This is the second in an occasional series of stories examining issues facing baby boomers.
When the religion of his childhood didn't provide him with spiritual solace, David Traupman searched for one that would. That meant attending Quaker meetings and returning briefly to the Catholic Church. At one point he gave up looking altogether.
But a vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired Traupman to renew his search. Now he attends services there every week and sits on the church's board.
``I was looking for an open and affirming place, and I found it,'' says Traupman, 45. ``It isn't so dogmatic. People are comfortable with who they are and what they believe, and we respect each other.''
Traupman's exploration of religious practices is not unusual for baby boomers, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. A demographic behemoth that experimented with mind-altering drugs and marched for peace during the Vietnam War is creating its own spiritual path, focusing on self-fulfillment instead of dogmatic tradition.
``Boomers want more ownership of how we interact in spiritual life,'' Traupman says. ``It's about being a member instead of a follower.''
Experts say boomers' approach to religion is simply a continuation of their individualistic take on things that matter to them. Like their parents and grandparents, boomers are seeking meaning and connection as they get older. But unlike the generations that preceded them, they're finding spiritual sustenance in highly personalized ways.
Lenny Steinhorn, an American University professor and author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy (St. Martin's, 2006), calls them a ``dechurched'' generation, a group that isn't necessarily filling the pews of mainstream houses of worship, yet is investigating yoga, Buddhism and New Age practices.
``They have always tried to figure out what works for them,'' Steinhorn says. ``They've been looking for a place to hang their spiritual or religious hat since the 1960s.''
Religiosity varies with life experience, however. Rev. Dale A. Young, director of Congregational Health for Baptist Health South Florida, compared spiritual attitudes and practices among a group of local baby boomers and a group of recent immigrants for his doctoral thesis.
Among his findings: ``New immigrants are more aware of their spiritual narrative, of their life purpose.'' So they tend to be more traditional -- or at least more in tune to how their spiritual values should influence their choices.
``To a certain extent,'' Young says, ``boomers are still wandering in the wilderness.''
Alex Alvarez, 50, has done his share of wandering on a spiritual journey he acknowledges has been unconventional. Raised Catholic, he began exploring Protestant faiths in the mid 1990s after receiving a personal testimony from a member of a nondenominational church.
Alvarez began studying the Bible regularly and eventually switched from Blessed Trinity Catholic Church to a charismatic Protestant congregation. At Alpha-Omega, he worked as a youth minister, then moved to Cavalry Chapel, where he stayed for about five years. Now he's back at Blessed Trinity in Miami Springs.
``It wasn't that I was unhappy at any of these places,'' Alvarez says. ``But I was looking. I trusted God would lead me where I needed to be.''