The look is contemporary, but the words are eternal

The Middle Ages

Staying young, growing old and what happens in between

February 04, 2007|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Reporter

Baby boomers are a generation of spiritual consumers, exploring an array of soul-searching experiences to find what is personally meaningful, sociologists say. As the oldest members of the generation edge into retirement, their quest may take on new urgency.

How best to put the issues of aging into the context of the eternal? Through yoga? Transcendental Meditation? Scientology? A combination of various mind/body/spirit exercises?

Or even mainstream religion?

Thomas Nelson Publishers, one of the country's largest Christian publishers, hopes that many of America's 78 million boomers will decide to rediscover the wisdom of the Bible -- or dip into it for the first time.

With the boomer profile in mind, Nelson has launched Redefine, a BibleZine for people in their 40s and 50s. A complete New Testament that looks like, and feels like, a 400-page magazine, Redefine offers the timeless word of God along with current health, financial and lifestyle tips for the middle-aged.

The cover features a "forever young" couple on a motorcycle, zooming into a future as rich and suspenseful as the open road.

Cover blurbs promote stories on ways to make a lasting difference, to survive tough times and to learn about "hot second careers."

Although the publisher has designed BibleZines for teen girls and teen boys, as well as for men and women in their 20s -- two are based on books from the Old Testament -- Redefine is the first aimed squarely at boomers.

"Regardless of where we are in society, boomers have a lot of issues in common," says Brenda Noel, associate acquisitions editor for Nelson's Bible division. "We're facing retirement. We're making space in our lives to help with our aging parents and boomerang kids [adult children who return to live at home]. We wanted to address those sorts of things -- and the BibleZine seemed like the perfect format to do it."

Laid out like a magazine, the New Testament's text is interspersed with photographs, brightly colored boxes containing lists and Bible quotations, and mini-profiles of such Biblical figures as Mary Magdalene.

Readers learn ways to help friends who are divorcing, to cope with the illnesses of their parents, to simplify chaotic lives and to improve their relationships with stepchildren -- all accompanied by references to pertinent Scripture. There are sketches of second careers, such as consulting, as well as stories about volunteering for organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

`More approachable'

Redefine was introduced two months ago. Although no sales figures are available, the company's other BibleZines have sold more than 1.5 million copies since the first was published in 2003, according to a company spokesman.

Donna Metcalf, manager of His Way Christian Bookstore in Ellicott City, thinks Redefine provides a great introduction to the New Testament.

"We see a lot of people who go to a meeting, get hyped up, accept the Lord and don't have a clue about where to go from there," she says. "Redefine is easy to understand. It's a New Century Version translation which is contemporary, down to earth, easy reading."

It also has the advantage of not looking like a Bible.

"It's more approachable. ... It's not predisposed to all the baggage that comes with a large black Bible," says Rodney Hatfield, vice president of marketing for Nelson Bibles. "Our biggest concern in creating it was relevance. Would the boomers see the content as relevant to their lifestyle?"

It's a good bet they do.

The post-World War II generation tends to shop for spiritual methods that allow them to express personal identity, according to sociologist Wade Clark Roof, author of Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion.

"They are now facing a major life transition -- retirement -- and all that comes with it: New activities, leisure, more time for grandchildren, and also health and mortality issues," he says. "In our culture, leaving lifetime work and jobs is a bit traumatic, and boomers will now search to find ways of endowing the time on their hands and new activities with meaning. It could be a time of considerable spiritual renewal."

What the soul needs

While earlier generations consulted ministers and catechism to find religious guidance, boomers began to shun such institutional approaches in the 1960s, says Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

"[Christian] boomers looked inward to find how their own religious experience informed how they should do things. They would listen for that voice inside. They would sit and pray and dwell on a matter until something bubbled up that they would see as the promptings of the Holy Spirit."

Although many boomers join traditional congregations, Goff says, they often avoid putting down roots.

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