Millions of boomers find the Next Church Religion: Atlantic Monthly reports on the popularity of the mostly Protestant, nondenominational centers that offer secular aid with a dose of spirituality, as well as Sunday worship.


August 04, 1996|By Cynthia Dockrell | Cynthia Dockrell,BOSTON GLOBE

Those baby boomers are at it again, harnessing their demographic power to remake yet another age-old institution in their own image. This time it's the church.

As Charles Trueheart reports in the August Atlantic Monthly, a longing for community and spiritual connection is sending millions of Americans into what he dubs the Next Church.

Unlike the white-spired, stained-glass embodiments of Christianity that have beckoned to the faithful for centuries, these new, mostly Protestant but nondenominational houses of worship turn tradition on its head, raking believers by the thousands into multimedia-equipped amphitheaters.

Full-service "shopping-mall churches," they attend to secular needs as well as sacred ones, offering a seven-day-a-week link-up to the spiritual life -- with a decidedly practical bent.

Sure, you can come in on Sunday to worship alongside a few hundred of your brethren, but you can also stop into the Mariners Church in Newport Beach, Calif., for instance, on a weeknight and find everything from 12-step recovery meetings to parenting seminars. And you needn't search far for a cappuccino cart.

Trueheart is quick to point out that these are not television ministries or revival-tent-style gatherings where congregants faint and speak in tongues. Average Americans make up these flocks, kid-toting boomers whose Beemers, they've discovered, can't quite transport them to fulfillment.

As usual, this generation wants it all. They could do worse. But is nothing sacred?

A climber falls

Now, here's a boomer who so desperately wants it all that she went looking for the media spotlight atop Mount Everest -- and got a bit more than she bargained for.

In the August Vanity Fair, Jennet Conant recounts the adventures of Sandy Hill Pittman, socialite, multimillionaire and climber (in every sense) who was part of the expedition up Everest last May that ended in tragedy.

Although her team reached the summit, they hit a blizzard on the way down that claimed eight lives. Pittman herself was near death, but the heroic efforts of her fellow climbers kept her alive.

And how did she repay them? By ignoring the survivors' pact to remain in seclusion for a few days, out of respect for the climbers -- her own guide among them -- who had died.

Instead, Sandy "Pitbull," as an acquaintance refers to her, ran right back into the klieg lights, her bandaged fingertips displayed alongside a Hermes catalog in the interviews she staged as damage control for her image. She had a book contract to think about, after all.

Conant has a grand old time wagging a disapproving finger at Sandy Pittman. Isn't it delightful for earthbound plebes like you and me to feel superior to someone with so much money -- and so little conscience? Such is the underlying message.

Harper's for August also takes on mountain climbers, showing as much wit on the subject as VF does disdain.

Discussing the "fatal descent of the mountain-climbing memoir," Bruce Barcott points out that because they've been beaten to the punch hundreds of times over, today's climbers have little to prove beyond how suicidally macho they are.

As a result their written accounts are both hollow and unintentionally hilarious.

One veteran climber, Barcott writes, "knows what it feels like to have both eyeballs freeze on Mount Everest. It is bad. And yet, he informs his readers, it is not the worst thing. The worst thing is having them thaw."

Sandy Pittman has nothing on these guys.

Promiscuity well-told

And speaking of memoirs, Harper's has a strangely riveting one by Kathy Dobie about her promiscuous youth.

One doesn't quite know what to make of the teen-age Dobie's foray into a degrading yet brave sexual contest with her hometown's hoods.

After the Ms. spelling

Considering what Ms. chose to put on its July/August cover (TV's Xena, warrior princess), one can only suppose the editors were trying to lighten up after "feminism" got misspelled in very large type on the last cover.

It's nice to see there's a sense of humor at work here, but for $5.95 an issue I'd like a little more substance, please.

A pain-and-pathos-filled essay by Judy Dothard Simmons about caring for her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, almost compensates for the vapid Xena rave, and there's an interesting take on the vilification of child pilot Jessica Dubroff's mother.

On another front

Check out the grisly, knee-slapping account in the August Allure of the goings-on among noncosmetic plastic surgeons at New York's Bellevue Hospital.

These are the guys who reattach severed limbs and reconstruct macheted faces, and their gallows humor flows as copiously as the blood they use leeches (yes, leeches) to staunch.

Making such material funny is no small feat.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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