This is one of the books that higher ed professionals have mentioned to me over and over again with regard to the interest in “spirituality” among college students. So, when a friend offered to lend me a copy, I accepted. For me, there were two significant areas of “takeaway” from this book.
The first was Parks exploration of the developmental stage of “emerging adulthood.” I think many of us assume adolescents just move from adolescence to adulthood and we don’t adequately understand this period in between. Even more, we don’t consider how this developmental stage relates to faith development. We often just worry about keeping people in the faith, rather than understand the changes in thinking processes and perception of the world that are occurring and how these must be constructively engaged. Parks proposes that we go through changes in knowing, in forms of dependence, and in forms of community. In knowing, we move from authority based knowing to sometimes unqualified relativism to probing commitments to tested commitments to convictional commitments. In forms of dependence, we move from dependent or counterdependent, to fragile inner dependence to confident inner dependence to interdependence. In forms of community we move from conventional to diffuse to mentoring community to self-selected groups to an openness to the other. A challenge for many religious communities is that they often don’t move beyond the first or adolescent/conventional form in each of these categories. And if our emerging adults do, no wonder we lose them!
The second takeaway was the critical importance of mentoring relationships in this meaning-making process of wrestling with big questions and worthy dreams. Parks explores not only individual mentorship but also how the higher ed process can be a mentoring process and how mentoring occurs in culture and in whole mentoring communities.
Some wouldn’t find this a problem but the book tends to be more descriptive in broad terms than prescriptive in terms of the specifics that higher ed professionals and spiritual mentors can implement in their work. The second is that it seemed to me that the book proposes more of a “designer faith” that individuals craft with the help of supportive mentors rather than a deepening embrace of one of the established religious traditions. While not disparaging of any tradition, the majority of the models in the books are of emerging adults who are “spiritual but not religious”. This is an increasingly popular “option” but one wonders whether this has the power to sustain worthy dreams over a lifetime. At the same time, the book does provide a needed challenge for all religious leaders working with emerging adults: will you minister and mentor in a way that recognizes the developmental process occurring in the lives of these young men and women? That may be the biggest question of all for these leaders.