Disciples couple’s latest venture: a book on young adult spirituality

By David Matthews, DisciplesWorld contributing writer

PUEBLO, Colo. (3/19/07) —

After the recent success of Lost: A Search for Meaning, a theological look at the hit TV series LOST, author and DisciplesWorld columnist Christian Piatt is excited about the release of a new book which tackles the topic of young adult spirituality.

MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, to be released in July by Chalice Press, was a fun experience for Piatt, who co-wrote the book with his wife, Amy, pastor of Milagro Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pueblo, Colo.

In order to get the “practical” information needed, the Piatts sent out a 57-question survey to contacts across North America and Europe, and used research from a similar study done by Baylor University. They heard back from 765 young adults — defined as being between 18 and 40 years of age. The Piatts also sent video cameras to couples and groups to record their faith stories.

“We wanted to, roughly, cover a generation,” said Christian. “And we found some of the greatest diversity in that age range than any demographic in the history of the United States.” The survey asked a variety of questions about Generation Y’s attitudes towards organized religion, both past and present, and how to address any mentioned criticisms.

The Piatts said that coming up with the questions was a crucial process towards writing the book. “I think that’s where any good book starts,” Amy said. “With good questions.” The book’s subject matter came from the survey results. Those interviewed include a gay minister, and a recovering meth addict going to seminary.

“People were very generous in sharing their faith journeys, life lessons and opinions,” Amy said. “There is a deep honesty in what they told us.”

Another challenge the Piatts faced was relating their personal experiences with organized Christianity to the survey results. Amy, an ordained minister, is a sixth generation Disciple. Christian had left the church for 10 years before meeting his wife.

Christian found similar types of people in their survey pool. Fifty percent of respondents mentioned a negative experience with church. He described this phenomenon as “cultural mitosis.”

“Right now there is the largest contingency of people in the United States who aren’t affiliated with church, yet we also have the most evangelicals at same time,” he said. “There is a cultural mitosis of the two extremes between evangelicals and the unchurched.”

The reason for this split is mostly attributed to an individual’s perception of God, Christian said. “According to the Baylor study, the greatest predictor of a person’s religious values is his or her God-image,” he said. “An angry vs. loving God, etc . . . priests think people show up agreeing on same page and that’s increasingly untrue.”

The Piatts’ main focus with MySpace to Sacred Space is to re-evaluate how people look at the church, and how to educate young people. “This book was written for church leaders, and to give an opportunity for young adults to step up and speak with some authority,” Christian said.

The book’s ultimate goal is to change how church leaders educate their parishes, and young adults in particular, he said. “There’s a misconception that youth only like contemporary worship. Untrue. Music styles and services preferred are very broad,” he said.

The idea that young people don’t think about faith is also incorrect, Christian said, noting “a lot of institutional suspicion, but also a lot of interest in theology.” Understanding this group means addressing certain topics. “The bonding issues are social issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, global warming, and our social responsibility not only as Christians but as human beings . . . this is not the quick fix church leaders want to hear, but it is the solution,” Christian said.

Despite his recent successes, Christian Piatt’s career as an author started when his original suggestion to Chalice Press was rejected.

“We had already a series of books where we were commenting on media, like The Da Vinci Code, The Secret Life of Bees, The Matrix, with Christian critiques,” said Pablo Jimenez, consultant editor for Chalice Press. “Christian sent a proposal that we didn’t accept, but I called him, liked his writing style, and [asked] him to do something on LOST.”

Christian was intrigued by the new idea. “LOST provided more rich opportunities to engage people,” he said. “Kind of like Star Wars, it presents lots of universal questions and issues people can relate to.”

The book was received well, according to Jimenez. His editor feels that honesty is Piatt’s greatest strength as an author. “He’s a person who can share his doubts as well as he can share his convictions,” Jimenez said.

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