The driving force behind the trend toward mix-and-match spirituality is the Baby Boom generation. Boomers are "the principal carrier of an emerging spiritual quest culture," says Wade Clark Roof, professor of religion and society at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Here are a few of their stories:
Spiro, 47, publisher and editor of The Monthly Aspectarian, Chicago's New Age magazine, grew up in a tradition he described as "hardcore fundamentalist."
"I never want to express any disrespect because your basic Christian is a very good, shirt-off-your-back kind of person," he said. "[But] I sat in church as a boy and said, 'Wait a minute. Everybody in this room is going to heaven and everybody else in the world is going to hell? That can't be right.'"
At 17, Spiro picked up his first book about yoga. "That started me down the path of examining all the world's religions and esoteric systems," he said. "That has been my life ever since."
He said he "came back to Christianity" through New Thought churches, such as Unity and Science of Mind. "The way I see it, they teach Christianity pretty much the way Jesus is reported to have spoken. Honestly, I don't think Jesus was nearly as concerned about getting us to heaven as he was teaching us to live on this plane."
Spiro, who lives in Morton Grove, occasionally attends the Unity church, where his wife, Jeanne and three children are active. He pursues a regular meditation practice, believes in reincarnation, and overall prefers a "smorgasbord approach" to his spirituality.
"I pick things up when they're appropriate and put them down when I've gotten what I need," he said. "People are attracted to a level of teaching they're ready for at different times."
A 43-year-old attorney, Jacobson attended Methodist churches as a child but refused to be confirmed in the church. She remembers childhood experiences in nature, playing in fields, noticing the wind blowing in the trees, moments that she considers highly spiritual. As an adult she read widely on religious topics, including the Bible "more than once," and she has studied with Christian and Jewish scholars.
Primed by years of contemplating the meaning and purpose of life, Jacobson began visiting churches last year in search of a "spiritual home." It was a sometimes-heartbreaking endeavor.
"One place, you would walk in and they'd rush at you, trying to recruit you," she said. "Or other places would have a beautiful service, beautiful music, erudite preaching-- things that have meaning to me, and I would sit there and well up with tears because it was not going to be home for me."
Jacobson ultimately joined Lake Street Church, an American Baptist church. She likes its emphasis on personal growth and interfaith dialogue. A few months later she also joined Lakeside Buddhist sangha, a group organized to study and practice the "engaged Buddhism" taught by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Both are in Evanston where she lives, and on Sundays she attends a church service in the morning and a group meditation and dharma talk in the evening.
"I do not find a discordance or a conflict between being a member of a Christian church and also a member of a sangha. I have spent my life reading different things to finally get to the point where I feel I have found a spiritual practice. It's like exercise. You find a routine that works for you and you just keep doing it. I swim, I race walk, and now I also meditate. It's this sort of whole person lifestyle which you evolve."
Dr. Hass Adamji
Born a Shiite Muslim of Indian ethnic background in Zanzibar, Adamji, 55, was brought up in a very orthodox way. But by the time he reached high school, he became disappointed with the way he saw religion being practiced. "People would say they were religious, do all the rituals, but when you looked at them... they were not good human beings, in my opinion," the occupational physician said.