etc. ...and talking with my friends about beliefs, opinions, politics, etc. is passive, one is active. Both are 'hanging out'

Chalicechick said...


Morales' statement specifically refers to "children, youth, and young adults" as his audience for this message, so yeah, I think he IS talking about youth.

Besides, if our children, youth and young adults are doing their "hanging out" in bars, we have bigger problems than sloth.